27.10.10

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Lauren Booth

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Tony Blair's sister in law converts to Islam IN IRAN!

The Nation is shocked!!

News stories from media:

Tony Blair's sister-in-law converts to Islam

AFP - LONDON. The sister-in-law of former prime minister Tony Blair has converted to Islam following a visit to Iran, saying she is a "proud member" of the Muslim community.

Lauren Booth has given up alcohol and pork, prays five times a day and has not ruled out wearing a burqa in the future, she told The Mail on Sunday.

The 43-year-old journalist and reality television contestant underwent the religious conversion following a visit to the holy Iranian city of Qom six weeks ago.

She said that when she was in Iran, "I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy."

Speaking to the newspaper after a multi-faith Global Peace and Unity Event in London on Saturday, Booth said: "What I wanted to share with you today is that I am Lauren Booth and I am a Muslim.

"I always felt that the Ummah (Muslim community) is a very loving, peaceful place and I am proud to be a member of it."

Booth has frequently criticised her brother-in-law, accusing the former leader of being biased towards Israel and the United States in his role as Middle East peace envoy.

She wrote a scathing open letter in last month's far-left newspaper Morning Star.

"Personally I've never understood this fear of 'political Islam'," she wrote.

"It seems to me that religious people should always be educated on world events rather than kept in ignorance. Like, say, Midwest Christian Zionists in the US."

After attending a rally in Iran to mourn Palestinian deaths in cities including Rafah and Nablus, Booth wrote: "Do you recognise these place names, Tony?

"As Middle East envoy, you really should. Israel has massacred children in all of these cities. Didn't you know?"

She was refused entry to Israel and Egypt after travelling from Cyprus to Gaza on an activist ship which was protesting the blockade of Palestinian territory.

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Tony Blair's sister-in-law converts to Islam

Iran trip prompted journalist Lauren Booth to become a Muslim and wear a hijab

Helen Carter, The Guardian, Sunday 24 October 2010

Tony Blair's sister-in-law has converted to Islam after having what she describes as a "holy experience" during a visit to Iran.

Journalist and broadcaster Lauren Booth, 43 – Cherie Blair's sister – now wears a hijab whenever she leaves her home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque whenever she can.

She decided to become a Muslim six weeks ago after visiting the shrine of Fatima al-Masumeh in the city of Qom.

"It was a Tuesday evening and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy," she said in an interview today.

When she returned to Britain, she decided to convert immediately.


LAUREN BOOTH'S CONVERSION TO ISLAM

By becoming a Muslim, Tony Blair's sister-in-law has made a clear political statement about the society she has rejected

Spiritual and political - Lauren Booth has converted to Islam after a holy experience in Iran.

Andrew Brown - The Guardian, Monday 25 October 2010

There is quite a lot that could be said about anyone who converts to Islam in Iran under the impression that it is less inhumane than New Labour, but as a piece of theatre, Lauren Booth's conversion could hardly be beaten.

We tend to think of conversion as an essentially solitary or individual choice: the classic picture is the kind of "conversion experience" described in William James, and central both to evangelical Christianity and Alcoholics Anonymous. But it is also always a political and social act, a statement about where you fit into the world. To convert is to announce your allegiance to a new tribe, or a new idea of humanity.

It is also, by implication at least, a rejection of your old self, and of the people who thought they recognised you in it. In this it is more like a divorce or a remarriage than any kind of intellectual experience. This is why it is a little silly to mock Lauren Booth for saying she has got up to page 60 of the Qur'an, after reading it every day. The conviction precedes the reading, and drives it along. Besides, how fast are you supposed to read a holy book? It's not as if you're trying to discover who dun it, only how He did it, and that is a study which can take a very long time. I might think her more sincere if she announced she was still on page one after three months.

But leave God out of this for the moment. Conversion always involves a conversation with the people around you, and just as with any other conversation, the meaning depends on where you are. To become a Muslim in Britain is a very different thing to becoming one in Indonesia, and in Argentina it's different again. This has absolutely nothing to do with doctrine. Baptists in the southern US can believe almost exactly the same things as Baptists in the Ukraine, but in one case baptism means you are becoming a normal person, and in the other that you are defining yourself as a weirdo.

In theory, all of the monotheistic religions try to stress the way in which true conversion moves you away from worldly things and into a relationship with God, rather than one with society. But in practice, most of the time, most people find their theological beliefs are a way of expressing their relationship with society. Disraeli could never have become prime minister had his father not converted from Judaism to Christianity. Even within Christianity, Margaret Thatcher found it necessary as part of her social rise to move from Methodism to Anglicanism.

To convert to Islam in a British prison is one way of expressing your disdain for the world outside, whereas conversion to Christianity is an attempt to come to terms with the dominant culture. To proclaim yourself an atheist in some parts of America is to invite derision, as much as it would be to announce in the BBC that you were a practising Calvinist.

Of course the consequence of conversion can be very much worse than derision. In almost all countries there is some religion that is regarded as treacherous almost in its essence. Much of the present tension in the US over Cordoba House comes from the attempts to define Islam as communism once was – an ideology that is incompatible with patriotism. But at least the American constitution works against such efforts in theory. Had Lauren Booth had a different mystical experience in Iran, and converted away from Islam rather than into it, she would have been liable to the death penalty.

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Why would Tony Blair's sister-in-law convert to Islam?

Telegraph - 25 October 2010

It was only a matter of time. Tony Blair’s sister-in-law Lauren Booth has converted to Islam after a dose of “spiritual morphine” in Iran, although she talks about the world’s fastest-growing religion like it was the latest version of the Atkins Diet:

“Now I don’t eat pork and I read the Koran every day. I’m on page 60. I also haven’t had a drink in 45 days, the longest period in 25 years,” she said.

And she’s even refused to rule out wearing a burka: “Who knows where my spiritual journey will take me?”

Politically Booth has always struck me as being incredibly naïve, or willfully ignorant of reality. She writes:

"Here in Iran they feel proud to suffer in order to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. It’s kind of like the way you express solidarity with America only without illegal chemical weapons and a million civilian deaths."

Presumably being a past contributor to the Iranian regime’s mouthpiece, Press TV, makes it easier for her to overlook Iran’s appalling human rights record, stories of widespread torture, rape and murder following last year’s rigged elections, its role in murdering dozens of dissidents across Europe, and its financing of various homicidal sectarian groups in Iraq.

I’ve written before about the fascination some middle-class Englishwomen have with Islam and the Arab world; the paradox is that many who convert come from progressive backgrounds and would be horrified at the idea of embracing Catholicism or one of the more conservative forms of Protestantism. And yet they’re prepared to adopt a religion far more traditional in its attitude to the sexes, and adopt an item of clothing that Middle Eastern women fought so hard and courageously to get rid of.

