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Miller, Duane Alexander. “Baptism for the ex-Muslim Christian: Some Pastoral Observations.

” New
Wineskins Missionary Network Blog, January 2019.

Baptism for the ex-Muslim Christian:

Some Pastoral Observations


By the Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller1

The number of people converting from Islam to Christianity has never been higher than
what we’re seeing today. There are numerous reasons for this and I have detailed those in
other writings (here and here, for instance). When it comes to caring for these converts,
baptism is without a doubt one of the most sensitive and important issues in relation to
Christ’s converts from Islam.

The significance of the act is not lost on the average Muslim:

I knew that the significance of baptism is not lost on the Muslim world. A person can read the
Bible without arousing too much hostility. But the sacrament of baptism is a different matter. To
the Muslim this is the one unmistakable sign that a convert has renounced his Islamic faith to
become a Christian. To the Muslim, baptism is apostasy.2

In this article I want to outline some good practices and key issues I have observed and
sometimes applied throughout years of research and ministry among Christ’s converts
from Islam.

There is first of all the question of sincerity. It is true that sometimes people from a
Muslim background will seek baptism in order to acquire a certificate of baptism in order
to help them in their claim for asylum or refugee status. Here is a certificate showing that
they are Christian now—at least on a nominal level—and that they would therefore be in

1
Miller serves as priest at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid and is
associate professor at the Protestant Faculty of Theology (UEBE). Contact:
Drdamiller1232@gmail.com, duanemiller.wordpress.com.
2
Sheikh and & R Schneider, I Dared to Call him Father, 1987, p. 61.
1
Miller, Duane Alexander. “Baptism for the ex-Muslim Christian: Some Pastoral Observations.” New
Wineskins Missionary Network Blog, January 2019.
great danger if they were returned to Iran, say, or Afghanistan. The shari’a is very clear
that the apostate of Islam must be executed. As the Prophet of the Muslims himself said,
“Whoever changes his religion, slay him.” The penalty is not always carried out, but it is
orthodox, traditional Islam. Killing the apostate is not any more radical or extremist than
it is for a devout Catholic couple to abstain from using artificial birth control.

Another preliminary issue is related to the physical well-being of the person seeking
baptism. In the words of a Nigerian pastor who is himself a convert from Islam:

It is noteworthy that the expectation of converts for physical/social security from the Christians,
often appears to outweigh the benefits of the most important reward of conversion (eternal life),
which they have automatically received. The challenge here is, that the absence of the former
poses the risk of losing the latter.3

This is a reminder to be aware of balancing the material needs of the convert with the
spiritual needs. This can be very difficult as those needs are often quite pronounced and
can seem overwhelming to the pastor or minister who is accompanying the convert on
her spiritual journey.

Regarding the seeker who is eager for a quick baptism, one course of action, which I have
seen in use in many countries and contexts, is to tell him to a) continue attending the
church and b) baptism is a topic we’ll cover later, when the pastor decides to. If the
person stops attending church after receiving this answer it is a good indication that they
really did just want a piece of paper. If the person continues to attend it is likely that there
is something else in the life of the church that attracts them. A pastor with experience in t
with experience in the USA and Iran once told me that during this period he looks for
signs of moral transformation. As St Paul wrote to the Galatians, the activity of the Holy
Spirit in the life of a woman or man leads to the production of certain fruit—love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians
5:22). The implication is that during this time of waiting the pastor is trying to discern if
God’s Spirit is active in bringing about these changes. However, this does not mean the
convert is expected to become a paragon of virtue before her baptism, just that she is

3
Muhammad Ibrahim, “How we Help Converts” from Passion for Converts.
2
Miller, Duane Alexander. “Baptism for the ex-Muslim Christian: Some Pastoral Observations.” New
Wineskins Missionary Network Blog, January 2019.
open to being molded by God’s Spirit. Furthermore, the ethical transformation is integral
to the long-term formation of an integrated and stable convert identity, which is the
ultimate goal of the pastoral care. This practice therefore ties together a key ritual of
Christianity, redolent with biblical significance, and ethical transformation.

Regarding the sincerity question, the pastor working with converts or potential converts
must also be pragmatic about requests for baptism to some degree. Do we humans ever
make decisions for purely “spiritual” reasons? Is it not common for someone to explain
that they attend St Andrew’s because they like the preaching and, unlike St. John’s, there
is plenty of parking? Do those non-spiritual parking spaces somehow mean that the
person’s entire reason for attending St. Andrew’s is insincere? Of course not. It is entirely
possible for a convert to desire baptism because they are attracted to Christ and want to
confess their affiliation to him in that sacrament while also wanting the piece of paper for
their asylum application.

