We Muslim Converts Are Not Traitors in Your Midst

By Birt, Yahya | The Spectator, August 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

We Muslim Converts Are Not Traitors in Your Midst


Birt, Yahya, The Spectator


Converts to Islam are now under the microscope. Middle England is in a moral panic at the news that a white middleclass boy from High Wycombe, the son of a Conservative party constituency worker, has been arrested in connection with what might have been our own 9/11. The explanations reached for 7/7, about social unrest or cultural clashes between Muslim elders and youth, clearly don't apply.

In the past, the temptation might have been to explain away conversion to Islam as a manifestation of social or personal discontent: an escape from personal problems, maybe, a decision to embrace the latest form of Third Worldism, a rebellion against liberal parents from the 1960s generation.

Now the thought is that people are converting not to one of the world's great religions but to Islamofascism, to an antiWestern political cause with its very own fringe of bloodstained anarchists who are prepared to kill people on a grand scale.

Converts have betrayed their country to join, like Bill Haydon in John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the other side. The Elizabethans confronting Ottoman naval power used to think the same: that converting to Islam was 'turning Turk'. The Muslim convert becomes an odd amalgam of Anthony Blunt and Timothy McVeigh.

However, in my 16 years as a Muslim, most converts I've met were, like myself, only interested in searching for a spiritual path. Sufism, the Islamic mystical path, has been popular since the 1960s when it became part of the countercultural scene, and it still has a huge appeal to many Westerners. Today the mediaeval Sufi mystic Rumi is the bestselling poet in America.

The other influence, especially within the Afro-Caribbean community, has been Islamic-influenced rap and hip-hop and, further back in time, jazz. It is part of a search for cultural roots which leads some back to the Islamic kingdoms of West Africa, and reenacts the iconic journey of Malcolm X from black nationalism to mainstream Islam. The rise of multicultural Britain, together with foreign travel and British curiosity and openmindedness, has led many to explore other faiths. Probably half the Buddhists but fewer than 1 per cent of Muslims in Britain are converts. There are some 15,000 converts to Islam, about 40 per cent of them from black and Asian backgrounds. There is nothing very remarkable about this. The divine supermarket, like Tesco's, is now better stocked and offers more choice for the customer looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.

I remember the warm welcome I had from the Muslim community -- the hospitality and countless curries went down very well. It was easy to remain aloof from political debate, but during the 1990s it became clear that a series of political causes abroad were animating young British Muslims.

Although it rarely gets mentioned nowadays, Bosnia marked one such turning point.

It seemed that no matter how assimilated or historically grounded they seemed to be, Muslims were not truly considered to be a part of Europe. The massacre of 7,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 sent a disturbing signal to Britain's Muslims. Some young idealists went to the Balkans and fought for the Bosnians; it was not known at the time that it was a recruiting ground for more sinister causes.

The radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir had also emerged on the campuses, and its confident tabloid style of politics appealed to some impressionable young Muslims. …

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