No doubt their Islam is partly a reaction to the excesses of the last 40 years, by people too programmed to oppose “Right-wing politics” to become conventionally conservative. Anyone who’s walked through a British city centre on a Friday night and contrasted the behaviour of the people serving the curry with the people eating it can see the attractions of a faith that emphasises family, duty and sobriety. And Islam is also attractive because it’s so demanding, asking great sacrifices of its followers.

But partly it is because Islam is, unlike any other faith, more than just a religion – it is also a political idea. And ever since the decline of socialism and Left-wing intellectuals’ abandonment of the working class, third worldist “anti-imperialism” has become the radical chic of choice, especially so with the Holy Land conflict. And what better way of embracing the politics of the 1968 generation than by submitting to Islam?

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Lauren Booth: I'm now a Muslim. Why all the shock and horror?

Lauren Booth...'How hard and callous non-Muslim friends and colleagues began to seem'.

News that Lauren Booth has converted to Islam provoked a storm of negative comments. Here she explains how it came about – and why it's time to stop patronising Muslim women

Lauren Booth
The Guardian, Wednesday 3 November 2010

It is five years since my first visit to Palestine. And when I arrived in the region, to work alongside charities in Gaza and the West Bank, I took with me the swagger of condescension that all white middle-class women (secretly or outwardly) hold towards poor Muslim women, women I presumed would be little more than black-robed blobs, silent in my peripheral vision. As a western woman with all my freedoms, I expected to deal professionally with men alone. After all, that's what the Muslim world is all about, right?

This week's screams of faux horror from fellow columnists on hearing of my conversion to Islam prove that this remains the stereotypical view regarding half a billion women currently practising Islam.

On my first trip to Ramallah, and many subsequent visits to Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, I did indeed deal with men in power. And, dear reader, one or two of them even had those scary beards we see on news bulletins from far-flung places we've bombed to smithereens. Surprisingly (for me) I also began to deal with a lot of women of all ages, in all manner of head coverings, who also held positions of power. Believe it or not, Muslim women can be educated, work the same deadly hours we do, and even boss their husbands about in front of his friends until he leaves the room in a huff to go and finish making the dinner.

Is this patronising enough for you? I do hope so, because my conversion to Islam has been an excuse for sarcastic commentators to heap such patronising points of view on to Muslim women everywhere. So much so, that on my way to a meeting on the subject of Islamophobia in the media this week, I seriously considered buying myself a hook and posing as Abu Hamza. After all, judging by the reaction of many women columnists, I am now to women's rights what the hooked one is to knife and fork sales.

So let's all just take a deep breath and I'll give you a glimpse into the other world of Islam in the 21st century. Of course, we cannot discount the appalling way women are mistreated by men in many cities and cultures, both with and without an Islamic population. Women who are being abused by male relatives are being abused by men, not God. Much of the practices and laws in "Islamic" countries have deviated from (or are totally unrelated) to the origins of Islam. Instead practices are based on cultural or traditional (and yes, male-orientated) customs that have been injected into these societies. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive by law. This rule is an invention of the Saudi monarchy, our government's close ally in the arms and oil trade. The fight for women's rights must sadly adjust to our own government's needs.

My own path to Islam began with an awakening to the gap between what had been drip-fed to me about all Muslim life – and the reality.

I began to wonder about the calmness exuded by so many of the "sisters" and "brothers". Not all; these are human beings we're talking about. But many. And on my visit to Iran this September, the washing, kneeling, chanting recitations of the prayers at the mosques I visited reminded me of the west's view of an entirely different religion; one that is known for eschewing violence and embracing peace and love through quiet meditation. A religion trendy with movie stars such as Richard Gere, and one that would have been much easier to admit to following in public – Buddhism. Indeed, the bending, kneeling and submission of Muslim prayers resound with words of peace and contentment. Each one begins, "Bismillahir rahmaneer Raheem" – "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate" – and ends with the phrase "Assalamu Alaykhum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh" – Peace be upon you all and God's mercy and blessing.

Almost unnoticed to me, when praying for the last year or so, I had been saying "Dear Allah" instead of "Dear God". They both mean the same thing, of course, but for the convert to Islam the very alien nature of the language of the holy prayers and the holy book can be a stumbling block. I had skipped that hurdle without noticing. Then came the pull: a sort of emotional ebb and flow that responds to the company of other Muslims with a heightened feeling of openness and warmth. Well, that's how it was for me, anyway.

How hard and callous non-Muslim friends and colleagues began to seem. Why can't we cry in public, hug one another more, say "I love you" to a new friend, without facing suspicion or ridicule? I would watch emotions being shared in households along with trays of honeyed sweets and wondered, if Allah's law is simply based on fear why did the friends I loved and respected not turn their backs on their practices and start to drink, to have real "fun" as we in the west do? And we do, don't we? Don't we?

Finally, I felt what Muslims feel when they are in true prayer: a bolt of sweet harmony, a shudder of joy in which I was grateful for everything I have (my children) and secure in the certainty that I need nothing more (along with prayer) to be utterly content. I prayed in the Mesumeh shrine in Iran after ritually cleansing my forearms, face, head and feet with water. And nothing could be the same again. It was as simple as that.

The sheikh who finally converted me at a mosque in London a few weeks ago told me: "Don't hurry, Lauren. Just take it easy. Allah is waiting for you. Ignore those who tell you: you must do this, wear that, have your hair like this. Follow your instincts, follow the Holy Qur'an- and let Allah guide you."

And so I now live in a reality that is not unlike that of Jim Carey's character in the Truman Show. I have glimpsed the great lie that is the facade of our modern lives; that materialism, consumerism, sex and drugs will give us lasting happiness. But I have also peeked behind the screens and seen an enchanting, enriched existence of love, peace and hope. In the meantime, I carry on with daily life, cooking dinners, making TV programmes about Palestine and yes, praying for around half an hour a day.

Now, my morning starts with dawn prayers at around 6am, I pray again at 1.30pm, then finally at 10.30pm. My steady progress with the Qur'an has been mocked in some quarters (for the record, I'm now around 200 pages in). I've been seeking advice from Ayatollahs, imams and sheikhs, and every one has said that each individual's journey to Islam is their own. Some do commit the entire text to memory before conversion; for me reading the holy book will be done slowly and at my own pace.

