Investigation Into the Persecution of Christian Converts From Islam in Europe (1)

July 20, 2022

The European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) has published a report on the persecution of former Muslim converts to Christianity, in France and in Europe. The objective of this survey was to determine whether people of Muslim origin suffer persecution for having converted to Christianity in France and in Europe.

Persecution is defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as: “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights, contrary to international law, because of the identity of the group or the collectivity.”

The ECLJ met the leaders of the six main French associations, a Belgian association, two English associations and one Austrian association involved in evangelizing Muslims and supporting converts, and conducted more than twenty interviews with converts.

Estimated Numbers

This number is estimated between 4,000 and 30,000 people in France. According to official figures from the French Bishops’ Conference, about 300 people of Muslim origin receive baptism in the Catholic Church each year.

Moreover, a report by the Montaigne Institute indicates that 15% of people born to at least one Muslim parent consider themselves to be “non-Muslim.” If we consider that there are 4.9 million Muslims in France according to a low estimate, 15% represents 735,000 people.

But, by all accounts, “many” Christians of Islamic origin hide, or remain “invisible.” Considering the fact that the majority of those who leave Islam turn to atheism or agnosticism, one can put forward the figure of 30,000 converts to the Christian faith.

The Persecution of Converts

“Today in France, it is difficult and more generally dangerous for a Muslim to leave his religion. The overwhelming majority of people who leave Islam to join Christianity experience family and communitarian  persecution that varies greatly in intensity, from contempt to violence.”

The Sources of Persecution

The persecution is first within the family – parents, spouse, brothers and sisters, cousins, etc. ; it is then within the community. Finally, the persecution can be anonymous. Some Islamists conduct intimidation and intelligence campaigns to seek out and repress converts. It may happen that a convert is discovered, threatened, assaulted, or even killed by an Islamist he did not know.

Sharia law does not officially apply in France, but certain provisions can be applied by a large and radicalized Muslim community. Moreover, if the parents of the convert are nationals of a country where Sharia law applies, the convert may be deprived of his share of the inheritance.

The Reasons for the Persecution

Conversion, which implies apostasy, is condemned in the Koran and the hadiths, which for many Muslims justifies the physical and moral persecution of converts. Muslims who violently persecute converts rely on these texts to legitimize their actions.

It is inconceivable for most Muslims that a person of North African origin is not Muslim. There is an identification between “Arab culture” and “Islam.” As parents have advised their converted children to remain officially Muslim and to believe in Christianity secretly.

This is explained by the fact that the strong communitarianism is counterbalanced by a weak private respect for Islamic precepts. Above all, there are two essential imperatives: not eating pork and observing Ramadan. The other precepts are subject to wider tolerance. The convert could therefore easily have another religious belief while pretending to be a Muslim and respecting at least the two imperatives.

Acts of Persecution

“Persecution may take the following forms, in order of severity and frequency. They may or may not be successive, but almost all converts suffer from at least the firsts:

  • Contempt and verbal aggression towards the convert when announcing the conversion.
  • Threats, acts of intimidation or harassment, in order to persuade the convert to return to Islam, occurring within the family, community, or on social networks.
  • Rejection of the convert by his family.
  • Eviction from the family home or flight.
  • Threats to the convert’s physical integrity.
  • Destruction of the convert’s property, ransacking of his place of living, efforts to make him lose his job.
  • For girls: sequestration until they return to Islam.
  • Physical violence towards converts, from spitting to beating, to lynching in public, with or without a knife.
  • For girls: forced marriage, return to the family’s country of origin, rape.
  • Murder and assassination.

“The majority of Muslims generally react with a sanction of social death by applying the first three acts of persecution. More rarely, Islamists such as the Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood, will seek to “wash away” the scandal caused by the convert and will apply more radical persecution.”

All of the witnesses endured the first three forms of persecution. Those who do not suffer the following persecutions are generally those who have better organized themselves to avoid any risk. Fear is palpable among converts to Islam: they all fear a violent reaction from their family or community.

This fear is accentuated by social networks. Some radical Muslims put a price on the contact information of converts. This kind of call for denunciation maintains the fear of converts: they must keep a low profile, but also distance themselves from social networks.

