Conversion (religion)

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The conversion of Emperor Constantine. Oil painting by Peter Paul Rubens

Conversion ( Latin conversio , reversal, reversal, reversal, conversion, metamorphosis), German change of religion , change of belief or creed means the adoption of new beliefs, religious traditions and customs as well as possibly other parts of the culture associated with the foreign religion by a converting person . Particularly in the religions of preaching and in mission , one speaks of conversion in relation to inner conviction and confession .


The conversion requires the internalization of the respective requirements of the new religious community . A person who has gone through the process of conversion is called a convert or, if he turns to Judaism, a proselyte (Greek προσήλυτος, newcomer).

In some religions , such as Judaism , conversion refers to joining an ethnic group and accepting its history and culture, as well as its religious practice and fate.

According to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , everyone has “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; This right includes the freedom to change one's religion or worldview , as well as the freedom to profess one's religion or worldview, alone or in community with others, publicly or privately through teaching, practice, worship and cult activities. "These rights are in Practice and legislation of different states and legal systems implemented to a very different extent until today; In doing so, a change in religion of the individual often turns out to be a crystallization point and a touchstone at which the degree of freedom that is actually available becomes visible.

The scale to be observed ranges from complete tolerance to the most massive repression (e.g. killing converts who are accused of apostasy or heresy ). See also the World Tracking Index .

In some countries of the world, any change of religion has at least legal or practical consequences for the person concerned if it is accompanied by a turning away from a state or socially recognized worldview or is associated with influence from third parties; In some cases it can be observed that the latter is apparently systematically arbitrary in order to be able to justify the disadvantages inflicted on those affected legally. The prohibition of apostasy in the Sultanate of Brunei , the Comoros , Mauritania , Oman , Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Sudan is anchored in criminal law ; in Yemen the ban on apostasy is even part of the constitution.

Not all religions are missionary to the same extent; A special aspect here is the internal mission carried out in various religions. Majority religions have tried again and again throughout history to force minorities and dissidents to convert and to prevent their own believers from converting with the threat of punishment. In the 20th century there was still pressure to convert in European families on believers in marriage of another denomination . In Western cultures, this phenomenon is now widely believed to have disappeared.

In many Islamic countries, however, converting a Muslim to another religion is a criminal offense. According to common interpretations of the relevant Quranic verses , Sharia even threatens the death penalty for this . However, this cannot be inferred explicitly from the Koran, since it only speaks of God's punishment in the hereafter for apostates (passage in the Koran: Sura 16 : 106) and the Muslims only have to fight against seduction to apostasy ( Sura 8 : 39) becomes, while it is also said that God leads on the right path or astray whom He wills (16:93). In the hadith, on the other hand, punishment is ordered in this world , which also corresponds to the generally valid Islamic legal conception.

Proselyting is an intrusive effort to induce others to change their faith. Sometimes all missionary activity is also called this, regardless of the attitude and methods with which it is carried out. In states that profess a single state religion , such as B. in Greece ( constitution : Art. 13 para. 2 sentence 3) or in many states with an Islamic constitution, proselytism or simply any activity as a result of which individuals could change their worldview or their declared affiliation to a religion or worldview is prohibited . Proselytism as a state of affairs, but also as a term that poisons and defames social discussion, can be a problem in the relationships between different churches, as there is a certain contradiction to mutual recognition.

If the motives for religious conversions are rooted in personality, conversions can be accompanied by identity conflicts. The conversion can be an expression of the desire to resolve such conflicts. If this fails, there can be a new change of faith or the rejection of all religions and religious communities.

Specific conversions


The process of Gijur (also: Giur - גיור) denotes the accession of a non-Jew to Judaism . Judaism regards children of a Jewish mother as Jewish or people who have completed the Gijur trial with the recognition of a rabbinical court, the Beth Din ("Court of Justice"), i.e. H. have joined the Jewish religion. A combination of both exists for the Falaschmura (postulated maternal line and facilitated re-conversion).

There are three necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for a Gijur that is valid according to the Halacha (the religious laws):

  1. Ol mitzwot ("yoke of the commandments"): The conscious, independent decision to be a Jew under the Mitzvot and to take responsibility for it.
  2. Brit mila : Circumcision , if it's a man, and
  3. Tvila : the immersion in a mikveh .

The prerequisites are the firm own decision to become a Jew, the belief in one God ( YHWH ) and the resolution to live Jewish. In some places it is the practice to reject candidates (possibly several times) in order to test their resolve. The aim here is to make sure that the convert is sure of his decision and has chosen him of his own free will. Once it is accepted, the actual introduction to Jewish life begins. See Ruth 1,16  EU .

The convert mostly acquires knowledge of Judaism over the course of the various festivals during the Jewish calendar year (mostly in the lessons of a rabbi or in courses). In front of a Beth Din, d. H. In a meeting of three rabbis authorized to act as judges , it is checked whether all requirements are met and the knowledge of Judaism is sufficient to live as a Jew. In principle, all currents of Judaism are open to conversion. The Orthodox Judaism , however, recognizes the crossings in conservative and liberal not rabbis.

