The Spread of a World Creed
Lucy Berrington finds the Muslim Faith is winning Western
admirers despite hostile media coverage.
Unprecedented numbers of British people, nearly all of
them women, are converting to Islam at a time of deep divisions within the
Anglican and Catholic churches.
The rate of conversions has prompted predictions that
Islam will rapidly become an important religious force in this country. “Within
the next 20 years the number of British converts will equal or overtake the
immigrant Muslim community that brought the faith here”, says Rose Kendrick, a
religious education teacher at a Hull comprehensive and the author of a
textbook guide to the Koran. She says: “Islam is as much a world faith as is
Roman Catholicism. No one nationality claims it as its own”. Islam is also
spreading fast on the continent and in America.
The surge in conversions to Islam has taken place
despite the negative image of the faith in the Western press. Indeed, the pace
of conversions has accelerated since publicity over the Salman Rushdie affair,
the Gulf War and the plight of the Muslims in Bosnia. It is even more ironic
that most British converts should be women, given the widespread view in the
west that Islam treats women poorly. In the United States, women converts
outnumber men by four to one, and in Britain make up the bulk of the estimated 10,
000 to 20, 000 converts, forming part of a Muslim community of 1 to 1.5 million.
Many of Britains “New Muslims” are from middle-class backgrounds. They include
Matthew Wilkinson, a former head boy of Eton who went on to Cambridge, and a
son and daughter of Lord Justice Scott, the judge heading the arms-to-Iraq
A small scale survey by the Islamic Foundation in Leicester suggests that most converts are aged 30 to 50. Younger Muslims point to many
conversions among students and highlight the intellectual thrust of Islam. “Muhammad”
said, “The light of Islam will rise in the West”
and I think that is what is happening in our day” says Aliya Haeri, an
American-born psychologist who converted 15 years ago. She is a consultant to
the Zahra Trust, a charity publishing spiritual literature and is one of Britain’s prominent Islamic speakers. She adds: “Western converts are coming to Islam with
fresh eyes, without all the habits of the East, avoiding much of what is
culturally wrong. The purest tradition is finding itself strongest in the
Some say the conversions are prompted by the rise of
comparative religious education. The British media, offering what Muslims
describe as a relentless bad press on all things Islamic, is also said to have helped.
Westerners despairing of their own society - rising in crime, family breakdown,
drugs and alcoholism - have come to admire the discipline and security of Islam.
Many converts are former Christians disillusioned by the uncertainty of the
church and unhappy with the concept of the Trinity and deification of Jesus.
Quest of the Convert - Why Change?
Other converts describe a search for a religious
identity. Many had previously been practising Christians but found
intellectual satisfaction in Islam. “I was a theology student and it was the
academic argument that led to my conversion.” Rose Kendrick, a religious
education teacher and author, said she objected to the concept of the original
sin: “Under Islam, the sins of the fathers aren’t visited on the sons. The
idea that God is not always forgiving is blasphemous to Muslims.
Maimuna, 39, was raised as a High Anglican and confirmed
at 15 at the peak of her religious devotion. “I was entranced by the ritual of
the High Church and thought about taking the veil.” Her crisis came when a
prayer was not answered. She slammed the door on visiting vicars but travelled
to convents for discussions with nuns. “My belief came back stronger, but not
for the Church, the institution or the dogma.” She researched every Christian
denomination, plus Judaism, Buddhism and Krishna Consciousness, before turning
Many converts from Christianity reject the
ecclesiastical heirarchy emphasising Muslims’ direct relationship with God. They
sense a lack of leadership in the Church of England and are suspicious of its
apparent flexibility. “Muslims don’t keep shifting their goal-posts ,” says
Huda Khattab, 28, author of The Muslim Woman’s Handbook, published this year by
Ta-Ha. She converted ten years ago while studying Arabic at university. “Christianity
changes, like the way some have said pre-marital sex is okay if its with the
person you’re going to marry. It seems so wishy-washy. Islam was constant
about sex, about praying five times a day. The prayer makes you conscious of
God all the time. You’re continually touching base.
The Times - Tuesday, 9th November 1993 -