London: We wrote about our concerns for the church after Police investigators became stumped by the motives of the Liverpool terrorist who unintentionally blew himself up in a taxi on Remembrance day (click here for recap).
It is postulated that the terrorist was targeting the Remembrance Day service at Liverpool Cathedral. It is also believed that an accidental trigger or overstepping a timer due to traffic delay, caused the detonation in the taxi. Police have since confirmed that the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was packed with ball bearings and was definitely created to maim, injure or kill civilians. So this was not a personal suicide mission. Police at the time stated they were keeping an ‘open mind’ in their investigations as the perpetrator was a Christian convert. Further news since then, suggests that the terrorist was in fact a follower of the Islamic faith at the time of the detonation.
In The Times on 20th November it read that police investigators are now aware that in the preceding months to his attack, Islamist terrorist, Emad Al Swealmeen had reverted to practising Islam. This news is based on evidence shared with police from associates of Mr Swealmeen Read more on this (click here).
Several theories are being postulated about why Mr Al Swealmeen undertook the attack, one being that he may have been atoning for an initial falling away from Islam to Christianity, whereas other experts believe that his conversion to Christianity may have simply been a façade.
The Times reporter, wrote: ‘Associates are believed to have told detectives that Al Swealmeen, 32, an Iraqi asylum seeker, had since returned to Islam, although sources said that was “not a motive for an attack”. Counterterrorism police are yet to find evidence of an ideology that motivated him.’
BACA have often shared the commonly held belief in some circles of Islam, that quitting the faith is a crime so heinous it is punishable by death. The basis for this conviction is derived from the Hadith (accounts of Muhammed and sometimes his associates and their traditions, word and actions [click here]).
‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’ Sahih al-Bukhari 6922, Book 88 Hadith 5.
This is not the only verse in the Hadith that speaks about killing apostates (those who quit Islam) but is the most widely known.
Whether, Mr Al Swealmeen returned to the Islamic faith or was always a Muslim and simply used false-adoption of Christianity to strengthen his asylum appeal, it would seem that he was susceptible to the hardline Islamist agenda. Moreover, the belief that he was targeting Liverpool Cathedral suggests that Mr Al Swealmeen was willing to kill people who he may have known for the purposes of Jihad (holy Islamic war). This would have included Mr Hitchcott a retired Lieutenant Colonel who housed and discipled Mr Al Swealmeen for two years.
It should be noted that Mr Al Swealmeen only started to attend Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in late 2015, after his first plea for asylum was rejected, and he then officially converted to Christianity in March 2017 (date of confirmation).Mr Al Swealmeen became a regular attendee at a church in Fazakerley, Liverpool that he attended until late 2019. The reason given for his leaving the church was a house move, at which time he stopped returning messages from his vicar.
Two local mosques have denied any knowledge or recognition of Mr Al Swealmeen.
The Times reports that Mohammed al-Shareey, imam of the al-Taiseer Mosque, which is only a ten-minute walk away from the site of detonation, said: “Many people come and pray and then go but this guy, I have never seen him. This man was a danger to us all. Our wives and mothers were in that hospital and he would have hurt everyone if he had succeeded.”
They also wrote that a regular at the Hamza community centre, said: “I have never seen the lad before in my life and I have a shop near by.”
The Times added that regulars at the larger al-Rahma Mosque, which can hold up to 2,500 worshippers on a Friday, and is a mile away, said they did not recognise him. Mr Al Swealmeen must have learnt his hardline doctrine from somewhere and we can only hope that the the National Counter Terrorism Policing Network are doing all they can to find the source. On 17th November, The Church of England sent out a rather bizarre comment stating that they were not aware of any link between converts and asylum system abuse (click here).This flies in the face of comments made on the same day by Mr Malcom Hitchcott who discipled Mr Al Swealmeen and gave him a home. Mr Hitchcott a lay preacher and former Assistant Leader of Liverpool Cathedral’s Iranian Ministry stated quite the opposite to a judge when he represented an asylum seeker at a tribunal, Sky News obtained a copy of the court papers and shared his comments made to Deputy Upper Tribunal Judge Gaenor Bruce (click here):“I am aware that there are some asylum seekers who attend church with the sole purpose of advancing their asylum claims.”Judge Gaenor Bruce at the same 2015 hearing of an Iranian asylum seeker, replied:
“[Mr Hitchcott] understands that some Iranians might pretend to have found Jesus in order to support a false claim for asylum”.
In 2016, Rev Peter Wilcox the former Dean of Liverpool’s comments in The Times, created a backlash, he said:
“I can’t think of a single example of somebody who already had British citizenship converting here with us from Islam to Christianity,”
In the article he spoked about mixed motives for conversions to Christianity via the Anglican Church, including desire to get Muslim children into well performing Christian schools and a swifter asylum process.
BACA have some experience of helping converts from Islam especially those who are persecuted in Britain. We supported Nissar Hussan when he was persecuted for 17 year in Bradford for his public conversion, even helping move home for his family’s safety when he was given a deadline of two weeks by local police who said they were unable to protect him (click here). We also helped a former Afghan Muslim who once even considered joining ISIS from similar persecution (click here). Both are very genuine Christians, continue to speak out against extremism while reaching out to Muslims, and are still friends with BACA (click here).
Both the converts above had UK citizenship before they converted and in fact Nissar Hussain has been a long term campaigner for the Church of England to provide more support for converts, as he has always felt he was overlooked. It may well be that in their focus on sharing the Gospel and supporting asylum seekers (which are perfectly good Christian responses), that helping other converts who they expect to be more established in the UK has become a lessened priority. Rev Wilcox seems to have been oblivious of the trials of Nissar Hussain which became public many years before his comment. Nisssar was born a British citizen and he is not the first nor the last British born convert. If Liverpool Cathedral were not seeing many of such converts, it illustrates that there may well have been a lot of abuse of their Alpha Course system.
