Observing the Roman Empire crumble from North Africa in the fifth century, St Augustine of Hippo decided that while waging war against fellow Christians was sinful, throwing up arms against pagans and other religious zealots, when done out of ‘love,’ was to be considered medicinal. He compared the slaughtering of pagans to a parent chastising his child in order to build better character.
This kind of thinking remained when Pope Urban II launched the first Crusade in 1095. Referencing the Turks in Byzantium, he stated that it was Christian duty to ‘exterminate this vile race from our lands.’ To rally the masses on their southward march, the Crusades were advertised as a holy pilgrimage as much as a war of extermination. They held fast to the idea that Christian love is painful, but ultimately righteous.
While a ‘war of extermination’ might today resonate with the nuttiest acolytes, other means of conversion are more appealing. In the Persian neighborhood of Westwood, where at the Attari Sandwich Shop you’ll overhear conversations about Iranians being demonized in Argo while slurping down the most delicious osh imaginable, one is currently occurring.
If your tactics are outdated, you have to adapt—think the recent GOP Retreat (great word) to figure out how to reach a changing demographic. Religious crusades too have consistently morphed. For years I walked by the gargantuan Watchtower offices near the Brooklyn waterfront, in awe at how such a huge operation could produce such terribly cheap pamphlets.
The women who proselytize for the Jehovah’s Witnesses on subways are rather innocuous; they stand on the side holding one up, or litter them on seats, hoping an intrigued bystander picks one up. Faisal Malick’s operation is more aggressive. Instead of waiting for people to scoop up his book, 10 Amazing Muslims Touched By God, he’s mailing them to Westwood residents in droves.
A weird metaphysical configuration dependent upon Muslims retaining their Islamic identity while giving complete faith to Jesus, Malick apparently does not see the contradictions he’s presenting throughout this work. If it’s a new religion he’s attempting to inspire, it’s not clear. What is, however, is that this is a new take on an old crusade.
Problems begin right away: Malick’s father was a proud Muslim who refused to raise his family in Haifa, yet he moved everyone to Cyprus to send his children to a Catholic elementary school. During his teenage years, Malick reportedly healed a cancerous tumor in his right thigh with olive oil—doctors wanted to amputate his leg, his mother refused. He attributed this astounding (and rather pagan-sounding) feat to Jesus, in hindsight.
Jesus was not in his life quite yet. That went down when he witnessed an Elvis Presley-like faith healer in Ohio help a lame boy walk again by invoking the Lord’s name. Malick’s Muslim family disowned him; he embarked on an unintentional 40-day fast in the woods of Alabama where, nearly hallucinating, he had a vision of an ‘alive and beating’ human heart. He cried out for Allah to reply, but was apparently taught that that brand of deity doesn’t answer. When he knocked on the other god’s door, a rapture ensued.
Like in the case of Joseph Smith, no one was around to witness the conversion, so Malick runs with it—he even helps a wheelchair-bound deacon walk for the first time in 30 years through his touch. The rest of the book includes eleven (math not being Malick’s strong point) other ‘amazing Muslims’ and their conversion tales, miracles and all: a former jihadi cared for by Christians after a car accident, a Muslim woman sold to a Bedouin family who traveled around the Middle East in a caravan, and another woman who found a Bible in the middle of the road and had a dream in which Jesus shadowboxed Muhammad, and won.
The common thread running through all of these stories is that the Muslim in question suffered either a trauma or crisis of faith, asked for a ‘sign,’ received a ‘message’ from Jesus, and converted to Christianity. Yet Malick posits the book as if the Muslims are still Muslim—people reference similarities between the Qu’ran, Torah and Bible, though they inevitably give their faith to Jesus as the one true prophet.
The goal of this Westwood (and I’m guessing more broadly) intrusion is the modern conversion: pretend open-minded Muslims are ‘checking out’ Jesus as an Islamic addendum while slowly removing the metaphors and figures of Islam. I’m not sure how many people are buying in; the friend I received this book from wrote it off as a joke, although recognized the inherent danger and blatant shadiness of Malick’s dishonesty.
While forced conversion is predominantly nonexistent in America—I’m referring to widespread crusades, not community guilt or cults like Scientology and Mormonism—other methods have had to suffice. Malick’s story is in no way new or unique. He reminds me of a Bible thumper I once encountered in Washington Square Park, a mid-twenty something man who got fuming mad when I suggested what he was doing was akin to the dime bag merchants surrounding us: come get a little taste so we can get you hooked. I’m sure Malick wouldn’t understand the analogy, either, and certainly that wouldn’t stop him from spreading his Word.