New Wineskins Missionary Network



Coming out as a Christian to your Muslim Family, Part 1 of 2

This is now the fourth installation in my series on pastoral care for Christians who have converted from Islam. We started by addressing the issue of baptism, then the personality of God as portrayed in the Qur’an v. the Bible, and then the role of history in helping to form a firm identity for the convert.

In this article, I want to address what is certainly one of the most sensitive and difficult issues: how does the CMB (Christian from a Muslim background) disclose his/her new identity as a Christian to his/her family and, in general, to his/her local community?

I begin with the contention that there is clearly one course of action that is not viable: the convert never revealing his/her new faith. On a social level, that is really what the Islamic shari’a is trying to accomplish: to contain the pollution of the Christian message. “Feared contagion extends the danger of a broken taboo to the whole community.”[1] The risk of contagion can be stymied by executing the convert—as the Prophet enjoined—or, as is common today, by forcing the convert to leave his/her homeland for the West. In both circumstances, the polluting reminder that someone looked at Islam and said, “No,” is purged.

The Umma can return to its quotidian life founded on the myth that Muslims are “the best of all peoples,” as the Qur’an repeatedly affirms. The taboo status of apostasy is a psychological necessity because, “Taboo protects the local consensus on how the world is organised. It shores up wavering certainty.”[2]

But execution and exile are not the only ways of containing the pollution of apostasy: there is also the option of enjoining silence. When the Muslim community can force the convert to never speak about his conversion the pollution has been contained and there is no risk of contagion.

The convert whose conversion is not known to others—especially his immediate family—does not have in the fullest sense of the word a valid conversion. This is because conversion is “…a comprehensive personal change of religious worldview and identity, based on both self-report and attribution by others.”[3] If others do not identify the person as a Christian, then on some level they are not—in the fullest sense of the word—a Christian.

For all of these reasons we cannot and should not acknowledge self-censorship as a valid, long-term option for the CMB: “Their personal faith commitment must become their public identity within their Muslim family and community.”[4]

To reiterate: when we are speaking of coming out, it is always a question of when and how, but never of whether or not. This reality should be made clear to the convert. I also note that many Muslims come from an ethical tradition influenced by taqiyya or dissimulation, wherein lying or concealing the truth is licit in order to preserve one’s well-being. There is no room for such a doctrine or practice among the People of God. This should likewise be made clear early on in a pastoral relationship.

Let’s start with what to avoid. Avoid a passionate and angry denunciation of all things Islamic, especially the Qur’an and Muhammad. There is no question in my mind that the moral fabric of Muhammad’s life is deeply flawed and I go into some depth on the topic in one of my other books.[5] But as someone said, “Don’t tell a guy his mother is ugly even if she is ugly.” The convert probably has strong misgivings about Islam and these are often integral to the turning away from Islam in disappointment, but in coming out, it is preferable to emphasize the positive factors that attracted the convert to Christianity.

This article will be continued in Part 2 next Monday.

[1] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (Routledge Classics, 2002 [1966]), p xiii.
[2] Ibid, p xi.
[3] Henri Gooren, Religious Conversion and Disaffiliation (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), p 3.
[4] Don Little, Effective Insider Discipling (DMin thesis at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 2009), pp 122–3. This was later edited and published with the more helpful title Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities: Scripture, History and Seasoned Practices (IVP Academic, 2015).
[5] Duane Miller, Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity (Credo House, 2018). See the chapter on Muhammad.

Duane Miller.jpg

Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller lives in Madrid with Sharon and their three children where they teach and minister at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer. He is associate faculty at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE). You can contact Duane here