Is a Forced Conversion to Islam Valid? Fox News journalist Steve Centanni and freelance cameraman Olaf Wiig were kidnapped earlier this month and held captive by Palestinian militants for two weeks before being released on Sunday. Centanni said his captors forced him to "convert" to Islam at gunpoint.
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Is a Forced Conversion to Islam Valid?

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Is a Forced Conversion to Islam Valid?


Yesterday on the program I interviewed Steven Centanni, the Fox News journalist who had been kidnapped in Gaza. He said his captors forced him to convert to Islam. Here's what he said on a videotape they made of him.

Mr. STEVEN CENTANNI (Journalist): I'm an American. After I entered Islam I changed my name to Hammed. I have embraced Islam and say the world Allah. And my leader is the prophet Mohammed.

BRAND: When I asked Steve Centanni yesterday if he had indeed converted, this is what he said.

Mr. CENTANNI: Did I convert? I don't know enough about Islam to know if it was official or recognized, if it went through the proper procedure or not. They believed we had. I believed we had.

BRAND: Well, how do you convert to Islam? Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi of the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign joins me now. He's a professor history and sociology and he specializes in Islamic movements. Welcome to the program.

Professor BEHROOZ GHAMARI-TABRIZI (University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign): Thank you for having me.

BRAND: Well, technically, is Steve Centanni now a Muslim?

Prof. GHAMARI-TABRIZI: Absolutely not. Because there is a very, very strong worded provision in the Koran that there's no compulsion in their religion. And if by any means somebody is forced to convert, that conversion is basically not recognized by any Muslim authorities.

BRAND: So what is the accepted process of converting?

Prof. GHAMARI-TABRIZI: The first basic thing is that the conversion should be absolutely voluntary and with somebody's own will. And since Islam doesn't have a formal hierarchical clerical system, that conversion can be just a recitation of a simple phrase that people say I bear witness that there is no God but God and Mohammed is his messenger or his prophet, and that can be done in seclusion and nobody needs any other witnesses to that.

BRAND: And do you need to change your name?

Prof. GHAMARI-TABRIZI: Yes, you do. And usually people change their name and they make that public by, you know, announcing it in newspapers or flyers in the neighborhoods and things like that.

BRAND: As I understand it, Muslims don't proselytize, so how do they get people to convert?

Prof. GHAMARI-TABRIZI: It's basically - I mean most of the people who have converted in the last century to Islam is through marriage, and most of the proselytizing happens among different Muslim sects. Seldom does one see any Muslim missionary crews who are trying to convert non-Muslims to the religion of Islam. So there's a different - completely different sort of the procedures for Muslims vis a vis, you know, converting others to Islam.

BRAND: Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi is a professor of history at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. Thank you very much.

Prof. GHAMARI-TABRIZI: Thank you for having me.

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