A growing number of Muslim refugees in Europe are converting to Christianity, according to churches, which have conducted mass baptisms in some places.
Reliable data on conversions is not available but anecdotal evidence suggests a pattern of rising church attendance by Muslims who have fled conflict, repression and economic hardship in countries across the Middle East and central Asia.
Complex factors behind the trend 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.
Churches holding mass conversions
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. Churches in Berlin and Hamburg reportedly held mass conversions for asylum seekers at municipal swimming pools.
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.
One in four confirmations conducted by the bishop of Bradford, Toby Howarth, over the past year were of converts from Islam. Most were Iranian and most of those were asylum seekers.
These Muslims knew they risked being shunned and even killed if they turn their backs on Islam and embrace Jesus Christ instead, reports Christianity Today.
But despite the great risks, scores of Muslim refugees have reportedly converted to Christianity, with some saying that Jesus appeared to them in their dreams, promising to help and save them.
For instance, a large number of Syrian Muslims who have fled their war-torn country and sought refuge in Lebanon have accepted Christ, USA Today reported.
George Saliba, Bishop of Syrian Orthodox Church in Lebanon, said he has baptised around 100 Muslim Syrian refugees since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.
Jesus appeared in a dream
Abu Radwan, one of the new Christian converts, said Jesus appeared to him in a dream two years ago. “I started going to the church. I believed that Jesus was coming to help us, to save us,” he was quoted as saying.
Radwan said he turned to Christ fully aware that he would be courting death in doing so. In fact, he said he was once stabbed while coming home from the church. He knew his attackers — they were Syrians from his own tribe.
Other Christian churches in Lebanon are also reportedly filling up with Christian converts from Lebanon, including an evangelical church in Beirut.
The Independent said the Muslims who have turned to Christ, especially Iranians, are seeing Christianity as a new chance at freedom.
“A lot of them come to Germany and think, here I can choose my religion and I want to choose a religion of freedom,” said Matthias Linke, a priest from the Evangelical-Freikirchlichen Gemeinde in Berlin. “For many Iranians that I’ve baptised, Christianity is the religion of freedom.”
According to The Guardian, Mohammad Eghtedarian, a curate at Liverpool Cathedral and a refugee from Iran who converted to Christianity and was later ordained, said the church was helping people to develop their faith and to apply for refugee status. “These two are intertwined. Most people apply for asylum on the basis of their religion,” he said.
The church had a difficult road to navigate, he said. “We have a mission to give them the message of Christ — a message of peace, salvation and freedom. The only person who knows what’s in people’s hearts is God. It is not for me to judge.”