For Some Muslim Asylum-Seekers In Germany, Christianity Beckons : Parallels Some Muslim migrants from Afghanistan and Iran are converting to Christianity in Germany. Skeptics claim it is a ploy to gain asylum.
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For Some Muslim Asylum-Seekers In Germany, Christianity Beckons

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For Some Muslim Asylum-Seekers In Germany, Christianity Beckons

For Some Muslim Asylum-Seekers In Germany, Christianity Beckons

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, let's talk about Germany, which has welcomed a lot of refugees and migrants in recent months - a lot, but not all. You'll recall that many of the refugees come from Syria, but many of the arrivals to Europe come from further afield, such as Afghanistan. And Germany is now working on a plan to send many asylum-seekers back to Afghanistan unless they can prove their lives are in danger. Some see converting to Christianity as a way to do that since Christians could be endangered in Afghanistan. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson visited a Berlin area church catering to the new Christians, and she found deportation wasn't the only reason Muslims are converting.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Daoud Rahimi is one of dozens of asylum-seekers here at Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church on a recent afternoon.

DAOUD RAHIMI: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Like other Afghans seeking refugee status in Germany who I've interviewed, the 20-year-old from the Taliban-rife province of Ghazni is quick to affirm his Muslim faith. But Rahimi says he hasn't ruled out converting to Christianity. He says he might do so to avoid deportation, given a government deal in the works with Kabul to repatriate many Afghan migrants.

RAHIMI: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Rahimi says, "If my country were safe, that would be OK, but it isn't. And if I return, my life will be in danger." The pastor here at Trinity Church, Gottfried Martens, is sympathetic.

GOTTFRIED MARTENS: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: But he stresses to Rahimi and the others attending the recent baptism class that becoming Christian must be about faith and not fear. Martens says his students have to convince him and other church elders that their desire to convert is sincere.

MARTENS: I talk to them personally and see whether they are really convinced that they are Christians, whether they really know the basics of the Christian faith. And when I see that that's not the case then I do not baptize them, of course.

NELSON: Those who are baptized get more than a new faith, they also get to stay in Germany. Under EU rules, migrants aren't deported if they face persecution in their home countries for being converts. Even so, converts are few when compared to four million Muslims in Germany. Some who do become Christian complain they are harassed by other Muslims here. At Trinity Church, Muslim converts dominate the active congregation of 900. Three-quarters of them are Iranian and most of the others are Afghan.

MARTENS: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: During this baptism class, Martens teaches the Iranian and Afghan students about the meaning of Holy Communion, which a congregant translates into Farsi. The pastor says many of his Iranian students already know about Christian practices. The reason, he explains, is an underground evangelical movement in the Islamic Republic that comes from abroad and takes place in secret in people's homes.

MARTENS: There is a big awakening going on in Iran at the moment. There are serious estimations going from 500,000 to one million secret Christians in Iran, and the Secret Service is trying to find them. And when they find them, of course, they have to flee and so they come here.

NELSON: Disillusionment is also a strong motivator for conversions, says Jorn Thielmann, who heads the Erlangen Center for Islam and Law in Europe.

JORN THIELMANN: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: He says, many of these former Muslims personally experienced Islam being politicized or misused. A Trinity congregant who goes by his Christian name Silas says he became disillusioned with Islam. The 25-year-old Iranian Kurd, who wears a silver cross necklace, refuses to give his family name because it would endanger relatives back in the Islamic Republic.

SILAS: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Silas says he fled to Norway in 2012 after Iranian authorities tried to recruit him as a spy. His asylum case was rejected, and the Norwegians tried to deport him. Silas fled to Germany last winter and was granted sanctuary by the Berlin church. He says even before he came to this church, he had started reading a Bible belonging to a fellow asylum-seeker at a German refugee camp.

SILAS: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Silas adds he's so committed to his new faith, that even if he were to be deported back to Iran, he would never give it up. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

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