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Asking the clergy about conversion

Conversion, the process of switching from one religion to another, differs with each faith. And, switching is not that uncommon. A 2011 study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life found that nearly half of all Americans change religion at least once in their life, usually by age 24. But, the older you are, the less likely you are to change faiths, with the percent dropping to nearly 0 by age 50. Here's how some denominations work it:

Rabbi Michael S. Churgel, RJE, Temple Beth Elohim, Old Bethpage:

Those who want to convert must choose a sponsoring rabbi, who will meet with them regularly and guide them through the process. Conversion involves study -- history, culture, customs, observances and practices. Prospective converts take part in an "Introduction to Judaism" class, which lasts from six months to a year.

Anyone interested in conversion also is expected to do his or her best to immerse themselves in the activities and community of the synagogue.

After about six months to a year, there will be a beit din, which translates to a rabbinical court of three rabbis (but also may include other synagogue members). Converts share their journey to Judaism and then answer questions from the rabbis.

The rabbis will vote on whether the candidate is ready for conversion. If the person isn't ready, he or she will be asked to continue to study.

The ritual process of conversion involves a mikvah, a submersion in a ritual bath similar to a baptism, followed by a ceremony and prayers.

Once a person converts, becomes a Jew by choice, it is a sin to refer to that person as a convert. The person is no less a Jew than someone born a Jew.

The Rev. Frank Zero, Holy Family Roman Catholic Parish, Hicksville:

The process for conversion to the Catholic faith is just that, a process. When a person would like to convert, they go through a process called the Right of Christian Initiation for Adults. The RCIA process helps the person to learn more about Jesus and the church, to know what we as a church believe.

The person begins attending Mass and is encouraged to pray often. This process normally takes one year, and it culminates with the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation at Easter Vigil. Throughout this process, the parish community prays for the people going through the process. After the sacraments, they meet for a period of time for an explanation of the sacraments they have just received and to become fully initiated Catholics who are welcomed into the community.

Pastor Mark Moses, New Life Church Of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Long Beach:

Confess, believe and be baptized. You have to repent of your sins. You have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. When you accept him, then Christ takes you in as one of his own. You also must be baptized, which is an outward identification with Jesus Christ. That is it: confess, believe and be baptized.

Then, you need to get yourself into a church so you can find out more about Jesus and begin to better represent who he is. This is a very personal process. No one can tell you that you've converted. You have to know for yourself. We can help strengthen you in Christ once you've made the decision and have taken the steps, but no one can take the steps for you.

Seemi Ahmed, board of trustees member, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury; and Muslim chaplain at Hofstra University.

Due to many popular misconceptions which exist about Islam and its view on conversion, I quote the Quran: "There is no compulsion in religion" (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:256). This means that everyone is free to choose his own path, whether Islam or another.

The process of conversion itself is simple: one must simply say the Shahadah, or the declaration of faith, which reads: "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God."

It is also recommended that the convert take a bath. This symbolizes that the new Muslim starts off with a clean slate -- all his past sins are forgiven.

Before converting, a prospective convert should know the basic principles of Islam and what he will become responsible for upon embracing the religion. This includes the five pillars of Islam (the testimony of faith, prayer, fasting, mandatory annual charity and pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime).

Also, one must have belief in all the prophets: Adam and including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus and finally Muhammed (Peace be upon them all); and also in all divinely revealed scriptures -- Psalms of David, the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Quran.

(Ahmed says the conversion process is the same for men and women.)

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