The growth of the Iranian Church in the UK has been phenomenal and I am pleased to say that I attend a Baptist Church in Ilford, at which a 40 strong congregation exists. BACA were also invited as guests to the ordination of Shariar Ashrafkhorasani (click here) at Blackburn Cathedral in 2017, he is a Muslim convert we helped with an issue. So we are aware that genuine converts outnumber those simply seeking asylum but we have always as a group called for discernment, as we have to protect newly saved converts from those who are disingenuous.
In a written media statement, the diocese of Liverpool said:
“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 application.”
BACA have some contentions with this procedure. The Anglican Church distribute Alpha Course certificates in as little as five weeks. The Sky News article infers that these certificates were being used by some asylum applicants as confirmation of Christianity and that one successful applicant then referred five more friends to the course. This apparently caused such a burden on the Liverpool ministry as they could not cope with the number of court hearings they were asked to attend. The Alpha Course is hardly a benchmark for adoption of faith it is a precursor. Alpha courses however, should be available to anyone that wants it and the Church of England should be proud of delivering so many courses. For us the contention is the active role the Church of England takes in providing letters of support towards asylum applications and representation at hearings. A local Baptist Church in Ilford have a 40 strong Iranians Church but all the members know they will not get any asylum support from the church.
The Baptist Church share the gospel, provide discipling, they create a welcoming space and provide practical living support where possible. They leave deciding the the merit of an asylum application to Home Office caseworkers or Judges during a judicial review.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. Mark 12:17
British Asian Christian Association, has offered over 60 Christians a country expert report on Pakistan to bolster their asylum applications. The report does not contend that the convert is a true believer nor does it support their application by stating that the applicant will suffer persecution if they return to Pakistan – they are required to prove that via their solicitor. It does however highlight national and more localised situations that will negatively impact on the Christian lifestyle of the applicants, if forced back to Pakistan. So far we have an 87% success rate on appeals of which all but one are generational Christians. The one convert we assisted is still very much a practicing God-fearing Christian.
We have refused several alleged Christian converts our assistance. One of them claimed he wanted to become Christian because he appreciated the way people in the west cared for animals and equated that to Christian love, and others with similar spurious reasons for enlightenment have also been denied.
If we find it difficult to deduce a persons genuine salivation we seek the help of Nissar Hussain or Jay and sometimes Shariah Ashrafkorasani. We have a fail safe mechanism of elucidating the veracity of salvation for ex-Muslims and it seems to be working, but we dare not divulge more here.
The other way we help is by altering the mechanisms by which assessments of an individuals Christianity is determined by the Home Office. We condemned the use of Bible trivia to assess a new converts Christianity through the BBC (click here), though even back then in 2016 we admitted we were aware of bogus converts. We then worked with the Home office to improve the existing guidance and training for caseworkers (click here).
In our opinion, most of the decisions made by the home office have been pretty good. Not every asylum seeker is genuine nor is every Christian convert in many churches a true believer, this has been known by people involved in evangelical ministries for decades. The Church as a body should concentrate on what it is good at, sharing the Gospel, discipling and baptising Christians. There can be no come-backs for this. The churches humanitarian support for asylum-seekers should be economical and emotional support by providing where possible; food, clothing, help with accommodation and support in cultural acclimatisation. Having a list of solicitors that may be able to help asylum seekers is about as far as a church should go in our opinion, but we realise that emotional attachments create a desire to go further.
I remind all our readers that we believe there are over 5 million Christians attending churches in Pakistan. More church going Christians than in the UK. The number of Christians in Iran is also steadily increasing with numbers believed to be around the 1 million mark (click here). Converts can return home and live in Christian enclaves and find safety there, though they will no doubt lose many previous relationships.
As a priority we do not seek asylum for Christians (unless blasphemy convicts) and only offer support once they are in the UK. Why diminish the strength of the body of Christ in Pakistan, or of Syria which has one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world.
Mr Al Swealmeen had not yet gained asylum status (the Home Office believed he was Syrian and falsely claiming to be Iranian). The Daily Telegraph has established:
“…that after his initial application was rejected in 2014, Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, converted to Christianity on a five week course in an attempt to make officials allow him to stay in the UK.
“He then launched appeal after appeal after appeal to frustrate the system and even had a legal challenge pending when he launched his terror attack…” (click here for Daily Telegraph article)
Its terrifying to think that the Church of England in assisting an assumed new believer, kept a terrorist in this country. But we do not blame them for it.
Perhaps now is a time to review exactly what help UK Churches should offer. We are willing to share our advice on how to identify a false convert to any organisations that call for it. Some of it may be uncomfortable and it may be best to operate the vetting using suitable genuine converts like Nissar Hussain who know what traits to look out for.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“News of the betrayal by Mr Al Swealmeen should not dissuade Churches from helping asylum seekers or welcoming them to the UK.
“Jesus was betrayed by Judas with a kiss and it must feel like a similar incident has occurred to those involved in Mr Al Swealmeen’s discipleship.
“But the fact remains that charity and good works are a primary tenet of the Christian faith.
“We must continue to extend our hand of friendship and love for the beleaguered but must also be wise enough to set safe operational limitations.
“We thank God, that none of the intended targets of Mr Al Swealmeen were killed in his failed terrorist attempt.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16