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Coming out as a Christian to your Muslim Family

Coming out as a Christian to your Muslim Family

By Duane Alexander Miller
New Wineskins Blog
June 3, 219

This is now the fourth installation in my series on pastoral care for Christians who have converted from Islam. We started by addressing the issue of baptism, then the personality of God as portrayed in the Qur'an v. the Bible, and then the role of history in helping to form a firm identity for the convert. In this article, I want to address what is certainly one of the most sensitive and difficult issues: how does the CMB (Christian from a Muslim background) disclose his/her new identity as a Christian to his/her family and, in general, to his/her local community? I begin with the contention that there is clearly one course of action that is not viable: the convert never revealing his/her new faith. On a social level, that is really what the Islamic Shari'a is trying to accomplish: to contain the pollution of the Christian message. "Feared contagion extends the danger of a broken taboo to the whole community."[1] The risk of contagion can be stymied by executing the convert--as the Prophet enjoined--or, as is common today, by forcing the convert to leave his/her homeland for the West. In both circumstances, the polluting reminder that someone looked at Islam and said, "No," is purged.

The Umma can return to its quotidian life founded on the myth that Muslims are "the best of all peoples," as the Qur'an repeatedly affirms. The taboo status of apostasy is a psychological necessity because, "Taboo protects the local consensus on how the world is organised. It shores up wavering certainty."[2] But execution and exile are not the only ways of containing the pollution of apostasy: there is also the option of enjoining silence. When the Muslim community can force the convert to never speak about his conversion the pollution has been contained and there is no risk of contagion. The convert whose conversion is not known to others--especially his immediate family--does not have in the fullest sense of the word a valid conversion. This is

because conversion is "...a comprehensive personal change of religious worldview and identity, based on both self-report and attribution by others."[3] If others do not identify the person as a Christian, then on some level they are not--in the fullest sense of the word--a Christian. For all of these reasons we cannot and should not acknowledge self-censorship as a valid, long-term option for the CMB: "Their personal faith commitment must become their public identity within their Muslim family and community."[4] To reiterate: when we are speaking of coming out, it is always a question of when and how, but never of whether or not. This reality should be made clear to the convert. I also note that many Muslims come from an ethical tradition influenced by taqiyya or dissimulation, wherein lying or concealing the truth is licit in order to preserve one's well-being. There is no room for such a doctrine or practice among the People of God. This should likewise be made clear early on in a pastoral relationship.

Let's start with what to avoid. Avoid a passionate and angry denunciation of all things Islamic, especially the Qur'an and Muhammad. There is no question in my mind that the moral fabric of Muhammad's life is deeply flawed and I go into some depth on the topic in one of my other books.[5] But as someone said, "Don't tell a guy his mother is ugly even if she is ugly." The convert probably has strong misgivings about Islam and these are often integral to the turning away from Islam in disappointment, but in coming out, it is preferable to emphasize the positive factors that attracted the convert to Christianity. I am an Anglican priest in Madrid, Spain. I often observe this practice of letting the practices of our tiny Protestant community be determined to a great extent by not doing what the Roman Catholics do. I understand the historical and contextual reasons for this practice. But in the long run it is not a recipe for fruitfulness. In the same way, the winsomeness of the Christian faith should be allowed to stand on its own. If the superior ethic and beauty of the Christian way calls into doubt certain facets of Islam, so be it, but sometimes one makes the point more vividly by letting the observer connect the dots in her own mind. Again, the very possibility that a person would understand Islam and, after being a Muslim for many years, then judge it to be deficient and identify some other faith as superior--that is not even a possibility that has entered into the mind of most Muslims. It's like telling a young secular American that diversity is not always good --they've just never even considered the possibility.

It is therefore a good idea, when possible, to follow the practice of Esther and Mordecai. Esther's ethnic-religious identity was not known to her powerful husband. At a point of disaster it was necessary for her to intervene and save her people. But she makes sure to ingratiate herself with her husband before she reveals her identity.[6] In the same way, the convert would do well to demonstrate a changed life to his family. This dynamic is similar to the one I mentioned above in relation to baptism: we're looking for a changed life, a new way of interacting with people that flows from following the way of Jesus. One of the recommendations I present (and will discuss in future article) is to have the new believer memorize and understand the Ten Commandments. While every person's context will be unique, the application here is to regularly review how the inquirer or convert is interacting with his close family members and friends. Discuss each family member and pray for them. Any time you meet pray for wisdom for your believer, that she will know when and how to share her new identity with her family. This sense of anticipation can turn a source of anxiety (what if they find out?) to a source of excitement and hope (I wonder when God will have me do this?).

As always, there may be security concerns. If there are it is good for the reveal to take place in a public or semi-public space, as the presence of other people will make violence less likely. It is wise to have a backup plan if the news is not received well, and this especially true if the convert is a young woman living with her family. Assume she'll need a room to stay in for a few weeks and make sure you have transportation ready. In brief, work with the assumption that your convert will now be homeless. I don't have any recommendation for specific words or the content of what the reveal might look like beyond what has been outlined above. Hopefully the family will have observed a change in behavior and already be wondering how this was brought about. Hopefully through your prayers God's Spirit will have been preparing the hearts of those present for this news. In a stressful and contentious time like this it is helpful for your convert to have the creeds memorized.

Imagine: people are upset or confounded, someone has stomped out of the room, someone is crying, and the convert is demanded to explain what exactly she has in her mind anyway. Most people in such circumstances would have a hard time formulating a careful and clear answer. Most people, though, could clearly recite a brief, memorized formula like the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed. In sum, avoid confrontation, consider a public or semi-public area, be praying about it regularly, allow the family to see how the convert's behavior and speech have changed, and make sure to have a back-up plan in case the convert needs a place to stay for a few days or even weeks. Your role is to stand with and by the convert as they live out this great step in their maturation as a disciple of Christ.

Dr. Duane Alexander Miller is associate professor at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE) and serves as priest at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid.

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