Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West

By Karin Van Nieuwkerk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Female Conversion to Islam
The Sufi Paradigm

Haifaa Jawad

Conversion to Islam is increasingly attracting attention worldwide. It is said that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the contemporary world, and that despite the negative image and bad publicity about the faith, the number of people converting to Islam is on the increase.1 There is no reliable figure as to the number of converts worldwide, or at the national level in individual Western countries, primarily because censuses in most Western countries do not ask about religious affiliation. In Britain, where this issue was brought up in the last census, that of 2001, the question was confined to religious background only; the issue of religious conversion was left out. Moreover, most mosques and Islamic centers all over Britain (and by extension Europe and America) do not issue certificates of conversion, nor do they record the number of persons who convert to Islam, let alone their age group or social, economic, or educational backgrounds—an issue that makes the attempt at estimating approximate numbers too haphazard. Having said that, however, one can certainly affirm that the religion is claiming some followers, especially in the Western world. To take one simple example, which could be used as a gauge to indicate the number of people who are attracted to Islam: in 2002, the Muath Welfare Trust, a community center catering to the needs of the Muslim community in Birmingham, England, ran a “New Muslims” project. The leader of the project reported twenty-four converts. Seventeen among them were white women and the rest, seven, were men. One man was of African Caribbean origin; the other six were white.2

In the past, the dominant group embracing Islam was composed of those of either African Caribbean or African American background, whereas recently a string of white people have become Muslim. In the UK, some of these white people come from affluent backgrounds, such as, for example: Joe AhmedDobson, the son of former cabinet minister Frank Dobson; Mathew Wilkinson, a former head boy of Eton; Nicholas Brandt, son of an investment banker; Jonathan Birt, son of the former director-general of the British Broadcasting

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