Conversion as an immigration strategy

convert christian islamMike Espirion fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq for the safety of the UK. Photo: BBC

Immigration due to conversion or conversion as immigration strategy?

About half of the asylum cases in Norway are based on religious conversion. This raises the question: “is conversion used as an immigration strategy?”

According to formal statistics, many asylum seekers from the Middle East area who seek asylum in Norway have converted from Islam to Christianity.

“The Norwegian Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) estimates that between 2001 and 2015 approximately 950 individuals converted from Islam to Christianity,” Says Nora Stene.

Nora who has conducted research accordingly adds that:

“One must announce the faith, be baptized, and attached to a local Christian congregation to be considered as a convert by UNE.

“The actual number of converts may also be higher than the figure given above, as asylum seekers may not mention conversion in their applications –or appeals,” she further speculates.

Whether conversion has been done before, during or after filing for asylum; reasons and consequences thereof are noticeable.

Reasons for hiding conversion

According to UNE, most of the asylum seekers who seek asylum based on conversion come from the Middle East or other countries that are being ruled by so-called “Islamic Rules.”

There are several reasons why many asylum seekers hide their conversion

  • Firstly, all branches of Islam both denounce conversion and convict apostates to death. This verdict blocks any way of religious negotiation among those who think differently than the clergy.
    This religious asphyxiation has interrupted the natural interactions of the society aiming to isolate religious minorities.
    For example, visiting churches, observing and/or participating in the religious rituals of non-Muslims are forbidden for Iranian Muslims.
  • Secondly, governments of the religious (in particular Islamic) totalitarian countries claim to enact the Islamic rules and regulations.
    Any weakness in the governmental rules and regulations will, naturally, be attributed to weakening of Islam as the governing religion. In this equation, mistakes made by the government lead to less trust in Islam among the population.
  • Thirdly, the typology of the Middle Eastern context reveals the interwoven relationship between individuals and religion.
    In the complex context of the Middle East, one is being defined by language, tribe, and religion.
    More commonalities result in better integrity and stronger support from the surroundings. In such a context changing religion ends in isolation.
    This is the reason why a lot of people who think and believe differently keep their new faith a secret.
    Some of them convert yet don’t change their Muslim names. They do this is in order to maintain the attachment to their community.

These are the main reasons why some people rather reveal their conversion in another country rather than their home countries.

How to convert safely

When there is a will there is a way. Those who want to think and believe differently manage to organize their safety net, providing them with a sense of belonging. They mingle with those who share the same faith and belief and they learn more about their new religion. This safety net is known as ‘Home church’. Home churches in Iran are very popular with newly converted members.

Due to the official suffocating measures. members try to keep a low profile. Sometimes the Iranian Intelligence Service tries to trap the converted members of home churches by getting close to them in the social media and then ask to meet in person.

To avoid jeopardizing their safety, all those who convert hide their identity.

Despite the existing danger ‘Home churches’ multiply, something which makes the Iranian officials react. They attempt to crack down on as many of these ‘Home churches’ as they can, try some of the members and sentence them to death. Due to international pressure, the Iranian officials have, however, not executed anyone as an ‘apostate’.

In order to control the wave of conversion, the Iranian officials instead accuse converts of other crimes like ‘Conspiracy against the national security’ or ‘Plotting with foreign governments against the integrity of the country’, ‘Spying’, ’Corruption and prostitution’, ‘Forming illegal groups to overthrow the government’ and many other similar accusations.

The Iranian officials revert to such accusations in order to justify their cruel attitude toward converts.


Why Christianity is popular with the Iranian?

According to UNE, approximately 550 Iranian have sought asylum based on conversion between 2001 and 2017. Apart from personal reasons that direct a person to change his or her religion, the Iranian have a different, yet common, reason.

The experiment ‘Political Islam’ has failed Islam as a religion. The Iranian as a people, who experience this failure, seek a religion that respects their identity. It’s as simple as that!

They turn to Christianity – which they believe recognize them as a person – regardless of their hue, language or nationality.

Finally: Although 550 Iranian cases of asylum has been recorded, according to statistics, one should not forget that the number of Iranians who has converted is much larger than this.

Despite the life-threatening situation in Iran, many have converted and actively help those who want to do so. One must also remember that conversion might be used as an ‘immigration strategy’, but one cannot ignore the majority who ‘migrate due to conversion.’

Those who seek freedom of opinion and religion, do not choose other countries in the Middle East in which to file for asylum, they choose countries where they can freely practice their new belief.

The sheer number of immigrants who seek asylum in free countries support this assertion.




“Leaving Islam for Christianity: Asylum Seeker Converts”. Author: Nora Stene.

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This article is written by Zahra Moravvej for Norway Today.

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