In the past my attempts to give up alcohol have come to nothing; since my conversion I can't even imagine drinking again. I have no doubt that this is for life: there is so much in Islam to learn and enjoy and admire; I'm overcome with the wonder of it. In the last few days I've heard from other women converts, and they have told me that this is just the start, that they are still loving it 10 or 20 years on.

On a final note I'd like to offer a quick translation between Muslim culture and media culture that may help take the sting of shock out of my change of life for some of you.

When Muslims on the BBC News are shown shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" at some clear, Middle Eastern sky, we westerners have been trained to hear: "We hate you all in your British sitting rooms, and are on our way to blow ourselves up in Lidl when you are buying your weekly groceries."

In fact, what we Muslims are saying is "God is Great!", and we're taking comfort in our grief after non-Muslim nations have attacked our villages. Normally, this phrase proclaims our wish to live in peace with our neighbours, our God, our fellow humans, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Or, failing that, in the current climate, just to be left to live in peace would be nice.

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Why I love Islam: Lauren Booth defiantly explains why she is becoming a Muslim

By Lauren Booth - DAILY MAIL - 1st November 2010

It is the most peculiar journey of my life. The carriage is warm and my fellow passengers unexpectedly welcoming. We are progressing ­rapidly and without delay. Rain, snow, rail unions, these things make no difference to the forward rush.

Yet I have no idea how I came to be on board nor, stranger still, quite where the train is heading, apart from this: the destination, wherever it might be, is the most important place I can imagine.

I know this all seems gloriously far-fetched, but really it is how I feel about my conversion, announced last week, to Islam.

Although the means and ­mechanisms that brought me to this point remain mysterious, the decision will determine every aspect of my life to come as firmly as the twin rails beneath that exhilarating express.

Asked for a simple explanation of how I, an English hack journalist, a ­single working mother, signed up to the Western media’s least-favourite religion, I suppose I would point to an intensely spiritual experience in an Iranian mosque just over a month ago.

But it makes more sense to go back to January 2005, when I arrived alone in the West Bank to cover the elections there for The Mail on Sunday. It is safe to say that before that visit I had never spent any time with Arabs, or Muslims.

The whole experience was a shock, but not for the reasons I might have expected. So much of what we know about this part of the world and the people who follow Mohammed the Prophet is based on ­disturbing – some would say biased – news bulletins.

So, as I flew towards the Middle East, my mind was full of the usual 10pm buzz­words: radical extremists, fanatics, forced marriages, suicide bombers and jihad. Not much of a travel brochure.

My very first experience, though, could hardly have been more positive. I had arrived on the West Bank without a coat, as the Israeli airport authorities had kept my suitcase.

Walking around the centre of Ramallah, I was shivering, whereupon an old lady grabbed my hand.

Talking rapidly in Arabic, she took me into a house on a side street. Was I being kidnapped by a rather elderly terrorist? For several confusing minutes I watched her going through her daughter’s wardrobe until she pulled out a coat, a hat and a scarf.

I was then taken back to the street where I had been walking, given a kiss and sent warmly on my way. There had been not a single comprehensible word exchanged between us.

It was an act of generosity I have never forgotten, and one which, in various guises, I have seen repeated a hundred times. Yet this warmth of spirit is so rarely represented in what we read and see in the news.

Over the course of the next three years I made numerous journeys to the occupied lands which were once historic Palestine. At first I went on ­assignments; as time went by, I started travelling in solidarity with charities and pro-Palestinian groups.

I felt challenged by the hardships ­suffered by Palestinians of all creeds. It is important to remember there have been Christians in the Holy Land for 2,000 years and that they too are suffering under Israel’s illegal occupation.

Gradually I found expressions such as ‘Mashallah!’ (a phrase of gratitude meaning ‘God has willed it’) and ‘Al Hamd­illilah!’ (akin to ‘Halle­lujah’) creeping into my everyday speech. These are exclamations of delight derived from the 100 names of God, or Allah. Far from being nervous of Muslim groups, I started looking forward to meeting them. It was an opportunity to be with people of intelligence, wit and, above all else, kindness and generosity.

I’m going to take a break here to pray for ten minutes as it’s 1.30pm. (There are five prayers each day, the times varying throughout the year depending on the rising and setting of the sun.)

I was in no doubt that I had embarked on a change of political understanding, one in which Palestinians became families rather than terror suspects, and Muslim cities communities rather than ‘collateral damage’.

But a religious journey? This would never have occurred to me. Although I have always liked to pray and, since childhood, have enjoyed the stories of Jesus and the more ancient prophets that I had picked up at school and at the Brownies, I was brought up in a very secular household.

It was probably an appreciation of Muslim culture, in partic­ular that of Muslim women, that first drew me towards a broader appreciation of Islam.

How strange Muslim women seem to English eyes, all covered up from head to toe, sometimes walking behind their husbands (although this is far from universally the case), with their children around their long skirts.

By contrast, professional women in Europe are happy to make the most of their appearance. I, for example, have always been proud of my lovely blonde hair and,
yes, my cleavage.

It was common working practice to have this on display at all times because so much of what we sell these days has to do with our appearance.

Yet whenever I have been invited to broadcast on television, I have sat watching in wonder as the female presenters spend up to an hour on their hair and make- up, before giving the serious ­topics under discussion less than 15 minutes’ attention. Is this liber­ation? I began to wonder just how much true respect girls and women get in our ‘free’ society.

In 2007 I went to Lebanon. I spent four days with female ­university students, all of whom wore the full hijab: belted shirts over dark trousers or jeans, with no hair on show. They were charming, independent and outspoken company. They were not at all the timid, soon-to-be-forced-into-marriage girls I would have imagined from what we often read in the West.

At one point they accompanied me to interview a sheikh who was also a commander with the Hezbollah militia. I was pleasantly surprised by his attitude to the girls. As Sheikh Nabil, in turban and brown flowing robes, talked intriguingly of a prisoner swap, they started butting in. They felt free to talk over him, to put a hand up for him to pause while they translated.

In fact, the bossiness of Muslim women is something of a joke that rings true in so many homes in the community. You want to see men under the thumb? Look at many Muslim husbands more than other kinds.

Indeed, just yesterday, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia rang me and only half-jokingly introduced himself as ‘my wife’s husband’.


Something else was changing, too. The more time I spent in the Middle East, the more I asked to be taken into mosques. Just for touristy reasons, I told myself. In fact I found them fascinating.
Free of statues and with rugs instead of pews, I saw them rather like a big sitting room where ­children play, women feed their families pitta bread and milk and grandmothers sit and read the Koran in wheelchairs. They take their lives into their place of worship and bring their worship into their homes.

