How to Speak to Muslims
Joseph Fadelle, from Iraq, was born in 1964 into a Muslim family.
He was baptized and received into the Catholic Church in the year 2000. Ten years later he published his autobiography, The Price to Pay, in which he recounts his conversion to the Catholic religion.(Interview conducted by Ladislas Anquetin.)
The Angelus: How did you look upon the Catholic religion before your conversion?
Joseph Fadelle: All I knew about Christians is what the Quran tells us; namely, that Christians are polytheists, ungodly, and impure. That’s the only idea I had of Christianity.
The Angelus: Did you consider Christians to be your enemies?
Joseph Fadelle: I did not consider them so much as enemies as misguided. The Quran tells us that these are people who are far from the right path, therefore people gone astray: They are unclean, ungodly, and so we don’t mingle with them, we don’t go near them. In fact, in the Quran there are also verses that say: “Kill the polytheists.” But I didn’t know any Christians; I had never been around any or approached them or tried to get to know them.
The Angelus: At what point in your life did you begin to have doubts about Islam?
Joseph Fadelle: It was the first Christian I met who invited me to read and understand the Quran. It was beginning with this invitation that I began to ask myself questions.
The Angelus: What kind of questions?
Joseph Fadelle: When I wanted to understand the Quran, I addressed myself to a specialist in Shia Islam, asking him to explain how I ought to proceed and to help me. He told me the obstacles were knowledge of the language, the grammar, and the context of every verse... He gave me to understand that it would be difficult. Nevertheless, I began to read it verse by verse, and I went and consulted him so that he could explain it to me.
The Angelus: Then what happened?
Joseph Fadelle: Quite a few of the verses really struck me, those calling for violence, murder; those humiliating to women; those calling for the violation and abuse of children. I reached the conviction that these verses and the Quran are not the word of God.
The Angelus: Was it hard for you to come to that conclusion?
Joseph Fadelle: My research on the Quran lasted five months, so it did not come about in a day. It was not just one verse that struck me. There are numerous examples. In addition to delving into the Quran, I studied the life of Mohammed. I consulted all the authoritative references in Islam, and I discovered that Mohammed killed, stole, committed adultery, said one thing and did the opposite. There is no wrong that he did not commit during the course of his existence.
The Angelus: Despite these conclusions, you could have had a tranquil Muslim life because you had a privileged place in Iraqi society. Why didn’t you just settle for that?
Joseph Fadelle: At first, when I reached the conclusion that the Quran is not the word of God and that Mohammed is not a prophet, that’s what I did. I remained to all appearances a Muslim. I continued to live without deepening my practice, and I continued, in effect, to profit from all the privileges of my family position. Without, however, losing faith in God.
But the second stage in my life was my encounter with Christ. Once you encounter Christ, you don’t play around anymore with truth. You don’t turn away from the light. From that moment, you leave everything for Christ.
The Angelus: How did this encounter happen?
Joseph Fadelle: I had asked this same Christian who invited me to read the Quran and understand it to bring me a copy of the Gospel. He had answered me: Read the Quran first, understand it, and then I’ll bring you the Gospel afterward. And so, after my study of the Quran, a few months later, the Christian remembered his promise and brought me a New Testament.
I should tell you that before this Christian brought me the Gospels, I had a dream. I was standing at the edge of a stream about a yard wide, and on the other side was a man. I was attracted by his presence, and I had but one desire—to be on the same side, to join him. I began to step across the stream, which was not that wide, and there I found myself suspended mid air, unable to land on the other side nor go back! Hanging in the air, unable to touch the ground! The man notices me, he sees that I am lost and unsteady; he reaches his hand out to me and brings me near him, and he tells me: “Before coming to me, you have to eat the bread of life.”
The Angelus: Did you understand this sentence?
Joseph Fadelle: No, not at all! The expression meant absolutely nothing to me; it was entirely new, alien to my culture. No one in my entourage had ever used it. I did not understand the meaning and I didn’t try to understand it, but the memory was engraved in my heart. It was that very morning that the Christian brought me the Gospels. I took it, I opened it at random, and I fell at once on the Gospel according to St. John, Chapter 6, and I read: “I am the bread of life.”
The Angelus: How do you interpret this?
Joseph Fadelle: It was a personal invitation to read the Gospel. I was going to read it, and it was through the reading of the Gospel that I came to meet and to know Christ.
