By Jakob Sheikh
Four steps down and into Holy Water. A deep breath and a firm grip on the vicar’s hand as body and face submerge, to emerge again in the Christian faith.
43-year-old Safiya has taken a controversial decision; in baptism she has taken the final step in putting her Muslim past behind her.
“It is not an easy choice, but necessary for me if I am to feel a complete person,” says an enthusiastic Safiya as she takes in a standing ovation from members of the Free Church of Love.
An Iranian, Safiya has joined the ranks of the 100-150 other Muslims in Denmark who will convert to Christianity this year.
Priests, ecclesiastical organisations and experts all agree that the number of those who convert from Islam to Christianity has steadily increased in recent years.
“I would say that there are 100-150 Muslims in Denmark who convert each year,” says Intercultural Studies Expert Mogens Mogensen Ph. D.
Mogensen has carried out the most extensive survey ever of conversions from Islam to Christianity in Denmark. The survey concludes that almost 1,000 Muslims converted between 1980 and 2007.
“But in recent years the phenomenon has increased. Probably as a result of the fact that through education and work, Muslims have had much closer contact with Christians in Denmark and their values. We see a clear correlation between integration and the number of conversions,” Mogensen says.
The Ecclesiastical Integration Service (KIT), an umbrella organisation for 230 migrant congregations in Denmark, agrees that there is a considerable increase in the number of conversions.
“My clear feeling is that this has speeded up over the past two years. We get a lot more approaches from Muslims who want to learn more about Christianity,” says KIT Leader Henrik Lund.
One of the congregations that preaches Christianity for former Muslims is the Greater Love congregation at Vigerslev Church in Copenhagen.
“Over the past two years we have had an increasing number of Muslims who come to be embraced by Christianity than all of the previous years put together. They experience religious freedom in Denmark and for the first time many can choose the religion they want,” says Priest Nabil Astafanos.
Back at the Church of Love the 150 of the congregation close their eyes, spread their arms and sway from side to side.
Apart from a few Danes, the congregation is primarily of Afghan and Iranian extraction, with services held alternatively in Danish and Farsi.
Safiya says that she feels ‘at home’ in Christianity.
“More and more people do. I actually came to the church for some years, but it took time to gather courage to take the step to be baptised,” she says.
The founder of the church says he is overwhelmed that more and more Muslims seek out his church.
“Last year we had large baptisms almost every month. I can’t say exactly how many have come over the past couple of years, but it is many,” says Massoud Fouroozandeh, himself a convert.
Tendency will continue
Islamic Researcher Jørgen Bech Simonsen of the Copenhagen University Institute for Cross-cultural and Regional Studies, says the tendency will continue.
“The Muslims who take up residency in Denmark are challenged by another religious understanding and thus ask themselves questions about religion. The world is becoming much more globalised and will result in more people challenging what they come from,” says Simonsen.
The name Safiya is an alias. Politiken has her full identity.
Edited by Julian Isherwood