On Easter Eve 2008 the Pope baptized a prominent Italian former Muslim convert. By doing this the Pope indirectly sanctioned apostasy. This is a good thing, if the Church is willing to allow and respect conversion from Christianity to Islam with equal ease. The head of Jordan’s Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, called the baptism a deliberate and provocative act. The official Vatican newspaper said the gesture aimed to promote religious freedom.
The UN Commission on Human Rights observes that ‘the freedom to ‘have or to adopt’ a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views’ (comment on the Int. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays down the freedom to choose or change one’s religion. So from a legal standpoint, the Pope acted in accordance with international standards accepted by all Muslim UN-member-states.
The idea of apostasy is legally impossible and religiously absurd
The legal impossibility of apostasy has already been shown i.e. the idea of apostasy has no place in international Human Rights law (which is based on Natural Law, by the way). Therefore, any religion claiming to be bound exclusively to its own religious moral code, would be acting against (international) law, if it wanted to meet out any punishment for apostasy. The Egyptian-born Italian TV and newspaper commentator (the man baptized by the Pope) has been an outspoken critic of Islamist militancy and a strong supporter of Israel.
Now, his stance on Israel is a political choice or understanding, which has nothing to do with his religious belief, although it cannot be denied that the politics and religion on this one may appear to be connected. But everybody knows that there are Christians supporting the Palestinian cause and there are Muslims supporting the Israeli cause. The Italian convert relates that his controversial views and conversion to Christianity have provoked threats on his life, and he is now protected by a police escort.
According to Wikipedia, the Catholic Church may in certain circumstances respond to apostasy by excommunicating the apostate, while the traditional holy writings of both Judaism (Deuteronomy 13:6-10) and Islam (al-Bukhari, Diyat, bab 6) demand the death penalty for apostates. Neither penalty can be legally or religiously justified.
Man’s soul is a ray of God’s light
It is religiously absurd to try and claim authority over people’s souls. Not only absurd, it is impossible. The soul (or conscience, if you will) is an expression, or a ray of God’s light in each and every person. God (however conceived) is perfectly capable of deciding how he will manifest Himself (Herself or Itself) in each individual person, either as a Christian, Muslim, Jew or adherent of any other religion. Or even as an atheist or agnostic.
The criticism of the Pope’s defiant act (i.e. the public baptizing of the Italian convert) therefore is as untenable in Islam as it is in Christianity (or in any other religion). In a written statement the Jordanian critic said that is was ‘sad that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points”. He considered Pope Benedict XVI’s actions to have come “at a most unfortunate time when sincere Muslims and Catholics are working very hard to mend ruptures between the two communities”.
The butterfly metaphor
The Jordanian scholar has been at the forefront of an initiative gathering more than 130 Muslim scholars who recently wrote to the Pope and other Christian leaders calling for greater dialogue and good will between Muslims and Christians. He added that despite the Vatican’s actions, the initiative for dialogue to improve relations would continue. “Our basis for dialogue is not a tit-for-tat logic of ‘reciprocity’, but a compassionate theology of mending”, he wrote.
All this means that there is progress. A comment in the official Vatican newspaper held that the baptism had been a papal “gesture” without hostile intentions aimed at stressing “in a gentle and clear way, religious freedom”. Eventually the understanding will come that religious freedom means that apostasy is a concept violating the very essence of God. It will be dropped altogether. In shame we may add.
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