Few things in Islam are as liable to provoke passion and violence as the issue of conversion. The health hazards involved in converting out of Islam—apostatizing—are well known. But even the issue of converting to Islam is fraught with drama. Consider Egypt alone: in recent months, wild rampages, burned churches, and murdered Christians have resulted over a few Christian women converting to Islam.
The most notorious case revolves around Camelia Shehata, the wife of a Coptic priest. Muslims kept circulating rumors that she had converted to Islam, only to be “kidnapped” by the Coptic Church, which was supposedly torturing her into returning to Christianity (a clear case of Muslim projection). Even though Shehata appeared on videos insisting she never converted, and would die a Christian, Muslims still kept rioting—and even filed a lawsuit demanding that her whereabouts be disclosed, which was recently dismissed for lacking evidence by an Egyptian court.
Likewise, there was last May’s Imbaba terror attack—which left 12 Christians dead, hundreds injured, and three churches burned. It, too, was initiated by a rumor (subsequently proven false) that another female Coptic convert to Islam, Abir, was being held and tortured in a church. Then there is the ongoing issue of teenage Coptic girls disappearing and being reported alternatively as kidnapped by Muslims or as willing converts to Islam, depending on who is reporting.
Why this obsession with real or imagined converts to Islam, to the point of chaos and violence? Muslim intellectual Khaled Montaser, in an Arabic op-ed, offers useful insights on Islam’s “inferiority complex” as revealed through the issue of conversion:
We Muslims have an inferiority complex…feeling that our Islamic religion needs constant, practically daily, confirmation by way of Europeans and Americans converting to Islam. What rapturous joy takes us when a European or American announces their [conversion to] Islam—proof that we are in a constant state of fear, alarm, and chronic anticipation for Western validation or American confirmation that our religion is “okay.”
This raises another question: If Islam, as many Muslims insist, is intrinsically appealing to potential converts, why is it always young Coptic girls—as opposed to, say, adult Coptic males—who are always being championed as converts to Islam in Egypt?
The answer is self-evident. Consider Abir, whom Muslims went on a destructive rampage over: she admits she converted to Islam simply to divorce her Christian husband; Muslim authorities say she doesn’t know the first thing about Islam. As for girls converting to Islam, one finds it curious that of all segments of Coptic society, it is their teenage girls who are seeing the “light” of Islam. A more realistic explanation is that dollars are fueling the Islamization of these kids.
This video of a Coptic teenage convert to Islam says it all. She starts off wearing a veil and piously announcing her conversion to Islam, because she found the truth in it; after a few seconds, she strips the veil off to breathe and giggles. The cameraman yells “tell us some more on why you converted,” but she continues to giggle and says “What more do you want me to say? There’s nothing more.”
Not exactly the most convincing display of a sincere convert.
All this is a reminder of something else Montaser wrote on Muslim inferiority complex: that some Muslims embrace events with “a hopeful eye, not an eye for truth or reality,” and that they “are struck with blindness” when it comes to things that deflate their “hopes.”
Thus, even though a few Coptic girls convert to Islam for cynical reasons—namely, temporal and monetary benefits—some Muslims are not seeing it, are “struck with blindness” vis-à-vis this unflattering reality, and instinctively put the best spin on it.
Then again, Islam offers its own cynical explanation. While it may seem incongruous for non-Muslim girls to convert to Islam for its intrinsic appeal—a religion that allows polygamy, treats females as half the worth of men, keeps them under wraps, and says they can be ridden like animals—there is no discrepancy for Islam, which holds that females are deficient in intelligence.
All these thoughts occurred to me as I listened to a recent interview with a former Al-Azhar scholar and head of the Sharia department—an adult Muslim man who converted to Christianity, someone who not only is mature and learned in religion, but who, far from gaining a temporal advantage, has everything to lose for his decision, starting with his life.
About Raymond Ibrahim
Raymond Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow at the DHFC, is a widely published author on Islam, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. Join him as he explores the “Intersection”—the pivotal but ignored point where Islam and Christianity meet—including by examining the latest on Christian persecution, translating important Arabic news that never reaches the West, and much more.