Then came the night in the Iran­ian city of Qom, beneath the golden dome of the shrine of Fatima Mesumah (the revered ‘Learned Lady’). Like the other women pilgrims, I said Allah’s name several times while holding on to the bars of Fatima’s tomb.

When I sat down, a pulse of sheer spiritual joy shot through me. Not the joy that lifts you off the ground, but the joy that gives you complete peace and contentment. I sat for a long time. Young women gathered around me talking of the ‘amazing thing happening to you’.
I knew then I was no longer a tourist in Islam but a traveller inside the Ummah, the community of Islam that links all believers.

At first I wanted the feeling to go, and for several reasons. Was I ready to convert? What on earth would friends and family think? Was I ready to moderate my behaviour in many ways?

And here’s the really strange thing. I needn’t have worried about any of these things, because somehow becoming a Muslim is really easy – although the prac­ticalities are a very different ­matter, of course.

For a start, Islam demands a great deal of study, yet I am mother to two children and work full-time. You are expected to read the Koran from beginning to end, plus the thoughts and findings of imams and all manner of spiritually enlightened people. Most people would spend months, if not years of study before making their declaration.

People ask me how much of the Koran I’ve read, and my answer is that I’ve only covered 100 pages or so to date, and in translation. But before anyone sneers, the verses of the Koran should be read ten lines at a time, and they should be recited, considered and, if possible, committed to memory. It’s not like OK! magazine.
This is a serious text that I am going to know for life. It would help to learn Arabic and I would like to, but that will also take time.

I have a relationship with a ­couple of mosques in North London, and I am hoping to make a routine of going at least once a week. I would never say, by the way, whether I will take a Sunni or a Shia path. For me, there is one Islam and one Allah.

Adopting modest dress, however, is rather less troublesome than you might think. Wearing a headscarf means I’m ready to go out more quickly than before. I was blushing the first time I wore it loosely over my hair just a few weeks ago.
Luckily it was cold outside, so few people paid attention. Going out in the sunshine was more of a challenge, but this is a tolerant country and no one has looked askance so far.

A veil, by the way, is not for me, let alone something more substantial like a burka. I’m making no criticism of women who choose that level of modesty. But Islam has no expectation that I will adopt a more severe form of dress.
Predictably, some areas of the Press have had a field day with my conversion, unleashing a torrent of abuse that is not really aimed at me but a false idea of Islam.

But I have ignored the more negative comments. Some people don’t understand spirituality and any discussion of it makes them frightened. It raises awkward questions about the meaning of their own lives and they lash out.

One of my concerns is professional. It is easy to get pigeonholed, particularly if I continue to wear a headscarf. In fact, based on the experience of other female converts, I’m wondering if I will be treated as though I have lost my mind.
I’ve been political all my life, and that will continue. I’ve been involved in pro-Palestinian activism for a number of years, and don’t expect to stop. Yet Britain is a more tolerant country than, say, France or Germany.

I’m well aware that there are plenty of Muslim women who have great success on television and in the Press, and wear modest but decidedly Western dress.
This is hardly a choice for me, though. I am a newcomer, still getting to grips with the basic tenets. My relationship with Islam is different. I am in no position to say that some bits of my new-found faith suit me and that some bits I’ll ignore.

There is a more profound uncertainty about the future, too. I feel changes going on in me every day – that I’m becoming a different person. I wonder where that will end up. Who will I be?

I am fortunate in that my most important relationships remain strong. The reaction from my non-Muslim friends has been more curious than hostile. ‘Will it change you?’ they ask. ‘Can we still be your friend? Can we go out drinking?’

The answer to the first two of those questions is yes. The last is a big happy no.
As for my mother, I think she is happy if I’m happy. And if, coming from a background of my father’s alcoholism, I’m going to avoid the stuff, then what could be better?

Growing up in an alcoholic household with a dad who was violent, has left a great gap in my life. It is a wound that will never heal and his remarks about me are very hurtful.

We haven’t seen each other for years, so how can he know anything about me or have any valid views about my conversion? I just feel sorry for him. The rest of my family is very supportive.

My mum and I had a difficult relationship when I was growing up, but we have built bridges and she’s a great support to me and the girls.

When I told her I had converted, she did say: ‘Not to those nutters. I thought you said Buddhism!’ But she understand now and accepts it.

And, as it happens, giving up alcohol was a breeze. In fact I can’t imagine tasting alcohol ever again. I simply don’t want to.

This is not the time for me to be thinking about relationships with men, either. I’m recovering from the breakdown of my marriage and am now going through a divorce.

So I’m not looking and am under no pressure to look.

If, when the time came, I did consider remarrying, then, in accordance with my adopted faith, the husband would need to be Muslim.

I’m asked: ‘Will my daughters be Muslim?’ I don’t know, that is up to them. You can’t change someone’s heart. But they’re certainly not hostile and their reaction to my surprising conversion was perhaps the most telling of all.

I sat in the kitchen and called them in. ‘Girls, I have some news for you,’ I began. ‘I am now a Muslim.’ They went into a ­huddle, with the eldest, Alex, saying: ‘We have some questions, we’ll be right back.’

They made a list and returned. Alex cleared her throat. ‘Will you drink alcohol any more?’

Answer: No. The response – a rather worrying ‘Yay!’
‘Will you smoke cigarettes any more?’ Smoking isn’t haram (for­bidden) but it is harmful, so I answered: ‘No.’

Again, this was met with puritanical approval. Their final question, though, took me aback. ‘Will you have your breasts out in public now you are a Muslim?’

What??

It seems they’d both been embarrassed by my plunging shirts and tops and had cringed on the school run at my pallid cleavage. Perhaps in hindsight I should have cringed as well.

‘Now that I’m Muslim,’ I said, ‘I will never have my breasts out in public again.’

‘We love Islam!’ they cheered and went off to play. And I love Islam too.

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Lauren

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CONVERTED TO ISLAM

In 2010, Lauren Booth made contact with an unseen force. She went to check out a well known sacred place, a treasure. It was a shrine of a holy lady. There she discovered a mighty force, beautiful, yet unseen. It touched her body. There was unusual communitation between the force and Lauren. What wise men call Close Encounter of the Fifth Kind. The message changed the British journalist forever. Saint Lauren. She will not reveal to public its full contents. Reason unknown.

















Career Woman

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Tony Blair's wife now has a sister who is a muslim. This was shocking news for those who hate Islam. Media quickly tried to show how bad Islam is.

British newspaper Daily Mail printed on Wednesday 27 October 2010 reports that
Islam is gaining more and more women converts.