Judaism is not missionary . Under certain conditions, non-Jews and thus all people are given a place in the expected kingdom of God ( Seven Commandments to Noah ) . Belonging to Judaism is not the criterion, but moral behavior. Conversions to Judaism also took place en masse in historical times, such as those of large parts of the Turkic-speaking Khazars in the course of the 8th to 9th centuries.

In Judaism there are two levels of approach to Judaism:

  1. Ger toschav ( גר תושב "roommate"): a gentile who obeys the seven laws of Noah;
  2. Ger zedek ("convert of righteousness"): someone who has become a Jew.

The former got their name from the fact that they were only admitted to the forecourt of the temple and stood at the gate. The proselytes of righteousness, on the other hand, had fully embraced Judaism.


In Christianity , both the conversion from another religion to Christianity and the change from one Christian denomination to another conversion are mentioned. In Christianity, conversion is closely related to baptism .

Different denominations offer support to those who want to convert, often in the form of convert lessons. The conversion is usually carried out with an act of worship in the presence of witnesses, mostly after previous penance (from the Greek μετανοια metanoia, repentance, penance) or confession . Where baptism is mutually recognized among the denominations , catechesis with subsequent confirmation or confirmation lessons with confirmation can also take place. Christian communities that do not recognize the baptism of the church of origin combine conversion with the baptism of converts.

Evangelism or evangelization (more commonly used in the Catholic area) describes the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ . It can be pursued both in the sense of proselytizing non-believers or those of other faiths, which aims at the conversion or conversion and baptism of those addressed, as well as in the sense of catechesis to revive or reawaken the faith of Christians who have already been baptized.


In Islam , speaking the Shahada , the creed (“There is no deity but God, and Mohammed is his messenger”), combined with common prayer , is generally sufficient to be considered a Muslim . Both must be spoken in Arabic and must be done with full awareness. The circumcision in men is not a condition for the conversion. Many converts to Islam adopt an Arabic first name. This can also be registered with the residents' registration office.

Many Muslims reject the concept of conversion to Islam , since every person is born as a Muslim according to the Fitra concept and is therefore only moved to return to true faith in God ( Allah ) through an appeal (Arabic: Da'wa ) .

A well-known convert in the Middle Ages was the Jewish philosopher and personal physician of the caliphs and sultans Abu'l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī († around 1166), known as "the only one of his time" who accepted Islam at an advanced age. In the Ottoman Empire , its own conversion literature was created. In 1556, for example, Murād ibn ʿAbdallāh (1509–1586), a Hungarian convert to Islam, wrote a polemical treatise entitled Kitāb Tesviyetü t-teveccüh ilā l-ḥaqq ("Book of the regulation of turning to the truth"), in which he dealt with the main features of the Islamic faith and emphasized the superiority of Islam over Christianity and Judaism. As he says in the closing remarks, he hoped by writing this treatise to bring about the conversion of Christians from different parts of Europe (lit. Firengistān = "Land of the Franks") and in this way to save their souls. Under Sultan Ahmed I , an institutionalization of the conversion began: in 1609 the names of converts to Islam and the sums of money that were given to them on this occasion were recorded in registers for the first time. The forced conversion of the self-proclaimed Jewish Messiah Shabbtai Zvi attracted particular attention . In 1666 the Ottoman authorities put him in front of the alternative “death or acceptance of Islam” and opted for the latter. A well-known convert to Islam in the 18th century was İbrahim Müteferrika from Hungary , who started up the first Ottoman printing press for Arabic script. He was probably Unitarian before converting to Islam .

According to a study, around 4,000 people in Germany converted to Islam between July 2004 and June 2005.

The Classical Islamic law provides for the conversion from Islam to another religion Community ( apostasy , also called Ridda) for the death penalty. According to the Koran there is no punishment for apostates in this world. In areas that were under non-Muslim rule, conversions by Muslims to Christianity in the past were not infrequently a cause for outrage among the Muslim population. One example was the case of the Muslim girl Saja Čokić from a village near Mostar , who secretly left her parents' home in 1881, shortly after the Austrian occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina , in order to be baptized Catholic and to marry a Christian. The case sparked protests from the Muslim community in Mostar.

In 2006, convert Abdul Rahman faced the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity . To avoid this, he fled the country. The Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was awaiting execution in Iran ; however, he was released in September 2012.


Decisive for the conversion to the Baha'i faith are the acceptance of Baha'ullah as a manifestation of God and the desire to live according to his teachings and to belong to the Baha'i community. In Germany, this is formally indicated by signing a so-called membership card, which is followed by the acceptance of the new member by the National Spiritual Council. Admission is now also possible through an oral declaration.

The conversion to the Baha'i faith does not have an acceptance ritual and is only possible from the age of 15 at the earliest. Children from Baha'i families are already considered Baha'i beforehand; However, since they do not automatically adopt the belief of their parents, they have to make a conscious personal decision on their 15th birthday whether or not they want to continue to belong to the church.

