One day I was asked by a church leader to meet with a new believer and help her to think about whether it was the right time to get baptised and whether she should tell her husband about her new faith. I sat with her and listened to her story of how she came to faith after years of searching and reading the Bible. When she came to faith in Jesus, she found it difficult to reconcile being secretive about her new faith with her love for her husband therefore she was considering how and when to tell him. I listened and together we decided to ask God to show her the right time. At the same time she wanted to be baptised in the church she was attending; her reason for this was that she didn’t feel she belonged as she wasn’t able to take communion with everyone else because she hadn’t been baptised. I listened to her and understood this need for belonging but I said that we should pray and ask God to show her when the right time was. She would one day be baptised, we knew that was the right thing to do, but “when” was up to God. I also reassured her that she belonged to God and pointed to some verses in the Bible which helped her.
Baptism helps us all take the step and make the decision to follow Christ, to find new life in him. But for new believers from Muslim backgrounds the decision to be baptised is a commitment that they take seriously. It is a decision which they see as marking the death of the old identity and the birth of the new identity in Christ.
It is a celebration of new life and of new belonging to Christ, and to his family.
In addition there is the seriousness of the consequences that such a potentially public celebration may involve being disowned by family and community, it may involve death threats and death itself. For this reason, Khalad Hussain (a believer from Muslim background) decided to have a baptism in the presence of a select group of invited people; mainly Christians from his church but also a few white friends who had no faith. It’s a decision that can coincide with telling their family about their new faith in Jesus. It can be an extremely stressful and painful time.
There are many ways to baptize someone who has turned to Christ from Islam, and we certainly don’t want to interfere with your church tradition. But, in the particular case of BMBs, here are some aspects to bear in mind, which you might not have thought about before.
1) What does it mean for the individual getting baptized?
Baptism is an important step for any adult, and perhaps all the more so for those coming from a different religion as they declare allegiance to Christ and to his community. The symbolism of dying and rising with Jesus means a lot to BMBs. They are nailing their colours to the mast. It’s a point of no return. In preparing the person for baptism, you might like to take them through Chapter 15 of the course Come Follow Me which is specifically written for those of Muslim background.
2) What does it mean for the person’s family?
Their Muslim families and community will almost certainly see this step as a mark of betrayal. Muslim attitudes towards apostasy may be shifting a little in the West, at least among the leaders. Nevertheless, the immediate Muslim family and wider relatives of the person taking baptism see it as a humiliating disgrace, and especially if this news gets spread in their community. Try to be aware of this and reduce the shock and shame for the family as far as possible. Therefore, in preparing a BMB for baptism, don’t just think about the spiritual dimension but also the social implications.
3) What practical preparations may be helpful?
Discuss with the individual:
- When is the right time for them to be baptized? Usually God will show this to them by his Spirit, so don’t rush the process; but when the time is right, don’t hold back either. I have noticed that when BMBs repeatedly express a strong desire to be baptized it is usually evidence that God’s Spirit is prompting them within.
- How will their culture be affirmed? I was once present at an Iranian’s baptism in a British church with several other Iranians there too. Most of the service took place in English but the pastor had also asked the Iranians to lead everyone in one baptismal song in Farsi. It was a lovely touch. It has even been suggested that the person getting baptized could make their vows in their mother tongue, with translation; an idea to consider, at least.
- Which people should be present at the baptism? At least some close trusted friends should normally be present, but what about the wider church? Or even non-Christians? In many cases it would be disastrous or at least difficult for Muslim relatives to be present; but occasionally they are open-minded enough to attend, despite the pain in their hearts, and this could do something to connect ‘birth family’ with ‘new family’. Don’t push for this as the BMB herself or himself knows best how the family will react, or whether to tell them beforehand about the baptism.
- How will the church celebrate afterwards? If a small party with refreshments can be arranged, it can give a wonderful message to the newly baptized person: “Welcome to the family!”
- Will photos be taken at the baptism and how will their spread be controlled? These days, with digital photos and Facebook this is a very important question! Public spread of baptism photos may create difficulties to the believer and will certainly bring dishonour to their family. The most sensitive point is when the BMB is going under the water, ESPECIALLY if it is a male baptizing a female. Such photos should be strictly controlled, e.g. by permitting only one trusted cameraperson at this point. But group photos afterwards, of the newly baptized person with their Christian friends, are less sensitive.
- What steps will be taken to guard the modesty of females getting baptized? Try to see this from a Muslim cultural perspective. What does it look like for a lady to be held in the water by a man who’s not her husband? Females baptising females is best if possible. Another sensitive point is in coming out of the water, when wet clinging clothes can compromise modesty; the solution is to have thicker clothes and someone with a towel ready to wrap around her as she emerges from the water.
Extract taken from Joining the Family Book written by Tim Green & Roxy