A former muslim woman EVE AHMED who left Islam, gives the readers her reasons as to why she thinks so many modern career women are converting to Islam. Eve Ahmed tries to mislead the public.


27/10/2010 - DAILY MAIL:

WHY ARE SO MANY MODERN BRITISH CAREER WOMEN CONVERTING TO ISLAM?

Tony Blair’s sister-in-law announced her conversion to Islam last weekend. Journalist Lauren Booth embraced the faith after what she describes as a ‘holy experience’ in Iran. She is just one of a growing number of modern British career women to do so.

EVE AHMED who was raised as a Muslim before rejecting the faith, explores the reasons why.


Much of my childhood was spent trying to escape ­Islam.

Born in London to an English mother and a ­Pakistani Muslim father, I was brought up to follow my father’s faith without question.

But, privately, I hated it. The minute I left home for university at the age of 18, I abandoned it altogether.

As far as I was concerned, being a Muslim meant hearing the word ‘No’ over and over again.

Girls from my background were barred from so many of the things my English friends took for granted. Indeed, it seemed to me that almost anything fun was haram, or forbidden, to girls like me.

There were so many random, petty rules. No whistling. No chewing of gum. No riding bikes. No watching Top Of The Pops. No wearing make-up or clothes which revealed the shape of the body.

No eating in the street or putting my hands in my pockets. No cutting my hair or painting my nails. No asking questions or answering back. No keeping dogs as pets, (they were unclean).

And, of course, no sitting next to men, shaking their hands or even making eye contact with them.

These ground rules were imposed by my father and I, therefore, assumed they must be an integral part of being a good Muslim.

Small wonder, then, that as soon as I was old enough to exert my independence, I rejected the whole package and turned my back on Islam. After all, what modern, liberated British woman would choose to live such a life?

Well, quite a lot, it turns out, including Islam’s latest surprise convert, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law Lauren Booth. And after my own break with my past, I’ve followed with fascination the growing trend of Western women choosing to convert to Islam.

Broadcaster and journalist Booth, 43, says she now wears a hijab head covering whenever she leaves home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque ‘when I can’.


She decided to become a Muslim six weeks ago after visiting the shrine of Fatima al-Masumeh in the city of Qom, and says: ‘It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.’

Before her awakening in Iran, she had been ‘sympathetic’ to Islam and has spent considerable time working in Palestine. ‘I was always impressed with the strength and comfort it gave,’ she says.

How, I wondered, could women be drawn to a religion which I felt had kept me in such a lowly, submissive place? How could their experiences of Islam be so very different to mine?

According to Kevin Brice from ­Swansea University, who has specialised in studying white conversion to Islam, these women are part of an intriguing trend.

He explains: ‘They seek spirituality, a higher meaning, and tend to be deep thinkers. The other type of women who turn to Islam are what I call “converts of convenience”. They’ll assume the trappings of the religion to please their Muslim husband and his family, but won’t necessarily attend mosque, pray or fast.’
I spoke to a diverse selection of white Western converts in a bid to re-examine the faith I had rejected.
Women like Kristiane Backer, 43, a London-based former MTV presenter who had led the kind of liberal Western-style life that I yearned for as a teenager, yet who turned her back on it and embraced Islam instead. Her reason? The ‘anything goes’ permissive society that I coveted had proved to be a superficial void.

The turning point for Kristiane came when she met and briefly dated the former Pakistani cricketer and Muslim Imran Khan in 1992 during the height of her career. He took her to Pakistan where she says she was immediately touched by spirituality and the warmth of the people.
Kristiane says: ‘Though our relationship didn’t last, I began to study the Muslim faith and eventually converted. Because of the nature of my job, I’d been out interviewing rock stars, travelling all over the world and following every trend, yet I’d felt empty inside. Now, at last, I had contentment because Islam had given me a purpose in life.’
‘In the West, we are stressed for super­ficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system.

'Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realised how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one god makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.
‘I grew up in Germany in a not very religious Protestant family. I drank and I partied, but I realised that we need to behave well now so we have a good after-life. We are responsible for our own actions.’

For a significant amount of women, their first contact with Islam comes from ­dating a Muslim boyfriend. Lynne Ali, 31, from Dagenham in Essex, freely admits to having been ‘a typical white hard-partying teenager’.

She says: ‘I would go out and get drunk with friends, wear tight and revealing clothing and date boys.
‘I also worked part-time as a DJ, so I was really into the club scene. I used to pray a bit as a Christian, but I used God as a sort of doctor, to fix things in my life. If anyone asked, I would’ve said that, generally, I was happy living life in the fast lane.’

But when she met her boyfriend, Zahid, at university, something dramatic happened.

She says: ‘His sister started talking to me about Islam, and it was as if ­everything in my life fitted into place. I think, underneath it all, I must have been searching for something, and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled by my hard-drinking party lifestyle.’

Lynne converted aged 19. ‘From that day, I started wearing the hijab,’ she explains, ‘and I now never show my hair in public. At home, I’ll dress in normal Western clothes in front of my husband, but never out of the house.’
With a recent YouGov survey ­concluding that more than half the ­British public believe Islam to be a negative influence that encourages extremism, the repression of women and inequality, one might ask why any of them would choose such a direction for themselves.

Yet statistics suggest Islamic conversion is not a mere flash in the pan but a significant development. Islam is, after all, the world’s fastest growing religion, and white adopters are an important part of that story.

‘Evidence suggests that the ratio of Western women converts to male could be as high as 2:1,’ says Kevin Brice.

Moreover, he says, often these female ­converts are eager to display the ­visible signs of their faith — in particular the hijab — whereas many Muslim girls brought up in the faith choose not to.

‘Perhaps as a result of these actions, which tend to draw attention, white Muslims often report greater amounts of discrimination against them than do born Muslims,’ adds Brice, which is what happened to Kristiane Backer.
She says: ‘In Germany, there is Islamophobia. I lost my job when I converted. There was a Press campaign against me with insinuations about all Muslims supporting ­terrorists — I was vilified. Now, I am a ­presenter on NBC Europe.
‘I call myself a European Muslim, which is different to the ‘born’ Muslim. I was ­married to one, a Moroccan, but it didn’t work because he placed restrictions on me because of how he’d been brought up. As a European Muslim, I question ­everything — I don’t accept blindly.

‘But what I love is the hospitality and the warmth of the Muslim community. London is the best place in Europe for Muslims, there is wonderful Islamic ­culture here and I am very happy.’
For some converts, Islam represents a celebration of old-fashioned family values.

