When in Finland, do like the Finns do. This must be the logic of Muslim asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq who according to recent reports are converting to Christianity by the hundred. Many of the apostates suggest they are facing persecution as infidels, which is why returning to their home countries is not an option.
Although no exact figures on converts are available in Finland, estimates put the number of Muslims who abandoned their faith for the sake of Christianity at several hundred, Evangelical Lutheran church expert Marja-Liisa Laihia told Finnish national broadcaster Yle.
The demand among would-be Christians is so high that additional religious teaching and confirmation schooling for the converts had to be established. In the town of Imatra in eastern Finland, some 20 young Afghans are currently enrolled in pre-confirmation education. Copies of the New Testament are available in Dari, whereas the teaching itself is in English. However, an interpreter is always available via Skype.
The need for extra religious education arose directly after the establishment of the reception center in Imatra a year ago, as asylum seekers showed a keen interest in the Lutheran faith.
Many of the soon-to-become Christians cited a profound disillusionment with Islam as the main reason behind their conversion. Others ventured that conversion may facilitate the transition into Finnish culture and help the newcomers adapt to the new lifestyle.
"It'll be easier to live here because most people are Christian," Hossein Mohammadi said.
An underlying motive for the apostates is that their conversion would somehow prevent them from being deported, a practice Finland has been stepping up in recent months. Many of the renegades suggested they would be treated as infidels in their respective home countries, which naturally removes a return journey from their plans.
"I haven't been in contact with my family in Afghanistan for a very long time. If they find out I've converted, it would spell trouble for me," Golamir Hossaini said.
According to Imatra reception center chief Lauri Perälä, these people understand that life in Finland is different and should be treated with respect.
Before being accepted as Evangelical Lutheran Church members, converts must attend religious training, undergo confirmation ceremony and be in contact with parish clergy for three months.
In Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, 4.1 million (or 72 percent of the population) are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Nevertheless, the Church of Finland has been steadily losing flock in recent decades. In the 1950s, 95 percent of Finns belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Today, the same exodus is manifested in all the Nordic nations.
After receiving over 30,000 refugees at the peak of the migrant crisis, Finland gradually toughened its immigration laws, paving the way for future deportations. In 2016, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan were ruled "safe" for the refugees to return. The same year, 58 suicide attempts were registered in the country's reception centers.