Islam Can Do without Simon Cowell
Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)
Is Simon Cowell about to convert to Islam? The family of his fiancee, Mezhgan Hussainy, apparently wants the billionaire music mogul to become a Muslim if the couple are to marry. "They're very westernised, but no one in their family has ever married a non-Muslim--and they're not willing for their youngest daughter to become the first," a "source" is reported to have said of Hussainy's Afghan-born parents.
So will Simon become Suleiman? "Don't convert to Islam, Simon. Don't do it," says the right-wing US pundit Debbie Schlussel on her blog. For once, I can't help but agree. What do Muslims gain from the conversion of Cowell? New tunes? It frustrates me how my co-religionists get so excited at the prospect of people converting to Islam, especially celebrities. Last year, I was inundated with emails claiming Michael Jackson had been on the verge of a deathbed conversion to Islam. Heaven forbid.
"Islam is the fastest-growing religion on earth," Muslim friends say with glee. Indeed, but I don't know how adding to the world's Muslim population helps reduce the theological, political, cultural and socio-economic problems blighting its communities. I sympathise with the senior Indian Muslim cleric who revealed to me his (private) advice to Hindus considering converting: "Don't bother. Not until we Muslims get our house in order."
Then there are those who convert to Islam only to bring it into disrepute. They shouldn't bother. Take Colleen LaRose, aka Jihad Jane, the 46-year-old blonde American convert from Pennsylvania who was accused in March of plotting to murder a Swedish cartoonist. She is the latest in a long line of western converts to radicall Islam, including John Walker Lindh ("American Talib"), Richard Reid ("Shoe Bomber") and Jose Padilla ("Dirty Bomber").
However, the bigger issue that many Muslims choose to ignore is how Islam has become a one-way street. Non-Muslims are encouraged to convert to Islam, but Muslims are forbidden from converting away from Islam. The sharia (or Islamic law), it is claimed, sanctions the death penalty for any adult Muslim who chooses to leave the faith, or apostatise. This is an intellectually, morally and, perhaps above all, theologically unsustainable position.
Intellectually, it makes no sense to seek converts to Islam while laws backed by capital punishment curtail conversions the other way. In Kuwait in 1996, amid a row over the conversion of a businessman to Christianity, one cleric argued: "We always remind those who want to convert to Islam that they enter through a door but that there is no way out." Yet what of those who were born Muslims? And how do you stop people changing their minds?
Morally, communities throughout the world believe that human dignity depends on freedom of thought and conscience, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified in 1948. …