The Times: Islamophobia & Women who turn to Islam in search of peace

A blog I had in The Times.

A community police officer is among those who have recently converted to Islam. Jayne Kemp, 28, now wears traditional Muslim dress when doing her rounds on the streets. She converted after she was called out to help a victim of honour-based violence. The Manchester Evening News reported that she converted after speaking to other Muslims on Twitter. She gave up her Catholic faith to fully convert last year and now lives a completely Islamic lifestyle. She goes on patrols in Eccles, Salford, wearing the hijab headscarf and makes time up at the end of her shift to attend Friday prayers. Jayne, single mum to a son, nine, and daughter, seven, formerly converted in a Shahada ceremony last April and now plans to change her name to Aminah.

Omar Shahid writes today for Articles of Faith on why so many Westerners are converting to Islam

For centuries, Islam has been perceived as a misogynistic religion which treats women as second-class citizens. But over the last ten years, over 100,000 Brits have converted to Islam and 75 per cent have been women. If there ever was a riddle for the Islamophobe, that surely would be it.

imgres-9But why would a white, British, modern female want to renounce her western freedom in exchange for an ascetic, Islamic lifestyle? It sounds crazy but it’s a choice a growing number of British women are making.

Of course, not all converts in Britain are white and there are a multitude of reasons why British-born women are embracing Islam. For some, the ubiquitous British culture of drinking and partying is unfulfilling, for others, Islam’s simple monotheism in a world where there is little time for theology is appealing, and some even convert after meeting a Muslim partner.

For Claire, it was Islam’s “conservative” nature – reminiscent of the way Christianity was practised in Britain less than 100 years ago – that attracted her to the faith. Claire was one of the five British, Muslim female converts followed by the BBC3 documentary, Make me a Muslim, aired on Wednesday night.

The show also followed Lisa, also a convert, who has been married to a Pakistani Muslim man for seven years. Lisa, however, is a co-wife – her polygamist husband first married a girl in Pakistan.

The show’s portrayal of a British, Muslim convert as also a co-wife was an odd one, considering Lisa’s circumstances are extremely rare. Lisa also described the rejection she faced from her in-laws for being British and not Pakistani – an egregious example of the cultural attitudes many Muslim still hold. This, along with the way the programme’s presenter Shanna Bukhari was subjected to death threats and vile online messages after she became a 2011 Miss Universe GB finalist, made Islam – or Muslims – seem regressive, aggressive and barbaric. Playing into the stereotypical notions projected onto Muslims by Islamophobes.

In our post-9/11 era, where Islamophobic headlines have often dominated the news, there seems to have been two effects. The first is increased hostility, misunderstanding and demonisation towards Muslims. And, the second, is the arousal of people’s curiosity into Islam, which, in many cases, is leading to conversions.

According to Dr Leon Moosavi, an academic at the University of Liverpool and expert on conversions to Islam, there may be many more Muslim converts in Britain who, out of fear of discrimination, decide not to publicly announce their new faith.

It’s unfortunate that in our liberal, secular society the choice by educated women to embrace Islam, is often treated with stigma and ridicule. The vast majority of non-muslim’s ignorance of Islam far outweighs their knowledge of the religion and its profundity. Despite Islam’s pre-modern teachings, many of which are about women – British, female Muslims are flocking to Islam in great numbers. The ball is back in the court of the Islamophobes and the onus is on them to perhaps reconsider whether Islam is, after all, an anti-woman tradition.

Follow Omar on Twitter.


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