Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
On November 14, 2021, a man detonated an improvised explosive device near the main entrance of Liverpool Women’s Hospital in England. Only he died, though the taxi driver who had just dropped him off was also injured. Although he botched it, investigators concluded that his was a terrorist attack that was planned months in advance.
Emad al-Swealmeen, 32, the would-be terrorist in question, was a born Muslim who arrived in the UK in 2014 and applied for asylum by claiming he was a Syrian refugee. It turned out he was from Iraq or Jordan, and his asylum application was rejected.
Soon thereafter, Emad formally converted to Christianity; in 2015 he was baptized, and in 2017 confirmed, at Liverpool Cathedral. Although it is common for Muslim migrants to pretend to be Christian in order to receive asylum—based on their projected but erroneous belief that Western nations will naturally be more welcoming of Christians—those Christians close to him argue that his conversion was genuine:
[Thus] a church worker in Liverpool who once housed Al Swealmeen said he believed he was a “genuine Christian”… Members of the congregation at Emmanuel Church in Fazakerley, Liverpool, which Al Swealmeen attended from 2017 to 2019, said he had been “a committed Christian” who baked for church cake sales. The Reverend Mike Hindley said Al Swealmeen … was “a really kind guy.”
Moreover, according to a spokesperson from the cathedral that baptized and confirmed al-Swealmeen:
Liverpool Cathedral has developed robust processes for discerning whether someone might be expressing a genuine commitment to faith. These include requirements for regular attendance alongside taking part in a recognised Christian basics course. We would expect someone to be closely connected with the community for at least two years before we would consider supporting an [asylum] application.
Similarly, a spokesperson for the Church of England argued that their clergy would not baptize someone without first being “confident that those seeking baptism fully understand what it signifies…. We are not aware of any evidence to suggest a widespread correlation between conversion to Christianity, or any other faith, and abuse of the asylum system.”
From here, the problem becomes clear: if al-Swealmeen was a genuine Christian—and everyone seems agreed that he was—what motivated him to plot and try to execute a terrorist attack?
The arguments offered from those convinced that he was a true Christian range from claims that he was suffering from a mental illness to claims that Christianity no less than Islam promotes “martyrdom operations” (debunked here). Others argue that his conversion was indeed sincere, but he later regretted and sought to expiate it by becoming a jihadist “martyr.”
Few, however, are willing to consider that, from the very start, he may have been pretending to be a Christian. After all, who would spend years masquerading as something he’s not—going to church regularly, praying, reading the Bible, and overall expressing genuine faith—even baking cakes for church sales?
The problem with this position is that it fails to take into account the extent some Muslims are willing to go to in order to deceive their infidel enemies—especially when threatened with deportation from the boons of infidel living.
History offers an especially applicable example. In 1492, Granada, the final Muslim bastion of Spain, was reconquered. Its Muslims were initially granted lenient terms, including the right to travel abroad and practice Islam freely. However, whenever the opportunity arose, they launched many hard-to-quell uprisings—several “involving the stoning, dismembering, beheading, impaling, and burning alive of Christians”—and regularly colluded with foreign Muslim powers (e.g., Ottoman Turks) in an effort to subvert Spain back to Islam.
The Spanish crown eventually issued an edict that Muslims either had to convert to Christianity—and therefore slough off their jihadist animus—or quit the peninsula. In response, the entire population of Granada—hundreds of thousands of Muslims—openly embraced Christianity but remained crypto-Muslims. Publicly they went to church and baptized their children; at home they recited the Koran, preached undying hate for the infidel and their obligation to re-subjugate Spain to Islam. And all this deception was legitimized by the fatwas of leading Islamic clerics.
One historian explains the great lengths these “Moriscos”—that is, Muslim converts to Christianity who were still “Moorish,” or Islamic—went to deceive the Christians:
For a Morisco to pass as a good Christian took more than a simple statement to that effect. It required a sustained performance involving hundreds of individual statements and actions of different types, many of which might have little to do with expressions of belief or ritual per se. Dissimulation [taqiyya] was an institutionalized practice in Morisco communities that involved regular patterns of behaviour passed on from one generation to the next.
Despite this elaborate masquerade, Christians increasingly caught on: “With the permission and license that their accursed sect accorded them,” a frustrated Spaniard remarked in the seventeenth century, “they could feign any religion outwardly and without sinning, as long as they kept their hearts nevertheless devoted to their false impostor of a prophet. We saw so many of them who died while worshipping the Cross and speaking well of our Catholic Religion yet who were inwardly excellent Muslims.”
In short, generation after generation of Muslims pretended to be and lived as model Christians in Spain—even as they had nothing but hatred for Christianity and Christians—and all to remain and eventually reconquer Spain for Islam.
Nor do Muslims go to such great lengths of deception only to evade deportation. Some employ it for exclusively murderous ends. In 2013, for example, an assassination plot against a Christian pastor in Turkey was exposed; 14 Muslim suspects, including at least three women, were arrested. According to the pastor in question, Emre Karaali: “Two of them attended our church for over a year and they were like family.” One was even baptized. In reality, “These people had infiltrated our church and collected information about me, my family and the church and were preparing an attack against us.”
From here, the idea that Emad al-Swealmeen was baptized and attended church for a couple of years in order to gain asylum—and then showed his true colors by going full jihadist mode when denied—do not seem farfetched.
Historic quotes dealing with Islam in Spain were excerpted from and are documented in the author’s book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West.