According to many witnesses and association leaders, a significant proportion of converts have suffered acts of violence from brothers or cousins: direct testimonies of beatings and injuries and attempted break-ins if the convert retreats to their room or an apartment.

Generally, these acts of violence cause converts to leave their place of residence. Whether they flee after the first blow or leave the house after their brother has ransacked their room, witnesses say that this flight helps avoid more serious violence.

Finally, “some have even been lynched in the street. A former Salafist Muslim who converted to Christianity confirmed the existence of actual ambushes. Muslims from the local community wait for the convert in the street and beat him, sometimes to death, usually with their fists, iron bars or knives.” The death of some converts under the blows has been documented.

Persecution Is Worse for Young Women

Women are exposed to acts of persecution to an ever greater degree than men. This additional violence is justified by the “dishonor” they would bring to the family by denying the faith of their parents. 70% of converts are women. Witnesses said that the status of “women in Islam is inferior to that of men, which gives them more reasons to want to leave Islam.”

Some girls who reveal their conversion to their parents may be threatened by the latter with forced marriage to a "devout Muslim"; confined until they return to Islam, or sent back to their country of origin if they are from North Africa. Men who convert do not face these specific threats.

Some migrants are converts who fled their Muslim country because of persecution. They face a double problem. It is impossible to estimate the number of cases, but it is a real concern for migrant converts and those who work to welcome them On the one hand, they emigrate from Muslim countries with other predominantly Muslim people, then experience additional difficulties in the “migrant camps.”

On the other hand, two association leaders pointed that, “when immigrants arrive in France, they speak French very poorly and need Arab translators. However, Arab translators are very often Muslims and it is therefore possible for them to hinder the presentation of a converted migrant's file. It is impossible to estimate the number of cases, but it is a real concern for migrant converts and those who work to welcome them.”

An example illustrating these tensions was published in the French newspaper Le Monde in 2015: “‘Christian migrants allegedly thrown into the sea by Muslims off the coast of Italy’ – An investigation into this unprecedented tragedy was opened by the public prosecutor’s office in Palermo.”

Attack on Christian Properties

Damage to Christian sites has been happening for many years in Europe. According to the Observatory for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in 2019, more than 500 attacks against Christian sites were recorded. France is the most affected country.

“The Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe regularly publishes reports on this subject. The 2019 report chronicled the numerous attacks on Christian sites and people, often by Muslim radicals, which have taken place not only in France but also in other countries in Europe.”

“These regular attacks and degradations contribute to the climate of anxiety that affects converts and show that while some only attack objects, others are ready to go further.”

All the witnesses were in the same situation: extreme discretion and fear of being discovered during their spiritual journey towards the Christian religion. They are forced, out of fear, to live their faith in a hidden way and to reveal their conversion to their loved ones only after careful consideration.

Thus, they cannot talk about their new religious beliefs in the family, generally do not keep Christian possessions in their parents' house, and until they are independent, they are prevented from going to church if they are likely to be seen by someone they know.

This obligation of great prudence and social discretion about their conversion, leads the convert to live a double life: pretending to be Muslim within the community, and living his Christian faith the rest of the time when possible. Depending on the personal situation, this double life is more or less difficult and burdensome.

Converts also suffer from “ethnic bias.” A preconception is widespread among people of immigrant origin: an Arab person would necessarily be a Muslim. Thus, Arab converts are presumed to be Muslims. Life becomes difficult for many converts because of the presence of other Muslims from whom they try to hide their conversion.

Ramadan, drinks with colleagues, as well as work or school relationships and interactions between men and women are all times when converts may be caught not following the precepts of Islam and then suffer at least contempt from other Muslims and sometimes more serious reprisals – workplace harassment or wrongful termination if the employer is Muslim.

Religious practice and the processes of officially joining the Church are very complicated for many converts. Some must travel tens or even hundreds of miles to prepare for baptism.

Moving is often necessary for men and almost always for women, especially if the discovery of the Christian faith takes place within the parental home. Young women cannot announce their conversion to their parents if they are still living at home.

All of the young female converts said they feared being or had been beaten by at least one of their brothers, or by a member of their family or community. Faced with this violence, flight is the only solution.