The most difficult Muslim to understand in Western countries, I argue, is the convert. Whether in the American context or the European context, there is an underlying assumption that Islam is something foreign and that someone who is American or British would never choose to join the faith. However, a new study called “A Minority Within a Minority” conducted by Faith Matters, an interfaith think-tank in the UK, found that in the last 10 years the number of British converts to Islam nearly doubled, leading some to say that the country is undergoing a process of “Islamification.”
Since 2001, the number of converts in the UK has jumped to around 100,000, with approximately 5,000 new converts every year. The study found that the average convert is a 27-year-old white woman and that very few converts exhibited extremists views in their understanding of Islam.
What this study reveals is that converts to Islam are normal people who feel that there is no conflict between their Muslim identity and British identity–just like many who are born Muslim in Britain. The most recent example of a British convert that has gained a lot of attention is Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law. Moreover, the study emphasizes the diversity of the Muslim community in the UK.
According to Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, the increase in the number of converts could result from the increased attention that Islam receives in the media. Even though the image of Islam is primarily negative, many want to learn about the faith. Mughal argues that some who study the faith end up converting.
From personal experience, I have noticed that in the years after 9/11 the number of converts has increased in my local mosque. While there are many converts who came to know about the faith through interactions with Muslims, many more actually wanted to understand Islam and through their exploration found that they wanted to convert. Moreover, from my discussions with converts, they see that their American and Muslim identities are compatible.
Thus, not only is Islam not a “foreign” religion, but many have been drawn to the faith and choose to join despite the negative representations.
Do you think that there has been an increase in conversion to Islam post-9/11? If so, what do you think are the reasons? Do converts demonstrate that you can be both a Muslim and American or European? Please share your thoughts below.