What is Islam ?
Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith.
As-Salāmu `Alaykum wa rahmatu l-lāhi wa barakātuh!
I hope you're fine
MORE MODERN BRITISH CAREER WOMEN CONVERT TO ISLAM
Why are so many British career women converting to Islam?
by Eve Ahmed
Blair’s sister-in-law announced her conversion to Islam in November 2010.
Journalist Lauren Booth embraced the faith after what she describes as a ‘holy
experience’ in Iran.
is just one of a growing number of modern British career women to do so. Here,
writer EVE AHMED, who was raised as a Muslim before rejecting the faith,
explores the reasons why.
her faith: Writer Eve Ahmed was raised a Muslim
of my childhood was spent trying to escape Islam.
in London to an English mother and a Pakistani Muslim father, I was brought up
to follow my father’s faith without question.
privately, I hated it. The minute I left home for university at the age of 18,
I abandoned it altogether.
far as I was concerned, being a Muslim meant hearing the word ‘No’ over and
from my background were barred from so many of the things my English friends
took for granted. Indeed, it seemed to me that almost anything fun was haram,
or forbidden, to girls like me.
were so many random, petty rules. No whistling. No chewing of gum. No riding
bikes. No watching Top Of The Pops. No wearing make-up or clothes which
revealed the shape of the body.
eating in the street or putting my hands in my pockets. No cutting my hair or
painting my nails. No asking questions or answering back. No keeping dogs as
pets, (they were unclean).
of course, no sitting next to men, shaking their hands or even making eye contact
ground rules were imposed by my father and I, therefore, assumed they must be
an integral part of being a good Muslim.
wonder, then, that as soon as I was old enough to exert my independence, I
rejected the whole package and turned my back on Islam. After all, what modern,
liberated British woman would choose to live such a life?
Lauren Booth's holy experience in Iran
quite a lot, it turns out, including Islam’s latest surprise convert, Tony
Blair’s sister-in-law Lauren Booth. And after my own break with my past, I’ve
followed with fascination the growing trend of Western women choosing to
convert to Islam.
and journalist Booth, 43, says she now wears a hijab head covering whenever she
leaves home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque when I can.
decided to become a Muslim after visiting the shrine of Fatima
al-Masumeh in the city of Qom, and says: ‘It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat
down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.’
her awakening in Iran, she had been ‘sympathetic’ to Islam and has spent
considerable time working in Palestine. ‘I was always impressed with the
strength and comfort it gave,’ she says.
I wondered, could women be drawn to a religion which I felt had kept me in such
a lowly, submissive place? How could their experiences of Islam be so very
different to mine?
Lauren Booth, who is Cherie Blair’s half-sister, decided to convert to Islam
after what she described as a holy experience in Iran.
to Kevin Brice from Swansea University, who has specialised in studying white
conversion to Islam, these women are part of an intriguing trend.
explains: ‘They seek spirituality, a higher meaning, and tend to be deep
thinkers. The other type of women who turn to Islam are what I call “converts
of convenience”. They’ll assume the trappings of the religion to please their
Muslim husband and his family, but won’t necessarily attend mosque, pray or
spoke to a diverse selection of white Western converts in a bid to re-examine
the faith I had rejected.
like Kristiane Backer, 43, a London-based former MTV presenter who had led the
kind of liberal Western-style life that I yearned for as a teenager, yet who
turned her back on it and embraced Islam instead. Her reason? The ‘anything
goes’ permissive society that I coveted had proved to be a superficial void.
values: Camilla Leyland, 32, pictured in Western and Muslim dress, converted to
Islam in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’
turning point for Kristiane came when she met and briefly dated the former
Pakistani cricketer and Muslim Imran Khan in 1992 during the height of her
career. He took her to Pakistan where she says she was immediately touched by
spirituality and the warmth of the people.
says: ‘Though our relationship didn’t last, I began to study the Muslim faith
and eventually converted. Because of the nature of my job, I’d been out
interviewing rock stars, travelling all over the world and following every
trend, yet I’d felt empty inside. Now, at last, I had contentment because Islam
had given me a purpose in life.’
the West, we are stressed for superficial reasons, like what clothes to wear.
In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It
was a completely different value system.
Everything is done to please God
the West, we are stressed for superficial reasons, like what clothes to wear.
In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God’
my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realised how liberating it was to be a
Muslim. To follow only one god makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.
grew up in Germany in a not very religious Protestant family. I drank and I
partied, but I realised that we need to behave well now so we have a good
after-life. We are responsible for our own actions.’
a significant amount of women, their first contact with Islam comes from dating
a Muslim boyfriend. Lynne Ali, 31, from Dagenham in Essex, freely admits to
having been ‘a typical white hard-partying teenager’.
says: ‘I would go out and get drunk with friends, wear tight and revealing
clothing and date boys.
also worked part-time as a DJ, so I was really into the club scene. I used to
pray a bit as a Christian, but I used God as a sort of doctor, to fix things in
my life. If anyone asked, I would’ve said that, generally, I was happy living
life in the fast lane.’
when she met her boyfriend, Zahid, at university, something dramatic happened.
