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More British Convert To Islam: It's The Religious Experience We All Need

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

In the name of God, Compassionate, Merciful بسم الله الرحمن الرحيمِ | Peace be with you السلام عليكم

converts muslim britain report
Eleanour, actress. Photo: {Peter Sanders}
‘And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?’ (Qur’an, 10:99)

A unique report on converts to Islam in the UK, ‘A Minority Within a Minority’, was undertaken by Faith Matters to assess the roles that converts have within our communities.

It shows that they play numerous productive roles, and that more white women than men are converting to Islam.

"I think the survey shows that people who converted to Islam are normal people," Kevin Brice, the Muslim academic from Swansea University who wrote the report, told AOL News . "They're not […] trying to undermine the Western world. They feel that being a Muslim goes hand in hand with their British identity."

Converts to any faith undergo great challenges that can stem from family stress or rejection from the newly converted faith group. News reports have taken two polar views on the findings; that all converts are being brainwashed into the already anti-West extremist religion, or that educated white women are converting out of convenience into a trendy community-based lifestyle. The report itself highlights key statistics of ‘convertism’ from the past decade and converts’ reasons for why they choose Islam; this is the area I as a British Muslim feel needs exploring. As more clever catchphrases in headlines promote “Islamophobiacality”, why do more white British women convert to a deen (lifestyle, path) of God?

Why Convert?

Fiyaz Mughal, director of FM, said that although the number of converts was an "intellectual guesstimate […] few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.”

More white women than men are converting to Islam. The current figure for converts in England and Wales could be anything between 90,000 to 100,000 people, (based on a survey of mosques and the 2001 census figures for England, Wales and Scotland). The report also shows that the average age of conversion is around 27 years of age, and of 122 respondents 44% converted in 2001 or before, whilst 56% converted in 2002 or later.

There are strong environmental reasons to why Britons convert to Islam.

Living in an age of material obesity and spiritual starvation, every urge of the body and ego is easily fulfilled; but despite feeding our nafs (desires), our soul is screaming for worship. Aims of attaining permanent happiness are false gods that inevitably lead to depression. Therefore, when we are given the obsolete and temporary, we question, is that it? Imam Ajmal Masroor explains, "People are looking for a spiritual and fulfilling lifestyle rather than the hedonistic, materially-driven one". Each human is designed to worship, but we require something greater than infamous faces, fashion fads and pop culture gods. And this is what the testimony of faith establishes: ‘laa illaha’ (there is no god), meaning I cannot take any other plastic, man-made, churned out god or myself, as a pure source of worship – ‘illAllah’, except The Divine, Allah.

Islam provides a justice system that is not only superior (yes, superior), it takes the good from existing systems and thus the Shari`ah is all encompassing and a nutritional diet for Muslims. Islam teaches to love your parents even if they were to disown you; Islam provides detailed psychologically sound parenting advice, how to eat healthily, how to treat neighbours, eliminate racism and maintain hygiene. Islam is balanced and easily implemented. This is not a fitness routine as it is a living routine.


Recent 'celeb' convert to Islam, Lauren Booth told BBC 5 Radio, “each person’s journey is different”; even so the question arises of why are the majority of UK converts women?
“As working women in modern society […] we’re not respected,” says Booth. “We’re not stupid people, Islam is the one religion that elevates women and motherhood, above all other social positions.” 
Imam Ajmal Masroor also notes that women “are hard-wired to reflect and think… women find an answer in Islam.”

For 22 year-old Jane, a former Roman-Catholic, her conversion stems from comparative religious studies. “Islam offered [me] the truth about Christianity; Jesus was not Divine.” This image then opened the doors to researching on who Jesus the prophet and who Muhammad ﷺ the prophet were. Still, if young women are looking for a faith, why Islam? Buddhism also provides a relationship with the cosmos through meditation. Yet meditation is already a heavy part of Islam; the Prophet ﷺ spent days praying in a cave and Allah questions people, “Do they not contemplate deeply within themselves?” (Qur’an, 30:8)

Global media has shamelessly prostituted women as photoshopped, artificial, sexed-up supermodels whose body sells everything from window cleaner to car insurance. In a nutshell, sex sells, and women sell. We see a fluctuating standard of what is acceptable exposure, which encourages us to view modesty as unprogressive. The world tells us those women are powerful who can “give it” doubly strong as any man can. This measure of the individual worth is based on three things:
             1) How you look - outwardly.
             2) How far you succeed - publicly.
             3) How much you possess - materially.