The Angelus: Was this dream decisive for you?
Joseph Fadelle: Yes and no. The dream is not the foundation and basis of my faith. I met Christ in the Gospel. The dream was only the invitation to enter the Christian religion and to know Christ Jesus.
The Angelus: Subsequently you were shot at, chased, imprisoned... You had to flee from your family, who threatened you, your country, your friends. Why is it so difficult to leave Islam?
Joseph Fadelle: In the Quran, which is considered to be the word of God, it is written: “Kill anyone who leaves Islam.” Besides that, there is a “hadith” of Mohammed—and whatever Mohammed says is very important for Muslims—that says: “Whoever among you should leave Islam, kill him.” That is the reason why it is so difficult to leave Islam.
The Angelus: Even your family and friends are supposed to kill you?
Joseph Fadelle: What is important for them and what comes first, even before bonds of blood or friendship, is pleasing God, satisfying him, doing his will. So it is the commandment of their God to kill anyone who leaves Islam that takes precedence. Obviously, they are going to obey. That may seem surprising, but even the family is going to kill in order to accomplish the will of God.
The Angelus: Have you ever had a chance to explain yourself to Muslims or to your family? In other words, how can one proselytize Muslims?
Joseph Fadelle: I am in touch with many Muslims in France, but also through the Internet with Muslims in Arab countries. The basis of the contact and of the discussion with them is to invite them first of all to reflect on the Quran, to seek the truth about the Quran. That’s the first step.
I draw their attention to the verses which cannot logically be adhered to. I make them reflect by asking questions: Do you think the content of this or that verse is good? They are not familiar with these verses; they are surprised, shocked. These verses are going to revolt them, and I am going to ask them via the Internet to seek to understand these verses.
The Angelus: You dialogue with Muslims. The hierarchy of the Church does too, but one sometimes has the feeling that they do not really want to convert the Muslims. Is this also your impression?
Joseph Fadelle: First of all, I want to say that I am totally in favor of dialogue. It is truly worthy of humanity to dialogue when there’s conflict. As for the Church, her principal mission is evangelization, she ought to be preoccupied with evangelizing the whole human race, and, therefore, Muslims too. The problem today is the choice of individuals who are responsible for dialogue with Islam: These people are not competent. They do not give themselves over wholeheartedly to the mission of evangelization. It seems to me that the goal of these people is simply to calm things down, to arrange things so that people get along and can live together... That is not dialogue in depth and in truth.
The Angelus: Do you have a feeling that converts from Islam bother a certain part of the Church’s hierarchy?
Joseph Fadelle: Yes. Instead of considering us as an encouragement for true dialogue, as a proof that it is possible to reflect and that Muslims can make their way to the true God, they see us only as an obstacle. One begins to wonder what the purpose of their dialogue is. If they are uncomfortable asking Muslims What do you think of this or that verse? or if they have an insufficient knowledge of the Quran, we can do it, for we have already carried out this in-depth reflection. We can ask for an answer to this or that verse, an explanation of this or that incoherence in the Quran. We can be first in line for this kind of dialogue. We have the competence and the legitimacy.
The Angelus: So this is not being done now? No one is asking for your participation?
Joseph Fadelle: Not only do they not invite us to speak—for they see very well what we say and proclaim—but, what’s more, they try to discourage others from inviting us.
The Angelus: How do you explain the conversion of Europeans of Christian culture to Islam?
Joseph Fadelle: Everyone of this sort that I’ve met has never read the Quran and does not understand what’s in the Quran. They don’t know the life of Mohammed; no spiritual conviction attracts them. They often convert to marry a Muslim. It is often for quite other reasons than having read and reflected upon the Quran.
The Angelus: It has been nearly fifteen years since you became a Catholic. Do you feel fulfilled?
Joseph Fadelle: We converts that have made their way from Islam toward the light are transformed. Our whole life is changed. When one recognizes the light, one is happy, and nothing can turn us away from this light and this happiness.
The Angelus: What relationship do you have with Christ?
Joseph Fadelle: Christ is not a stranger to me. He is in me; He lives in me; He is all. I cannot find words to describe the bond of love I have with Him. He is my whole life. He is everything for me.
Translated by A. M. Stinnett from Nouvelles de Chrétienté, No. 151, pp. 9-11.