Baptism is also a rite wherein specific cultural habits that are inconsistent with a Christian
identity can be refuted. Consider this example from pastor “Thad”:

DM: But you do use a modified version of the traditional Presbyterian [baptismal liturgy]?
Thad: Right. But we add a couple things. We ask them to renounce all false religions and all
superstitions. So that they renounce: in their confession they say, “today i renounce,”—we don’t
use the word Islam—“all false religion and all superstitious practice to embrace Christ.” and we
add another question, that they accept the authority of the leadership of the church, and we have
one other question, that they embrace the principle of Matthew 18. So if they have a problem with
another believer they will either try to go personally and work it out or bring another believer.
Because in the Iranian culture, because of the honor society and honor/shame principle, it’s very
difficult to confront each other over problems. So what you do is you just gossip: I got a problem
with Duane, I don’t go to Duane and say “hey Duane, why’d you say that?” I just go around
badmouthing you. So . . . we at least make them say, “I understand that according to Matthew 18,
if my brother has sinned against me I’m responsible to go talk to him and work it out.” Which is
totally against their culture to do. 4

4
Duane Alexander Miller, Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and
ex-Muslim Christians. Pickwick, 2016. p. 188
3
Miller, Duane Alexander. “Baptism for the ex-Muslim Christian: Some Pastoral Observations.” New
Wineskins Missionary Network Blog, January 2019.
The example here is in relation to Iranian culture, but other cultures and societies will
have their own cultural habits that need to be challenged. Ensconcing the ethical
commitment within the baptismal rite reinforces its significance.

Another recommended practice, if possible, is preparing converts for baptism in groups.


In the context of Muslim villages in Southeast Asia one minister told me that they will
not carry out baptisms until there is a large threshold of people—40 or 50. The reasoning
is that it is easy for a Muslim society to compel one or two converts to return to Islam
through abuse and enticement. However, when such a large group converts the ability of
the community to coerce or entice such a large number of people, all baptized at the same
time in what was likely a public gathering, to return to Islam is just too much. The
Muslims resign themselves to living side by side with the new Christians.

Of course many of us are not ministering in Muslim villages, and others don’t have
ministries that could realistically gather a large number of converts at one time. But there
is still wisdom in baptizing people in groups. Baptism is, after all, a rite of passage, and
rites of passage are integral to identity formation and the strengthening of interpersonal
bonds. Many of us still stay in touch with people with whom we were “initiated”—
graduated from high school, college, were ordained on the same day, became eagle
scouts, etc.5 One Palestinian community I observed practiced this, with a lay pastor
explaining that when people are baptized together they form a bond and will keep each
other accountable, which is to say make sure that the other is remaining faithful to their
new identity in Christ. For this reason it is preferable to baptize people in groups rather
than as individuals if at all possible.

Pastor Thad (the same one above) explained how in his church in the USA when Iranians
are baptized they must invite any friends and family who are in the area. Then the
converts share their testimony as to “How I came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”

5
In the field of anthropology this is called comunitas and is associated with the
groundbreaking work of Victor Turner—see his book Forest of Symbols. For more on
rites of initiation for converts see Miller, Living among the Breakage, pp 48–52.
4
Miller, Duane Alexander. “Baptism for the ex-Muslim Christian: Some Pastoral Observations.” New
Wineskins Missionary Network Blog, January 2019.
Is this not inflammatory and offensive? Is the convert not provoking his family by
inviting them to the baptism?

The real concern here is not with making sure that no one’s feelings are not hurt.
Furthermore, there is nothing inherently negative or bad about being offended. Being
offended can be an occasion to question our most deeply held beliefs about God, the
world, and ourselves. And that is part of the intention here. Not to offend for the sake of
offense, but to present in an irenic, welcoming, joyful context a message that is radically
subversive to the Islamic worldview: that Jesus is the Son of God.

In terms of identity baptism, carried out this way, with this confession and friends and
family present, represents a clear break with the past and the proclamation of a new
identity accompanied by an ancient religious rite and (hopefully) carried out in a
dignified manner.6 In this example the songs and preaching are all in Farsi, a meal of
Persian food may follow the baptisms, a sermon in Farsi is preached—all of this helps to
communicate to the non-Christian Iranian that one can indeed be Iranian and Christian,
the traditional conflation of Islam and Persian-ness is in reality a fiction. In other words,
the service acts as a strong argument in favor of the reality and goodness of an identity
that is both Persian and Christian.

Here in Madrid I am founding co-pastor of an interdenominational Arabic Christian


congregation. Recently I met with some other leaders and a Moroccan man who was
requesting baptism. I was very clear with him that leaving Islam did not mean he was
leaving the Arab people or his Moroccan culture. I told him to be ready for family and
friends to tell him that by leaving Islam he has left his people. I explained to him that
there had always been Christians among his people, and that really he was returning to

6
Many Muslims and converts from Islam regard the casualness of some evangelicals in
their worship as being an affront to the dignity and majesty of God. For an example of
liturgy for the baptism of a convert from Islam see Abu Daoud, “Mission and Sacrament,
Part IV: a liturgy for the baptism of Muslims, to be conducted on the feast of Pentecost,”
St Francis Magazine, Vol 10:2, Jun 2014, pp 1–8. All of Abu Daoud’s papers are
available through his page at academia.edu.
5
Miller, Duane Alexander. “Baptism for the ex-Muslim Christian: Some Pastoral Observations.” New
Wineskins Missionary Network Blog, January 2019.
the ancient religion of some of his ancestors prior to the advent of Islamic imperialism.
This sort of historical awareness can help lead to a solid identity in Christ.

Lastly, the custom of inviting friends and family also acts as a check against the person
who only wants a certificate. After all, surely there are other churches that will baptize a
person without insisting they make the potentially dangerous move of inviting relatives
and friends.

We are living in exciting times. The influx of people from a Muslim background to the
West means that even clergy and churches who had never thought about evangelizing
Muslims are forced to consider certain questions about Islam and Christianity. One of
those is, how to honor the conscience of a woman or man who is seeking to leave Islam
and enter the household of Christ, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, through
baptism.