Issue 301: 2021 11 18: Christian ‘Converts’

18 November 2021

Christian ‘Converts’

Just part of the game?

By Lynda Goetz

Call me naïve, but I am fairly certain I am not alone in being almost totally unaware of the extent to which ‘conversion’ to Christianity has been being used as part of the asylum ‘game’. I suppose because I knew that Muslims are, at least in theory, not allowed to change their allegiance to that of any other religion (apostasy) that it had not occurred to me that at least some would be prepared to use fake conversion as part of their armoury in the bid to gain asylum. Viewed logically, I guess it is perhaps surprising that more have not attempted to do so.  After all, this is a high stakes game.  Were I attempting to leave any of the number of war torn countries which many Muslims are fleeing, I too would be tempted to use any subterfuge to secure a new residency in a country where I and my family didn’t risk starvation, where my husband was unlikely to be shot or worse, and where I could bring up children who were not traumatised and where my daughters were entitled to, rather than banned from, education.

Having said all that, however, is our own Church not being a little over-optimistic in its believe that their new ‘converts’ really are believers?  Clearly they would like to feel that these incomers have ‘seen the light’. Does it not strike them as just a little odd that as the Rev Peter Wilcox, a former Dean of Liverpool said apparently, as far back as 2016, “I can’t think of a single example of somebody who already had British citizenship converting here with us from Islam to Christianity”? The Rev Mohammad Eghtedarian, a Muslim convert who was later ordained and served as a curate at Liverpool Cathedral, has also warned that there is abuse of the system.

The fact that all this has come to the attention of the public is, of course, a result of the completely inept would-be assassin and suicide bomber, Emad al-Swealmeen, who managed on Sunday to kill only himself rather than crowds leaving Liverpool Cathedral after the Remembrance Day service. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, currently at loggerheads with the French over their apparent inability to prevent thousands of migrants crossing the Channel, has reacted with anger at the ‘merry-go-round’ of asylum seekers being assisted by lawyers and the legal aid system to launch appeal after appeal. Although it is reasonably well-known that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has called on Britain to be ‘generous’ to migrants and to remember that Jesus was a refugee, the extent to which the Church as well as lawyers has been assisting potential immigrants has possibly not been widely acknowledged, even if there were plenty of MPs who were fully aware of what was going on, as Tom Harris (MP from 2001 to 2015) writes in Wednesday’s Telegraph. As he says, “It’s impossible to judge whether conversion experiences are genuine – a fact upon which the people traffickers and their exploited customers rely. But it would be a courageous individual who decided that no-one would seek to pull the wool over the eyes of the British authorities and try to secure permanent residency here by claiming something they did not genuinely believe.”

At the base of these ‘conversions’ is obviously not only the fact that this is a Christian country and that the migrants are trying to fit in, but the fact that any attempt to return them to the Islamic country they came from (assuming they hadn’t destroyed all their identity information in the first place) could be a death sentence, as apostates are dealt with mercilessly in most of these countries. Although Muslim scholars have throughout Islamic history argued about apostasy and the punishments which should be handed out to apostates, (the Quran itself does not propose the death penalty, some of the Hadith[i] do) a number of Muslim countries do currently advocate the death penalty. Whilst this has not officially been implemented in many cases, it is not uncommon for ‘vigilante’ Muslims to extract punishment and, as we all know, ISIS, ISIL and Taliban-linked groups all enforce a strict interpretation of Sharia law. Conversion to Christianity thus provides another potential card for Muslim migrants to play.

Seeing the misery faced by families or individuals who have left behind an entire way of life and spent all their savings in an attempt to find a better life elsewhere but then end up huddled in blankets in overcrowded RIBs in the Channel, or desperately trying to cross the border from Belarus to Poland or from Mexico the US, one would have to be incredibly hard-hearted not to feel sympathy and a desire to help. It is not however the job of either the Church or charities to decide who should have the right to stay, and it is in this respect that the Church is possibly overreaching itself. The help given by clergy to asylum seekers can extend to letters of support, attending court appearances and assisting with finding legal advice, as outlined in the document issued by the CoE Supporting Asylum Seekers – Guidance For Church of England Clergy. Lawyers have a right, indeed a duty, to act on behalf of those who engage them, but it does seem ludicrous that in many cases those lawyers are acting against the tax-paying residents of their own country using taxpayers money to ensure not only that endless appeals against removal can be made, but in some cases that convicted murderers having served sentences here cannot be returned to their country of origin[ii].

The United Kingdom is a country that has always absorbed incomers of all sorts, whether from Europe or further afield.  There comes a point though where the best interests of the current population need to be served first. Those needing or wishing to come here should of course be treated with dignity and their human rights respected. This cannot include being shunted from pillar to post, unable to earn one’s own living until the appeals process has been exhausted. The problem of asylum seekers is a problem faced by the whole of Europe, but it is clear that those countries where it is easiest to gain admission are targeted by those engaging in trafficking. As most governments are aware, their own populations are increasingly afraid of the overwhelming numbers seeking refuge. Priti Patel has an enormous task ahead of her in her attempts to reform a system which is currently not working either for current citizens or those wishing to become citizens. 

One of the aspects which seems very harsh for those coming here is their total inability to use their professional qualifications or indeed to engage in gainful employment of any sort.  Surely it would make sense both for the dignity of those seeking asylum and for the countries in which they are looking to acquire citizenship if they were allowed at the very least to do some sort of useful work in return for their board and lodging? Amongst those seeking to settle in Europe there are many with useful professional qualifications. To allow them, even on a temporary basis, to work whilst applications are being processed would reduce their sense of futility and frustration and improve their mental health. For the countries trying to process them it might also, at least in the short term, reduce shortages (eg in the medical profession), increase the tax take and reduce the huge burden on the state, which they currently present. As for the Church, perhaps it needs to take a clearer look at what exactly it is offering and take a step back.  Five weeks[iii] is a very short time in which to change a lifetime’s belief; although historically, the followers of Islam probably managed to forcibly convert Zoroastrians in a much shorter time.

[i] Sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammed.

[ii] Recent reports of convicted criminals getting a last minute reprieve from being deported back to Jamaica after successful appeals on various humanitarian grounds.

[iii] The length of an Alpha course for conversion to Christianity.

Cover page photo – Metin Ozer, Unsplash

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