Some are drawn to the sense of belonging and of community — values which have eroded in the West,’ says Haifaa Jawad, a senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, who has studied the white conversion phenomenon.
‘Many people, from all walks of life, mourn the loss in today’s society of traditional respect for the elderly and for women, for example. These are values which are enshrined in the Koran, which Muslims have to live by,’ adds Brice.
It is values like these which drew Camilla Leyland, 32, a yoga teacher who lives in Cornwall, to Islam. A single mother to daughter, Inaya, two, she converted in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’.
She explains: ‘I know people will be surprised to hear the words ­“feminism” and “Islam” in the same breath, but in fact, the teachings of the Koran give equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went against the grain of a misogynistic society.

The big mistake people make is by confusing culture with religion. Yes, there are Muslim cultures which do not allow women individual freedom, yet when I was growing up, I felt more oppressed by Western society.’
She talks of the pressure on women to act like men by drinking and ­having casual sex. ‘There was no real meaning to it all. In Islam, if you begin a relationship, that is a ­commitment of intent.’
Growing up in Southampton — her father was the director of Southampton Institute of Education and her mother a home economics teacher — Camilla’s interest in Islam began at school.
She went to university and later took a Masters degree in Middle East Studies. But it was while living and working in Syria that she had a spiritual epiphany. Reflecting on what she’d read in the Koran, she realised she wanted to convert.
Her decision was met with bemusement by friends and family.

‘People found it so hard to believe that an educated, middle-class white woman would choose to become Muslim,’ she says.

While Camilla’s faith remains strong, she no longer wears the hijab in public. But several of the women I spoke to said strict Islamic dress was something they found empowering and liberating.
Lynne Ali remembers the night this hit home for her. ‘I went to an old friend’s 21st birthday party in a bar,’ she reveals. ‘I walked in, wearing my hijab and modest clothing, and saw how ­everyone else had so much flesh on display. They were drunk, slurring their words and dancing provocatively.
‘For the first time, I could see my former life with an outsider’s eyes, and I knew I could never go back to that.

‘I am so grateful I found my escape route. This is the real me — I am happy to pray five times a day and take classes at the mosque. I am no longer a slave to a broken society and its expectations.’

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey, called From MTV To Mecca, believes the new breed of modern, independent Muslims can band together to show the world that Islam is not the faith I grew up in — one that stamps on the rights of women.

She says: ‘I know women born Muslims who became disillusioned an d rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against, but the culture.

'Rules like marrying within the same sect or caste and education being less important for girls, as they should get married anyway —– where does it say that in the Koran? It doesn’t.

‘Many young Muslims have abandoned the “fire and brimstone” version they were born into have re-discovered a more spiritual and intellectual approach, that’s free from the cultural dogmas of the older generation. That’s how I intend to spend my life, showing the world the beauty of the true Islam.’

While I don’t agree with their sentiments, I admire and respect the women I interviewed for this piece.

They were all bright and educated, and have thought long and hard before choosing to convert to Islam — and now feel passionately about their adopted religion. Good luck to them. And good luck to Lauren Booth. But it’s that word that sums up the difference between their experience and mine — choice.

Perhaps if I’d felt in control rather than controlled, if I’d felt empowered rather than stifled, I would still be practising the religion I was born into, and would not carry the burden of guilt that I do about rejecting my father’s faith.

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24/10/2010 - DAILY MAIL:

TONY BLAIR'S SISTER-IN-LAW-CONVERTS TO ISLAM AFTER A "HOLY EXPERIENCE" IN IRAN

Broadcaster and journalist Lauren Booth, 43 - said she now wears a hijab head covering whenever she leaves her home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque ‘when I can’.

She decided to become a Muslim six weeks ago after visiting the shrine of Fatima al-Masumeh in the city of Qom.

‘It was a Tuesday evening and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy,’ she told The Mail on Sunday.

When she returned to Britain, she decided to convert immediately.

‘Now I don’t eat pork and I read the Koran every day. I’m on page 60. I also haven’t had a drink in 45 days, the longest period in 25 years,' she said.

'The strange thing is that since I decided to convert I haven’t wanted to touch alcohol, and I was someone who craved a glass of wine or two at the end of a day.’

Refusing to discount the possibility that she might wear a burka, she said: ‘Who knows where my spiritual journey will take me?’

Before her awakening in Iran, she had been ‘sympathetic’ to Islam and has spent considerable time working in Palestine. ‘I was always impressed with the strength and comfort it gave,’ she said of the religion.

Miss Booth, who works for Press TV, the English-language Iranian news channel, has been a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq.

In August 2008 she travelled to Gaza by ship from Cyprus, along with 46 other activists, to highlight Israel’s blockade of the territory.

She was subsequently refused entry into both Israel and Egypt.
In 2006 she was a contestant on the ITV reality show I’m A Celebrity. Get Me Out Of Here!, donating her fee to the Palestinian relief charity Interpal.
She said she hoped her conversion would help Mr Blair change his presumptions about Islam.

During her visit to Iran last month, Booth wrote a public letter to Mr Blair asking him to mark Al-Quds (Jerusalem) day - a protest at Israel's occupation of Palestine.
The missive was a bitter attack on the former Prime Minister, who is now a Middle East envoy working for peace in the troubled region.

'The men, women and children around me withstood a day of no water and no food (it’s called Ramadan, Tony, it’s a fast),' Booth wrote.

'Coping with hunger and thirst in the hundred degrees heat, as if it were nothing. They can withstand deprivation in the Muslim world.

'Here in Iran they feel proud to suffer in order to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. It's kind of like the way you express solidarity with America only without illegal chemical weapons and a million civilian deaths.'

She adds: 'Your world view is that Muslims, are mad, bad, dangerous to know. A contagion to be contained.

'In the final chapter [of his autobiography] you say we need a "religious counter attack" against Islam. And by "Islam" you mean the Al Quds rallies, the Palestinian intifada (based on an anti Apartheid struggle Tony, NOT religious bigotry), against every Arab who fails to put their arms in the air as the F16 missiles rain on their homes and refugee camps and sing a rousing chorus of ‘Imagine all the people...’

Booth moved to France with her family - husband Craig Darby and two daughters Alexandra and Holly in 2004.

Her husband was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in April 2009 when he was drunk and not wearing a helmet.

He suffered a severe brain injury, a fractured neck, damage to his spine and several broken ribs and was in a deep coma for two weeks.

The 42-year-old had to learn how to walk and talk again. He lost much of his memory, has sight problem and cannot work.

The couple decided to move back to Britain to help his recovery and reduce the amount of time Booth has to work away from home.

Booth took part in I'm A Celebrity... Get Met Out of Here! in 2006 alongside Myleene Klass and Jason Donovan, finishing ninth.

