PMT 2016-078 by The Guardian
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.
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. Earlier this year, churches in Berlin and Hamburg reportedly held mass conversions for asylum seekers at municipal swimming pools.
The Austrian Catholic church logged 300 applications for adult baptism in the first three months of 2016, with the Austrian pastoral institute estimating 70% of those converting are refugees.
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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.
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.
His own journey, from the Iranian city of Shiraz to the UK, took him through half a dozen European countries, by truck, train and on foot. Destitute and terrified, he was offered practical and emotional support from Christians along the way.
Before being granted asylum, Eghtedarian spent four months in Tinsley House detention centre, near Gatwick airport. “Every day was challenging and beautiful. Challenging because I didn’t know if they would deport me; beautiful because I was in the Lord’s hands. I promised the Lord: if you release me, I will serve you.”
Now he devotes himself to helping other refugees. “People are desperate. They spend a lot of money and waste a lot of money. They are vulnerable, abused and sometimes [they have been] raped.” The experience of being a refugee was degrading and dehumanising, he said.
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Johannes, another Iranian, left Tehran for Vienna. Born into a Muslim family, the 32-year-old – who was previously called Sadegh – began questioning the roots of Islam at university. “I found that the history of Islam was completely different from what we were taught at school. Maybe, I thought, it was a religion that began with violence?
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