Muslim converts find they are ‘suspect’

05 February 2016

louise walsh

Lone prayer: Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison, one of the converts who took part in the study, prays in a mosque in Norwich

Lone prayer: Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison, one of the converts who took part in the study, prays in a mosque in Norwich

BRITISH men who convert to Islam are often targeted by the security services, a report from the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge says. It also suggests that many converts are treated with suspicion by members of “the heritage Muslim community”.

“In the West, conversion to Islam has been tarnished by claims of extremism — violent and non-violent — radicalisation, and, sadly, terrorism,” the centre’s director, Professor Yasir Suleiman, said this week. “It has also fallen victim to the general apathy towards faith in largely secular societies, causing those who convert to be described by some as not only eccentrics, misfits, outcasts, and rebels, but also as renegades, traitors, or enemies of a fifth column who have turned their back on their original cultures.

“Converts can be made to feel outsiders from the lives they have left behind, and as new members of the faith they have embraced upon conversion. This report suggests that conversion to Islam is as much a matter of the head as it is for the heart and soul.”

During the symposiums, which were held under the Chatham House Rule, participants reported that contacts from the security services began with flattery, but when the approaches were rebuffed they moved on to threats and intimidation.

“Nevertheless, the general feeling among the gathering was that security was important, government agencies were doing a necessary job, and that they remained largely undisturbed in their daily lives,” the report says.

After reporting the general acceptance by the converts of the part played by the security services, the report said that the session’s presenter told the participants: “There were some converts . . . who were only pretending to be Muslims and were in fact employed by the government to infiltrate various groups. . . He therefore understood the suspicion of converts that some in the heritage community had. And while he realised that security must be taken care of, he did not like the way the job was being done in this country.”

The discussions also included the part played by polygamy. In one discussion, a participant said that “Spiritual development and questioning had to continue even after marriage [but] women were too secure in a single marriage to keep this up.” He argued that “Stimulation and competition would be better maintained within a polygynous marriage — for men too, though they received more ‘stimulus’ from the outside world.”

His views were not shared by other participants. The report said that none of them agreed that polygamy “had spiritual value”, although “some suggested that it did . . . have social utility.

“It was an acknowledged part of Islamic culture (sanctioned by the Prophet’s own marriages and reinforced by the example of other figures in the Islamic tradition) and even constituted an incentive for certain men to convert.

“Refraining from polygyny presented one instance of the various cultural adaptations most participants believed Muslims should make to the social norms of the country they live in,” the report said.

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