By Javed Anand
July 15, 2016
Zakir Naik’s Saudi-supported ‘Peace TV’ is preaching Islam to the world. Meanwhile, Muslim refugees from war-torn countries who are unwanted by the heartless Saudi monarchy but have found shelter in Europe are opting out of Islam, hundreds at a time
Whatever else he may or may not be, as a preacher of the supremacist, intolerant Wahhabi brand of Islam, the Saudi Arabia-backed controversial televangelist Zakir Naik is in the business of converting non-Muslims to Islam. Going by anecdotal accounts and stray facts, Naik’s converts may be counted on finger tips. In an interview to The Times of India published on July 15, former police commissioner of Pune (and later Mumbai), now a BJP MP, Satyapal Singh, has claimed: “In October 2008, I was apprised of a ceremony of Zakir Naik [in Pune] where 12 young Hindu and Jain kids were converted to Islam. He apparently recited the Kalima to those kids of tender age”. An organisation under FCRA is not supposed to indulge in religious conversions in India”.
Whether an FCRA registered organisation is permitted to engage in religious conversions is one question. The other question that needs to be asked is this: What kind of Islam – Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s state religion – is Naik promoting which is so heartless as to shut its frontiers to refugees from war-torn Muslim countries? What kind of ‘business model’ is this in the ‘soul harvesting’ business?
What is one to make of Naik and his benefactors gloating over the conversion of stray Hindus, Jains, Buddhists or Christians – after an ‘investment’ of Lakhs per convert –, while unwanted Muslim refugees now in Europe are opting out of Islam, hundreds at a time?
That the outgoing far out-number Naik’s reported incomers is obvious from several news reports published by the media in Europe in the last few months.
A June 5 news published by The Guardian, UK reports: ‘European churches say growing flock of Muslim refugees are converting: Anecdotal evidence suggests rising pattern of Muslims becoming Christians, with some churches conducting mass baptisms. The multiple reasons for Muslim refugees marching out of Islam include “heartfelt faith in a new religion, gratitude to Christian groups offering support during perilous and frightening journeys, and an expectation that conversion may aid asylum applications”.
According to the Guardian:
At Trinity church in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz, the congregation has grown from 150 two years ago to almost 700, swollen by Muslim converts, according to Pastor Gottfried Martens. Earlier this year, churches in Berlin and Hamburg reportedly held mass conversions for asylum seekers at municipal swimming pools.
The Austrian Catholic church logged 300 applications for adult baptism in the first three months of 2016; with the Austrian pastoral institute estimating 70% of those converting are refugees.
At Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in the UK, a weekly Persian service attracts between 100 and 140 people. Nearly all are migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere in central Asia.
In another report the neo-converts spell out the reasons for their embracing a new faith:
"I've been looking all my life for peace and happiness, but in Islam, I have not found it," Shima, an Iranian refugee, told Stern magazine. "To be Christian means happiness to me," she added.
"In Islam, we always lived in fear. Fear God, fear of sin, fear of punishment. However, Christ is a God of love," another Iranian refugee, Solmaz, told the German daily.
A Google search on ‘Muslim refugees converting to Christianity’ takes you to many more reports on how and why they are ‘flocking to Jesus’.
Some church leaders are doubtful about the bonafide of the new stream of conversions, which they feel may be undertaken under subtle — or not so subtle — pressure.
Pastor Gerhard Scholte of the Reformed Keizersgracht Church, who also heads up the refugee task force of combined Amsterdam churches, says, “conversion to Christianity is not promoted in our church, so we see very little of it.” From his point of view, “Everyone is a child of God,” whether baptized or not. “Faith should not be conditional,” he says.
Indeed, Scholte suggests that conversion on a large scale may verge on abuse. “It is taking advantage of people in weak positions and it’s all about the figures,” Scholte says, “That is abhorrent to me.”
Pastor Scholte’s qualms about mass conversion are laudable. Not so laudable are the motives of those who splurge petro-dollars aplenty on ‘Peace TV’ and other such ethically-challenged enterprises in search of souls to harvest but who are unmoved by the plight of fellow-Muslims forced to flee their home and country.
“We are brothers, we are children of the same God,” said Pope Francis as he washed and kissed the feet of 12 Muslim, Orthodox, Hindu and Catholic refugees during the Easter Mass Week in end-March.
Between a Pope such as this one and the current we-couldn’t-care-less Saudi monarchs – the self-proclaimed ‘Khâdim ül Haramain ish Sharifain’ (Servant of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina) – for the Muslim refugees in Europe it could be a difficult choice to make.