The process of leaving the community is similar to that of admission: You formulate in writing your will to leave the Baha'i community and send it to the respective national spiritual council. If it seems obvious that the wish to leave was formulated prematurely, the Baha'i committees try to discuss it with the applicant. If this is refused and the wish is maintained, the exit is complete. Reasons for leaving do not have to be stated.

See also


  • Fedja Buric: Pragmatic Conversions: Mixed Marriage and Flexibility of Shari'a in Interwar Yugoslavia . Badia Fiesolana: Europ. Univ. Inst., 2012. ( online (PDF))
  • Elisheva Carlebach: Divided Souls: Converts from Judaism in Germany, 1500-1750. New Haven / London 2001, ISBN 0-300-08410-2 .
  • Gesine Carl: Between two worlds? Conversion of Jews to Christianity as reflected in conversion narratives of the 17th and 18th centuries. Wehrhahn, Hannover 2007, ISBN 978-3-86525-069-8 . (Review)
  • Philipp A. Enger:  Proselytes. In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (eds.): The scientific biblical dictionary on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart 2011., accessed on September 5, 2019.
  • Tobias P. Graf: The Sultan's Renegades. Christian-European Converts to Islam and the Making of the Ottoman Elite, 1575–1610 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2017, ISBN 978-0-19-879143-0 (English).
  • Christian Heidrich : The converts. About religious and political conversions . C. Hanser, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-446-20147-5 .
  • Christian Heidrich: Spiritual delight. About conversions and converts. In: Sense and Form. 1/2000, pp. 5-31.
  • Danièle Hervieu-Léger: pilgrims and converts. Religion in motion. Ergon, Würzburg 2004, ISBN 3-89913-384-6 .
  • Nina Käsehage: Conversion to Islam within Germany - with special consideration of constitutional issues. Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-8300-9055-7 .
  • Hubert Knoblauch , Volkhard Krech , Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (eds.): Religious conversion: systematic and case-oriented studies from a sociological perspective. Konstanz 1998, pp. 91-122.
  • Tijana Krstić: Contested Conversions to Islam. Narratives of Religious Change in the Early Ottoman Empire . Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2011.
  • Ute Lotz-Heumann, Matthias Pohlig, Jan-Friedrich Missfelder (eds.): Conversion and denomination in the early modern period. Gütersloh 2007, ISBN 978-3-579-05761-3 .
  • Martin Mulsow , Richard H. Popkin (Ed.): Secret Conversions to Judaism in early modern Europe. Leiden 2004, ISBN 90-04-12883-2 .
  • Patrick Allitt: Catholic converts. British and American intellectuals turn to Rome . Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1997, ISBN 0-8014-2996-X .
  • Adolph Douai : The Convertite . In: The Gazebo . Issue 16, 1867, pp. 247–250 ( full text [ Wikisource ]).

Web links

Wiktionary: Conversion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Convert  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Meyer's Large Pocket Lexicon in 24 volumes. Volume 3: Bahr - Box. 2nd revised edition, BI-Taschenbuchverlag, Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-411-02903-X , p. 129.
  2. Attacks on churches, death penalty for converts. on: September 10, 2012.
  3. 16th electoral term - printed paper 16/10009. (PDF) p. 7, item 12, German Bundestag, July 16, 2008, accessed on January 16, 2014 .
  4. see also Klaus Peter Voss, Athanasios Basdekis (ed.): Changing Churches - A Taboo Topic of Ecumenism? Problems and Perspectives. Lembeck ( ).
  5. Cf. on this Bertram Zotz : Baptized Catholic - Become Catholic. Canonical criteria for membership in the Roman Church. Essen 2002.
  6. ^ Gotthard Strohmaier : Avicenna. Beck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-41946-1 , p. 135 f.
  7. ^ Krstić: Contested Conversions to Islam. 2011. p. 98.
  8. ^ Krstić: Contested Conversions to Islam. 2011. p. 113.
  9. ^ Krstić: Contested Conversions to Islam. 2011. p. 115.
  10. ^ Krstić: Contested Conversions to Islam. 2011. p. 118.
  11. ↑ The number of converts has quadrupled . Spiegel Online , January 13, 2007. Study by the Islam Archive (Soest) on behalf of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
  12. William Heffening: murtadd . In: The Encyclopaedia of Islam . New Edition. Brill, suffering. Vol. 7, p. 635; Werner Ende and Udo Steinbach (eds.): Islam in the present. Munich 1989, p. 190; Cf. Adel Th. Khoury: What does the Koran say about holy war? Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2007. p. 80: "For apostasy from faith, the Koran does not provide for any express punishment in this world beyond God's otherworldly punishment".
  13. See Robert J. Donia: Islam under the Double Eagle: The Muslims of Bosnia and Hercegowina, 1878-1914. New York 1981, pp. 93-98.
  14. Iran: Acquittal and release from prison for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani ( Memento of December 8, 2015 in the Internet Archive ),