Of her relationship with the Blairs, she said at the time: 'I'm happy to criticise them politically if they deserve it but that on a personal level we get on fine.'

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Francois-Cerrah

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FOXNEWS

September 24, 2010

Actress Among Growing Number of Women Converting to Islam in Britain

By Amy Kellogg

Myriam Francois-Cerrah found fame as a child actress in the 90's hit film Sense and Sensibility. Now she's known for being one of a growing number of educated middle class female converts to Islam in Britain.

Francois-Cerrah says the September 11 terror attacks led to an intellectual curiosity about Islam and ultimately to conversion to the religion. She believes the Prophet Muhammad was a man of peace.

She says, “There were several things that were pivotal in leading to this change in me. One was looking into the Prophet Muhammad. I think he is one of the great misunderstood figures of history.”

Francois-Cerrah goes on. “One of his favorite quotes was, ‘Forgive him who wrongs you. Join him who cuts you off. Do good to him who does evil to you and speak the truth even if it be against yourself.’”

Francois-Cerrah says the radical fringe behind terror attacks doesn't represent the masses.

"Muslims as a rule, the mainstream, don't look at these actions and think oh those Muslims over there are doing that. They think who are these crazy loons!"

Kristianne Backer was an MTV host in Germany when she converted to Islam. She moved to the UK when her conversion got a lot of negative press.

Backer says she has no regrets.

"I met a lot of famous, interesting people in life, but ultimately it was an empty life, so now I am from ‘Empty-V’, from entertainment to ‘inner-tainment.’ I had a crisis after a few years jetting around like a circus horse, on stage, home alone, empty and I didn't know why I was doing it and Islam was somehow introduced to me."

I asked editor of Emel magazine, Sarah Joseph, herself a convert, what is drawing women to the religion.

“People go to, travel to, Muslim countries, and see great beauty and hospitality and that draws them to it—the art and the architecture.”

Joseph explains that any negative press about Islam has not only served to repel some people, but it has drawn others.

The head of Islamic studies at London's School of Theology says many of the converts are looking for greater structure or discipline in their lives. But he also said that while there has been a small but steady increase in the number of women converting to Islam here, there are more Muslims dropping their religion than there are people converting to it.

Diana Nammi works to improve the rights of Muslim women. She runs the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation.

“It’s a big question why women are converting to Islam considering that Islam and its sharia law is not based on equality between men and women.”

Nammi says while some like Francois-Cerrah and Backer find justice and equality in the faith, honor killings and household repression are the other extreme-manifestations of Islamic culture in some families she deals with.

“They prevent them from going out, prevent them from having boyfriends, prevent them from enjoying life. Just because of their religion issue and the strictness that has been set for women."

Some say the middle class converts living in the UK have the luxury of being able to cherry pick the aspects of Islam that suit and uplift them.

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British actor enchanted by Prophet's life

27/09/2010

A British actress says she was motivated to convert to islam especially when she started looking into the life of Prophet Mohammad.

Myriam Francois-Cerrah says, “There were several things that were pivotal in leading to this change in me. One was looking into the Prophet Muhammad. I think he is one of the great misunderstood figures of history.”

"My intellectual curiosity was sparked as a result of the backlash against my Muslims friends after 9/11 when I, like most people, was convinced that Islam was responsible for this atrocity. I wanted to understand why my friends would remain part of such a faith.“

“When I began looking into the faith, I realised how antithetical those terrorist actions are to the core message of Islam which enjoins peace, moderation and fairness. I then began to realise what was actually behind 9/11 was the distorted ideology of some political extremists, using Islam as a veneer to justify their actions."

“Islam is about always having balance and I think the prophet's message was fundamentally about having balance and equilibrium in all that we do.”

“The prophet's message was always that you repel bad with good that you always respond to evil with good and always remember that god loves justice so even when people are committing serious injustices against you, you have a moral responsibility and a moral obligation in front of god to always appall justice and never yourself transgress those limits.”

She quotes a few favourite quotes by Prophet Mohammad such as 'Forgive him who wrongs you. Join him who cuts you off. Do good to him who does evil to you and speak the truth even if it be against yourself.'”

“Islam's beauty really becomes to its own when it becomes manifest and it becomes manifest when you make it into a tool for the betterment of society, human kind and the world.”

“The ideal from an Islamic perspective is for ethics to become lived ethics to become an applied body of values and not remain unfortunately as it often is cloistered in the mosque of somewhere which is some more divorced from reality.”

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BBC on converts

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BBC

Monday 14 June 2010.


Women converting to Islam

Presented by Jane Garvey.

Thousands of young British women living in the UK decide to convert to Islam - what's the appeal?

Evidence suggests more than half of UK converts to Islam are women. Jane looks at the reasons women find Islam appealing, and discusses the issues they face if they convert, with sociologist Kevin Brice and convert Batool Al-Toma.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00snm84

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Niqab fears

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Some British females who convert to Islam do not wish to reveal their face. These women decide to wear a NIQAB for religious reasons. There are many different types of veils which cover the lips and nose.

British newspaper The Times invited a muslim born woman to explain necessaity of wearing niqabs.













Fatima Barkatulla:

THE NIQAB: FACT VERSES FACTION

How much do you really know about the niqab? An insider guide to common misconceptions

Fatima Barkatulla is a regular columnist on SISTERS, the magazine
for 'fabulous Muslim women' [ http://www.sisters-magazine.com/ ]

THE TIMES - 21 July 2001






















1.The niqab is a symbol of female subjugation.

None of the niqab-wearing women who I know, wear it because they have been forced to. They see it as an act of devotion to their Creator: the culmination of a spiritual journey. In fact most of them are women who were born and brought up in the UK; many are White or Afro-Caribbean Muslim converts to Islam who have chosen to observe it. The hijab, niqab and abaya are outer garments and are worn only when outdoors or in the presence of men who are not close relatives and so, contrary to popular belief, underneath their robes, in family and female-only settings Muslim women are often very fashion conscious and outgoing. They dress in everyday clothing; they get their hair done, go on holiday and even buy lingerie!

2. Women who wear the niqab cannot possibly contribute to society

People are surprised to hear that niqab-wearers come from varied vocational backgrounds. They include doctors, teachers, dentists, authors, social workers, university graduates, lecturers and more. They usually prefer to work in a female environment and so would not wear the face-veil all the time. Other women say that wearing the niqab actually makes them feel more comfortable when they are working with men. It is ironic that the very women who are the subject of debate are far from being a burden on society: they don’t get drunk and disorderly, don’t smoke and are likely to be very good citizens. Many of them are full-time mothers who take pride in raising well-educated children who will be an asset to British society.

