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Pope’s baptism of Muslim journalist queried by Islamic leaders


Pope Benedict XVI’s baptism of an Egyptian-born Muslim Italian journalist, known for being a strident critic of restrictions of religious freedom in Islamic countries, has been questioned by Muslim leaders in Italy.

Magdi Allam, a columnist and deputy editor of the Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper, was one of seven people from five countries baptised by the pontiff at the Easter Vigil Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 22 March.

"What shocked me is the high profile the Vatican gave to the conversion," said Yaha Sergio Pallavicini, vice president of the Religious Islamic community, one of Italy’s Muslim groups. He questioned why Allam had not been baptised in Viterbo, the city 100 kilometres north of Italy where the Egyptian-born journalist lives.

Allam was born in Cairo in 1952, and attended a Roman Catholic school in Egypt. He came as a young person to Italy, where he did his university studies, afterwards working as a journalist and writer.

Explaining his decision to seek baptism, Allam wrote in Corriere della Sera, "In my first Easter as a Christian I discovered not only Jesus, but for first time the true and One God, who is the God of faith and of reason". He added, "beyond the … Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive."

Italian writer Claudio Magris noted on 25 March in Corriere della Sera, "The way in which this conversion happened and his statement obviously have a political significance."

Allam has been under special police protection for five years because of death threats. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the US-led military action against Iraq in 2003, and he has written a book in support of Israel.

An article in the international Arab Newspaper Al Quds al Arabi stated, "The Pope is provoking the indignation of Muslim by baptising a former Muslim who supports Israel and who his well known for his aversion to Islam."

Still, Bishop Rino Fisichella, the rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, said, "Allam’s choice was a very spiritual one." Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told journalists, "I don’t know the origin of the event, or who promoted it."

Ecumenical News International