But Islam does not sell out on women or their assets-another reason more turn towards its unchanging dignity. Instead we find Islam’s measure is based on humility as described by God. Islam provides realistic goals that transcend collecting things, it accepts you as you are, automatically gives you a higher maqaam (status), it says you don’t need to be “like them”, and above all, motivates you to improve.

For all this, the reward of Islamic monotheism is more than a hefty bank balance; it is Paradise – Jannah. Finally, in a search for what lies beyond death, converts learn that one’s life is more than one life on Earth. Personal eschatological questions need answering: Why am I here? Where am I going? Who made me? Why is there suffering? Islam makes sense for converts in that God will reward and punish for all the evil that occurs. People alone cannot execute complete justice here on earth. And what of accountability? Just as the horror of an afterlife shook Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ society into responsibility, belief in Judgement, Paradise and Hell are an integral part of Islam that reminds people their noble actions will be rewarded, and their deception will be rewarded. Islam can answer these scary questions on life and death head on.

Blame It On The Media

Faith Matters’ report found that media representations of converts to Islam are negative with over 60% of stories linking the convert to terrorism. This is a journalists’ game where a fear and threat of Islam is perpetuated–as sex sells products, so Islam sells headlines. However, Islam’s publicity increased after American Pastor Terry Jones attempted the burn a Qur’an day. Inadvertently as more anti-Islam news is printed, the more PR Islam receives. Thus, the very audience the media preaches to goes away to think independently and reflect on God–some inevitably develop faith in Islam. So while we can easily blame the hate for Islam and Muslims on the media, we can blame the media for “convertism”. Fiyaz Mughal agrees,
“there is definitely a relationship between conversions being on the increase and the prominence of Islam in the public domain.” 
Whether positive or not, news sources have unintentionally done more daw`ah (calling to Islam) than Muslims themselves, but for new Muslims this can come at a price.

The Cost Of Conversion

Kevin Brice, the academic behind the report, said that converts often had “a high price to pay in terms of isolation from their families and friends”. Of those surveyed 66% said that their family had a negative attitude to their conversion. Perhaps the media again feeds the root of this reaction that warns us of Britain’s ‘Islamification’: what it this-a land of beards, oppressed women, and green domes?

Most bizarrely, Muslims’ loyalty to Britain is always questioned, and now converts are dubbed as traitors, with 15% of media coverage linking them to fundamentalism. Catherine Heseltine, a convert to Islam and head of a British Muslim organisation – the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, told The Independent, “Overall, though, I think conversions arouse more curiosity than hostility."

The report found other difficulties experienced included learning Arabic and acceptance within the local Muslim community. At the time of conversion, most converts (96% of cases) received the most help and advice from books, 85% of cases had support from Muslim friends, and the internet (64%). Yet 52% received no help from mosques and 43% said their local mosque had no provision for converts.

Unfortunately, Muslims aren’t the best examples for presenting Islam either, whether in the Middle East, or England. In the UK ‘good’ Muslims are not visual enough and while one could argue this is the media’s selective reporting, it is not our handicap. As Muslims thriving in Britain it is imperative we take on greater roles in the media, in our mosques and communities, to welcome people and to humanise the face of Islam.

For those fortunate individuals who do have more contact with Muslims, finding faith can be easier. Laura, 22 year-old convert, spoke in BBC’s “I’m Proud To Be Muslim” video about her dramatic changes: “Before it was [about] jeans and make up, now it’s replaced with hijab (modest clothing)… I was surrounded by the religion, mosque, and the imam, it looked peaceful, everyone was happy. [Islam] had a nice atmosphere”. Critics of conversions argue that organised faith is a political creation – a process of evolution as the opium of the masses – or that theism was developed by Constantine.

As a Muslim I believe faith in God began with the Word, ‘kun’, to ‘be’–the beginning of all creation, and as a converting Muslim I know people are to enter Islam “whole heartedly” for no other reason but to accept and worship God, “do virtuous deeds and advise each other to truth and encourage each other to patience”.

Advice From Converts

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” – 1948, Declaration of Human Rights.

