The Pope vs. Osama

Alessandra Tarantino: AP

Here's my hero of the hour, Magdi Allam, one of Italy's most prominent Muslims until the Easter Vigil, when he was one of seven to be baptized, confirmed and receive his first communion at the hands of the Holy Father. Since it takes formation and preparation to enter the Church, this was obviously in the works before Mr. bin Laden issued his recent threat against the Holy Father's person, but that backdrop makes the public conversion more poignant...and more brave on both the Holy Father's part and especially Mr. Allam's. He took the name "Christian,"and his account of his conversion is translated here. It's very beautiful, and an example of the fire of love being fanned by adversity:

For me it is the most beautiful day of [my] life. To acquire the gift of the Christian faith during the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection by the hand of the Holy Father is, for a believer, an incomparable and inestimable privilege. At almost 56 […], it is a historical, exceptional and unforgettable event, which marks a radical and definitive turn with respect to the past. ... On my first Easter as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus, I discovered for the first time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason. My conversion to Catholicism is the touching down of a gradual and profound interior meditation from which I could not pull myself away, given that for five years I have been confined to a life under guard, with permanent surveillance at home and a police escort for my every movement, because of death threats and death sentences from Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those in and outside of Italy.

[snip] you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith.

We've heard of the fatwa as a tool of conversion, but usually not to Christianity! Look at what he says about the Pope and his courage:

I will be more so [holding my head high] after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.
The Pope won't treat Muslims with the soft bigotry of low expectations, in other words. He goes on to lament the plight of other Muslim converts to Christianity who can't "come out" because Italian institutions don't adequately protect them. He says the moment has come to stand up:

I hope that the Pope’s historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear. Happy Easter to everyone.

Dear friends, let us go forward on the way of truth, of life and of freedom with my best wishes for every success and good thing.

Don't you feel the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through this conversion? Brave Pope, brave Magdi Christian Allam. Pray for their safety. And be grateful if you live in a country where when you profess your faith --or convert-- the most you risk is sneers of disapproval and extremely insipid news coverage.

The Anchoress has a round-up of links on this subject. Tim Blair notes some media reaction. He quotes the Times of London:
The Pope has risked a renewed rift with the Islamic world by baptising a Muslim journalist...
Dim and dhimmer.

Update:Against the Grain notes in comments and amplifies here the reasons it's not quite accurate to say Allam was a prominent Muslim, as he barely knew and never practiced that faith, and grew to prominence lately as a harsh critic of Islam. Not precisely a "coup" for our side, in other words --at least not in the political sense; it's always a joy to gain a soul for the Church, of course. He also collects reaction from Italian Muslim groups --all rational-- by way of warning us not to let the press heighten the tensions involved unnecessarily.

I accept the modification, yet I do see the highly public character of the conversion as a stand for religious freedom, and still see, from Allam's own account, the providential and ironic affect of the fatwas against him on his journey toward Christ.