AP: Pope Baptizes Italy's Most Prominent Muslim

Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reports that Muslims are incensed that a prominent Italian Muslim writer with a fondness for Israel became a Christian before Pope Benedict on the Easter vigil. (Magdi Allam's writings were quoted by Michael Ledeen on NRO several years ago.) Jihad Watch has new comments. (Photo from AJCBlog.) To the AP:

Italy's most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service.

An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the newspaper Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he is a deputy editor. He titled one book "Long Live Israel."

As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Allam's head and said a brief prayer in Latin.

"We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another," Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. "Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close."

Vatican Television zoomed in on Allam, who sat in the front row of the basilica along with six other candidates for baptism. He later received his first Communion.

Allam, 55, told the newspaper Il Giornale in a December interview that his criticism of Palestinian suicide bombing provoked threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a sizable security detail.

The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy — which Allam has frequently criticized as having links to Hamas — said the baptism was his own decision.

"He is an adult, free to make his personal choice," the Apcom news agency quoted the group's spokesman, Issedin El Zir, as saying.

Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, the Islamic religious community in Italy, said he respected Allam's choice but said he was "perplexed" by the symbolic and high-profile way in which he chose to convert.

"If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives," the ANSA news agency quoted Pallavicini as saying.

One could charge that the prominence of the baptism seems more like a publicity stunt – but one could also argue that when someone feels a deep calling to a new faith, they would want to shout it from the mountain tops.

The Easter vigil is a traditional occasion for Catholic churches to baptize and confirm converts, usually after several months of attending RCIA classes (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). AP's article does not explain whether Allam came into the church that way.

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