In Faith Matters’ report 84% agreed with the suggestion that white British converts could act as a 'bridge' between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The first Muslims in history, who were all converts, and today’s convert community have a stronger Muslim mentality than ‘born Muslims’ that may not appreciate their faith in a similar understanding. They also carry cautious advice for those thinking about conversion, much of which is also applicable to ‘born Muslims’:
“Be patient… Take little by little… Don’t rush into anything… Think very long and hard, do a degree of research, commit yourself to studying and learning… Learn about Islam from traditional sources, read deeply and broadly.”

On a completely opposite tone, some encourage a leap of faith:
“Go for it… [Convert] quickly before you die… Try it to love it… Follow your heart.”
The Religious Experience We’re Searching For

In the Bible, Saul’s conversion to Paul describes how he was a raging man who executed people, but saw ‘the light’ after being blinded for three days by a bright light (Acts, 9:1). As a staunch enemy of Jesus, Saul underwent a personal reformation, regaining his sight and becoming the greatest Christian missionary. In Islam, a similar conversion experience is mirrored with the great Khalif `Umar ibn al-Khattab, a fierce opponent of the Prophet ﷺ with intentions to kill him.

`Umar converted in stages: he questioned Islam’s message, and once hid under the Kabah’s kiswah (fabric covering) to listen to the Prophet ﷺ recite Qur’an , words which permeated his heart. Facing his own Muslim sister who had in her possession Qur’an verses, he demanded to destroy them, or read them. Opting to read, his sister made him perform ritual ablutions (wudhu) and handed over verses which struck him, “Indeed I am Allah, there is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance” (Qur’an, 20:14). Intrigued by this direct message, he marched towards the Prophet’s ﷺ location but upon the door opening, fell to his knees and accepted God, the Prophet ﷺ and Islam. Subhan’Allah.

In philosophy we study these events as religious experiences. I like to call them near-life experiences. Converts describe uttering their shahadah (testimony of faith) as “enlightening” and that it emanates from the heart. Converts are blessed in their struggle to become Muslim and they are great representatives of a diverse, colourless Islam. `Umar (ra) took enormous leadership roles after becoming Muslim and is heralded as one of the greatest Khalifs. He left all corruption for social responsibility and ‘imaan (faith). He, like so many converts in Britain today, had the religious experience many Muslims desperately need to live Islam whole-heartedly.

Conclusion

The first instruction of Islam is iqra – to read. Yet we are not reading the right sources. The Qur’an challenges people to read this “book without doubt”, free from mistakes, yet we are not gaining any enlightening experience with it on our bookshelves. Of the converts surveyed in Faith Matters report, 97% felt that some of the practices of born Muslims had more to do with culture rather than Islam. This is a testimony to the converts’ ability to disentangle faith from culture. In The Guardian, Manzoor writes it “could be argued that converts … are now more Muslim” than ‘born Muslims’, and Lucy Bushill-Matthews in emel’s January issue said “Many Muslims are Muslims simply because their parents are”.

So what do we do?

We must support converts to Islam on a personal understanding of friendship and acceptance. Islam will be always be the stranger, we must not let ourselves treat new Muslims as strange. Allah says if He had willed, the entire human population would be Muslim. He also says there is no compulsion in matters of faith, so no matter how we try, we cannot convert people’s hearts to Him.

We must recognise the necessary and spiritual journey to Islam that we all need no matter what stage of religiosity we claim. From `Umar (ra) to Malcolm ‘X’ to Lauren Booth, we must learn that anger, intolerance and trust in the media is not part of this journey. On the other hand, reflection and reading are a part of it. On this island of British values and recycled government, we must immerse ourselves more than ever in Islam’s ethos and Qur’an studies. Ask yourselves life’s important questions. Break stereotypes and embrace Islam. Go convert yourself.

{Download the Faith Matters Report}
  1. AOL News, ‘White Women Converting To Islam More Than Men
  2. The National
  3. United Nations official website, Article 18
  4. Islamophobia Today, Jan 5th 2011
  5. According to The Independent
  6. *Converting Muslim; verb – to be constantly improving, changing and active, not static.
  7. O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly]…” (Qur’an, 2:208)
  8. Surah al-Asr, Time (Qur’an, 103)
  9. Read Surah al-Haqqah, the Reality (Qur’an, 69:40-43)

Originally published on Majed's blog
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abo alhrit said...

salam alaykom warahmto kif 7lkom bikhayr 

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Thank you. Have you read Muslimness.com?