says: ‘His sister started talking to me about Islam, and it was as if
everything in my life fitted into place. I think, underneath it all, I must
have been searching for something, and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled by my
hard-drinking party lifestyle.’
converted aged 19. ‘From that day, I started wearing the hijab,’ she explains,
‘and I now never show my hair in public. At home, I’ll dress in normal Western
clothes in front of my husband, but never out of the house.’
a recent YouGov survey concluding that more than half the British public
believe Islam to be a negative influence that encourages extremism, the
repression of women and inequality, one might ask why any of them would choose
such a direction for themselves.
statistics suggest Islamic conversion is not a mere flash in the pan but a
significant development. Islam is, after all, the world’s fastest growing
religion, and white adopters are an important part of that story.
suggests that the ratio of Western women converts to male could be as high as
2:1,’ says Kevin Brice.
he says, often these female converts are eager to display the visible signs of
their faith — in particular the hijab — whereas many Muslim girls brought up in
the faith choose not to.
Wonderful Islamic culture
as a result of these actions, which tend to draw attention, white Muslims often
report greater amounts of discrimination against them than do born Muslims,’
adds Brice, which is what happened to Kristiane Backer.
says: ‘In Germany, there is Islamophobia. I lost my job when I converted. There
was a Press campaign against me with insinuations about all Muslims supporting
terrorists — I was vilified. Now, I am a presenter on NBC Europe.
call myself a European Muslim, which is different to the ‘born’ Muslim. I was
married to one, a Moroccan, but it didn’t work because he placed restrictions
on me because of how he’d been brought up. As a European Muslim, I question
everything — I don’t accept blindly.
what I love is the hospitality and the warmth of the Muslim community. London
is the best place in Europe for Muslims, there is wonderful Islamic culture
here and I am very happy.’
some converts, Islam represents a celebration of old-fashioned family values.
are drawn to the sense of belonging and of community — values which have eroded
in the West,’ says Haifaa Jawad, a senior lecturer at the University of
Birmingham, who has studied the white conversion phenomenon.
people, from all walks of life, mourn the loss in today’s society of
traditional respect for the elderly and for women, for example. These are
values which are enshrined in the Koran, which Muslims have to live by,’ adds
is values like these which drew Camilla Leyland, 32, a yoga teacher who lives
in Cornwall, to Islam. A single mother to daughter, Inaya, two, she converted
in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’.
explains: ‘I know people will be surprised to hear the words “feminism” and
“Islam” in the same breath, but in fact, the teachings of the Koran give
equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went
against the grain of a misogynistic society.
big mistake people make is by confusing culture with religion. Yes, there are
Muslim cultures which do not allow women individual freedom, yet when I was
growing up, I felt more oppressed by Western society.’
talks of the pressure on women to act like men by drinking and having casual
sex. ‘There was no real meaning to it all. In Islam, if you begin a
relationship, that is a commitment of intent.’
The beauty of the true Islam
up in Southampton — her father was the director of Southampton Institute of
Education and her mother a home economics teacher — Camilla’s interest in Islam
began at school.
went to university and later took a Master’s degree in Middle East Studies. But
it was while living and working in Syria that she had a spiritual epiphany.
Reflecting on what she’d read in the Koran, she realised she wanted to convert.
decision was met with bemusement by friends and family.
found it so hard to believe that an educated, middle-class white woman would
choose to become Muslim,’ she says.
Camilla’s faith remains strong, she no longer wears the hijab in public. But several
of the women I spoke to said strict Islamic dress was something they found
empowering and liberating.
Ali remembers the night this hit home for her. ‘I went to an old friend’s 21st
birthday party in a bar,’ she reveals. ‘I walked in, wearing my hijab and
modest clothing, and saw how everyone else had so much flesh on display. They
were drunk, slurring their words and dancing provocatively.
the first time, I could see my former life with an outsider’s eyes, and I knew
I could never go back to that.
am so grateful I found my escape route. This is the real me — I am happy to
pray five times a day and take classes at the mosque. I am no longer a slave to
a broken society and its expectations.’
Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey, called From MTV To
Mecca, believes the new breed of modern, independent Muslims can band together
to show the world that Islam is not the faith I grew up in — one that stamps on
the rights of women.
says: ‘I know women born Muslims who became disillusioned and rebelled against
it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against, but the
like marrying within the same sect or caste and education being less important
for girls, as they should get married anyway —– where does it say that in the
Koran? It doesn’t.
young Muslims have abandoned the “fire and brimstone” version they were born
into have re-discovered a more spiritual and intellectual approach, that’s free
from the cultural dogmas of the older generation. That’s how I intend to spend
my life, showing the world the beauty of the true Islam.’
I don’t agree with their sentiments, I admire and respect the women I
interviewed for this piece.
were all bright and educated, and have thought long and hard before choosing to
convert to Islam — and now feel passionately about their adopted religion. Good
luck to them. And good luck to Lauren Booth.
if I’d felt in control rather than controlled, if I’d felt empowered rather
than stifled, I would still be practising the religion I was born into, and
would not carry the burden of guilt that I do about rejecting my father’s