Salam Dear Abdul Samad,
Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
I had to read your question several times to make sure I had understood what you are saying, because this is a very strange situation you are relating. Your question is an extraordinary one and is very complex. In addition to this answer, you may also want to consult our Ask the Scholar service.
As for commenting on the advice an imam gave, I cannot really make any comment, since we do not know the exact question which the imam was asked, nor the exact response which he gave. Nor do we know all the background and the circumstances in which this Christian man was led to ask such a question. And, again, we are not providing a fatwa here.
If you are prepared to accept this as a premise before we begin, there are one or two things we can say. There are no complicated formulas in Islam. There are no doctrines that need to be explained to us by professionally religious people in order for us to understand what Islam is about.
This is the beauty of Islam and it explains why Islam is the universal religion of mankind and is the religion all men and women would turn to if it were explained properly to them.
It is only necessary that a person declares “There is no God but Allah, Prophet Muhammad is his messenger” with their lips and means it with all their heart for them to be Muslim. If this person you are telling us about has declared Shahadah with his lips and meant what he said from the bottom of his heart, then there can be no doubt that he is Muslim.
Just as an aside here, it is important for all of us, no matter how long we have been Muslim, to declare our Shahadah each day and to mean it with all our hearts each time we say it, in order for us to be good Muslims and to deserve the honor which Almighty Allah has bestowed on us.
As for keeping Islam a secret, there could once again be reasons underlying this particular situation that we do not understand.
If this is designed to be a temporary situation, with the intention of leaving his role as spiritual leader soon in the future, could it be that he will suffer some kind of harm by making it known? Could it be that his family will suffer as a consequence? In such a situation it might be permissible to remain silent just for the moment.
As for remaining the spiritual leader of people of another faith, though, it seems a very strange thing to do. I find it very hard to judge the man, since I do not know him or his circumstances; but to be Muslim and to teach others at the same time about Christianity as one who is their role model, seems an impossible situation.
From a purely psychological point of view, such a situation could cause great harm to the man himself, as he tries to lead two lives: one secret and one public. In terms of his own personal integrity, some decisions have to be made about priorities.
Giving up one’s religion is not an easy thing to do. Giving up an active ministry as a religious leader is an intensely difficult decision and not one to be taken lightly.
As Muslims we are so proud of our faith and so grateful to Almighty Allah that He has chosen us from all the people on this earth to be Muslim. Hiding the fact of our being Muslim is not something that Muslims can find easy.
I feel especially for this brother because I, too, once used to be a Christian religious minister. In my own case, I left the ministry and I left the Church before embracing Islam.
In my own case, I cannot possibly imagine a situation in which I could have acted as a priest but been Muslim in my heart. The two things would have been impossible for me to reconcile, and I would also have felt that I was not only being dishonest with myself but also being dishonest with those who looked up to me as their spiritual leader.
The question you ask, then, and the difficulties that it poses is not an easy one. My instant feeling is that we do not know all the facts. From what you have given us, the man is Muslim and he can, in reality, remain in this dual situation for a limited time, as long as he is not publicly professing Christian beliefs.
He can, for a limited time, care for and support his congregation, but to profess with his lips that he is Christian would be wrong. It would be deceitful and dishonest.
The fact remains, though, that Islam is too beautiful and too sweet to keep hidden from anyone. This new Muslim brother will only torture himself by allowing the situation to continue.
Let us ask Almighty Allah that He will open the way for our brother to do what is right, both for himself and for his religious congregation. Let us not judge him, but pray that he will soon be able to tell the world about Islam and the journey that brought him home.
I hope this answers your question. Please, keep in touch.