Pope Receives Muslim Critic of Osama bin Laden

Deal W. Hudson
March 24, 2008

A few days ago, Osama bin Laden released a message threatening Benedict XVI for leading a “new Crusade” against Islam. Whether he meant to or not, the Holy Father issued a ringing answer to the architect of 9/11 by receiving into the Church Europe’s most vocal Muslim critic of bin Laden and Islamic terrorism.

Magdi Allam, deputy director of Italy’s largest newspaper, is a leading journalist and author of several studies of Islamic extremists, including Osama bin Laden: A Journey Through Radical Islam (in Italian only).

He took the baptismal name of “Christian,” which underscored his decision to leave the community of Islam.

That Benedict chose to receive Allam personally has angered some prominent Muslims. “What amazes me is the high profile the Vatican has given this conversion,” Yaha Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, told Reuters. “Why could he have not done this in his local parish?”

Fox commentator Greg Burke, a veteran Vatican reporter, warned of “repercussions” because of the “in your face” nature of Allam’s reception into the Church. The most obvious repercussions may be for Allam himself, who predicts he will receive his second “death sentence” for the “apostasy” of his conversion from Islam. The first death sentence he received came as a result of his public criticism of Islamic terrorism and his defense of Benedict’s 2006 speech at Regensburg.

“I realize what I am going up against, but I will confront my fate with my head high, with my back straight, and the interior strength of one who is certain about his faith,” said Allam.

The consternation of Muslim leaders like Pallavicini may throw a wrench into preparations for the upcoming meeting between the Holy Father and Islamic religious leaders. This meeting was scheduled for later this year after 138 prominent leaders signed a letter of protest to Benedict for his Regensburg speech, which raised the issue of Holy War and forced conversion in the history of Islam. Allam was critical of the letter to Benedict and refused to support it.

Allam, it seems, has not been a practicing Muslim for many years. “I was never practicing,” he was quoted in an Italian newspaper. “I never prayed five times a day, facing Mecca. I never fasted during Ramadan.”

Born to Muslim parents in Egypt, Allam was sent early to Catholic boarding school before moving to Italy and attending La Sapienza University, which was founded by Boniface VIII in 1303 but was secularized in 1870.

The mounting criticism of Allam from Muslims, along with the death threats, has led him to become a strong defender of Israel. Allam’s Viva Israele (Long Live Israel) was published last year.

“Having been condemned to death, I have reflected a long time on the value of life. And I discovered that behind the origin of the ideology of hatred, violence, and death is the discrimination against Israel. Everyone has the right to exist except for the Jewish state and its inhabitants… Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to life.”

The Vatican has sought to downplay Allam’s conversion, saying, “For the Catholic Church, each person who asks to receive baptism after a deep personal search, a fully free choice, and adequate preparation, has a right to receive it.”

Of course, the same 138 Muslims who signed the letter protesting the Regensburg speech will note how the Vatican statement contrasts perfectly with the themes of Holy War and forced conversions that created the controversy in the first place.

In receiving Allam in St. Peter’s, the Holy Father has taken a public stance with a man whose articles are deliberately provocative. Take, for example, his column discussing his decision to convert. He described his embrace of Christianity as being “liberated from the obscurantism of an ideology which legitimizes lies and dissimulation, violent death, which induces both murder and suicide, and blind submission to tyranny.”

In contrast to Islam, Allam writes, “Christianity is the authentic religion of Truth, Life, and Liberty.” He adds, “Beyond the phenomenon of extremists and Islamist terrorism at the global level, the root of evil is inherent in a physiologically violent and historically conflictual Islam.”

Allam’s conversion and his very public reception by Benedict XVI heighten the drama surrounding the pope’s upcoming trip to the United States from April 15-20. Packed into that trip will be many opportunities for him to address, once again, the problem of Islamic extremism – most notably, his visit to “ground zero” in lower Manhattan on the last day of his stay.

Some commentators are predicting that the media will take a pass on Benedict’s first trip to the United States. It’s impossible to predict what might bump the pope out of the news cycle, but there are multiple dramas surrounding his trip, and the Allam affair has just added another one.

One can imagine that the Holy Father was advised not to receive Allam personally after the threat from bin Laden. But this is the man who “called out” Islamic extremists at Regensburg and then, risking his own safety, traveled to Turkey a year later. I cannot imagine Benedict changing his plans on account of any threat – least of all from the likes of Osama bin Laden.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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