Book Review: How conversion to Christianity is prevented in the Middle East

Book Review: How conversion to Christianity is prevented in the Middle East

Identity Crisis – Religious Registration in the Middle East by Jonathan Andrews, Gilead Books, 235pp, £8.95
reviewed by Wael Aleji
It is well-known that Christians are persecuted or are at a disadvantage in the Middle East, but lesser-known that
these issues are intermingled with the system of Religious Registration. This legal mechanism determines how citizens are treated in the country and affects society in several ways.
In Identity Crisis Jonathan Andrews explores the question of Religious Registration separately among the different countries in the Middle East. He does this through using real-life examples from each country. This enables the reader to ascertain the universal from the particulars, whilst also exploring the nuances between different countries in which Christians are discriminated and marginalised. Religious Registration is to an extent a root cause in the negative treatment of Christians. It separates society into the majority and the rest.
Andrews points out that Religious Registration is often not about religious belief or practice. There are many nominal Muslims who are labelled as Muslims. If they convert to Christianity, they may still be treated as Muslims. If they are marginalised or discriminated against, there is no appreciation of the fact that previous to their conversion they did not practise their religion or hold any particularly strong beliefs. The affiliation with Islam would appear cultural, as those who are born with a Muslim Religious Registration but convert are often rejected by their families and communities. Regardless of the fact they have converted, Christians still can be loyal and supportive to their family, community and country.
It is Andrews’ argument that greater respect for diversity would benefit all, as it would benefit the economy and allow communities to appreciate the valuable contribution that Christians and other non-Muslims make to society. It is also Andrews’ conviction that people of good will desiring the flourishing of society constitute the majority.
Poor treatment of Christians
Examples of the poor treatment of Christians in the Middle East are explored by Andrews. Christian couples may have to convert to Islam in order to obtain a divorce. There are often poor police procedures and administrative errors regarding Religious Registration. Apostasy is treated as a crime, but the execution of this is particularly integrated with Religious Registration. Church leaders are rather reticent to allow Muslim registered citizens to worship with them in places of worship. There can be difficulty establishing cemeteries for Christians.
Unsurprisingly Andrews believes that such discrimination based on Religious Registration needs to change in line with international guidelines that someone’s change of religion should be respected. However, he does not believe the whole system should be abolished. In the penultimate chapter he outlines the benefits of Religious Registration such as its support for generosity to strangers and for those whose primary focus is the pastoral role of the church. The solution he believes is collective affirmation that Christian communities are a valued and integral part of society. He is optimistic that this will change in the future, for example, through inter-community marriages.



Dr. Wael Aleji is a British-Syrian doctor and psychologist with a special interest in political psychology, counter-extremism and narrative analysis of political Islam movements.

Faith Magazine

September/ October 2019