3. Niqab isn’t in the Quran

The Quranic worldview presents a complete system of living, which permeates the daily lives of observant Muslims. This includes everything from rituals of personal hygiene, advice on neighbourly behaviour and animal rights to regulations for dress. Some women see the niqab as a religious obligation, others, as an act of worship following in the footsteps of notable Muslim women of the past. Numerous verses in the Quran contain directives for Muslim women’s dress, amongst them:

“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the Believers to draw their outer garments all over their bodies. That will be better, so that they may be known and so as not to be annoyed, and God is Ever-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (33:59)

The Quran was interpreted by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his disciples and their teachings form the basis of Islamic law. There are two orthodox schools of thought with regards to the interpretation of this verse. One orthodox interpretation is that it means covering the whole body including the face. The other school of thought is that, though not obligatory, covering the face is a virtue.

4. Wearing the niqab implies that all men are predatory

Just as locking our doors at night doesn’t imply that all members of society are burglars, wearing the niqab doesn’t imply that all men are predatory.

The Islamic worldview recognises that attraction between men and women exists and, if left unharnessed, has the potential to break down the moral fabric of society. It also acknowledges the physiological and physical differences between men and women and therefore Islamic legislation for dress and behaviour reflect these differences and aid adherents to avoid situations that could lead to extra-marital sexual relations. Hence both men and women have been commanded to lower their gazes and given directives on dress.

5. The niqab poses a security risk at banks and airports

By simply going to the side and showing their faces and ID to female members of staff, Muslim women who wear the niqab, have been, for decades, passing through airport security in major airports all over the world without cause for security concern. The same sort of arrangement can be made for any situation where ID needs to be checked.

6.Niqab wearers can’t possibly be teachers.

There are many highly qualified and experienced Muslim teachers. A Muslim teacher, who wears the niqab, would not need to do so if men were not present, therefore many female Muslim teachers choose to teach women or children and uncover their faces whilst teaching.

7. Banning the niqab will free those Muslim women who are coerced into wearing it.

Banning the face-veil would be totally counter-productive: it would cause many Muslim women to feel targeted and persecuted and is likely to cause many talented women to withdraw from society. The majority of niqab-wearing women in Europe, wear it out of personal choice, so if, for the sake of a suspected minority, the niqab was to be banned, this would be clear discrimination against the majority. If we want to empower women from any community who are oppressed or abused, effective public services where such abuse can be reported need to be made more available and accessible to the women involved.

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Yvonne Ridley

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YVONNE RIDLEY

Yvonne's time in the hands of the Taliban changed her life forever

British journalist Yvonne Ridley was captured by the Talibans two years ago. Find out why Ridley has converted to Islam following her ordeal.

Yvonne Ridley is the Sunday Express journalist who hit the headlines when she was arrested after being sent to cover the build-up to the Afghan war.

Two years ago Yvonne was detained on suspicion of spying after going in search of a scoop disguised in a traditional burka

But it ended in disaster when she was thrown into prison and held for ten days, while the government, Yvonne's family and work colleagues tried to secure her release.

Against the odds Yvonne was set free, but her time in the hands of the Taliban proved to be a life-changing experience.

Against The Odds

Yvonne Ridley says she was 'simply doing her job' when she was seized by the Taliban near the city of Jalalabad.

As Yvonne explains, "A camera which I had hidden in the folds of my burka slipped out right into the full view of a passing Taliban soldier."

"He went crazy - cameras were banned under the regime - and pulled me off the donkey and removed the camera."

For the first six days Yvonne was held in the intelligence headquarters in Jalalabad before being taken to Kabul prison.

Her cell was very basic and the experience was terrifying. Yvonne lay on her bed inside a dirty, claustrophobic prison cell with no running water.

"Every morning I woke up, I thought 'is this going to be my last day?'" she says.

Hostage to Fortune

Although Yvonne was never physically hurt in any way, the experience was mentally exhausting.

"Although they were very nice, I just thought 'these are the good guys, the bad cops are going to appear at any time now with electrodes and torture instruments, or I'm going to be taken outside and shot."

While being held captive she kept a secret diary using the inside of a box from a toothpaste tube and the inside of a soap wrapper.

Yvonne recorded her thoughts when she was in her cell.

"They tried to break me mentally by asking the same questions time and time again, day after day, sometimes until 9 o'clock at night," she recalls.

Muslim Convert

Whilst in prison Yvonne tried to secure her release by offering to read the Koran or Qur'an. It was the start of her conversion to Islam.

Yvonne took on the Muslim faith in August 2003. As a result she's given up drinking, tries to pray five times a day and visits a mosque every Friday.

So why has a feisty war correspondent been drawn to a faith which some in the west say oppresses women?

"I started reading the Koran and it was an absolutely breathtaking. It could have been written yesterday for today."

"It was crystal clear that women are equal in spirituality, worth and education," says Yvonne.

Yvonne was brought up as a Protestant in Stanley, sang in the church choir, and was the Sunday school teacher in her village.

Today she's exchanged her Church of England upbringing for Islam and a very different set of spiritual beliefs.

Changing Places

It's not just her faith that Yvonne has changed - she also has a new employer, the controversial Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera.

Yvonne works on their new English website, and she's hooked on the internet. "It's a really exciting 24/7 operation... if something breaks, we can put it straight onto the Internet," she says.

Yvonne believes Al Jazeera has given the Arab world a previously unheard independent voice.

Anti-War Campaigner

Yvonne's experiences in the Middle East have made her a vocal anti-war campaigner.

She started to think about the futility of war because, in her words, "These missiles can't differentiate between civilians and military targets, between a woman, a child and a soldier."

"If I can use any of my fifteen minutes of notoriety and celebrity for good, then I will," says Yvonne.

Yvonne has also changed as a person. "I think I've become more reflective and tolerant than I used to be," she concludes.

In just two years, Yvonne has been transformed from a war corespondent to a committed Muslim with a new lifestyle and a change of career.

It's been an amazing spiritual and physical journey for the North East-born journalist who finally has found her spiritual roots, thousands of miles from her country of birth.

From Durham to Dohar, it's been an amazing adventure and a fascinating spiritual rebirth.

ISLAM FACT FILE

There are two billion Muslims world-wide.

The Qur'an is the Book of Allah that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed over a period of 23 years.

The Qur'an consists of 114 surahs (or chapters) varying in length from 3 to 286 verses.

To properly understand the teachings of Allah, Muslims say that one should refer to the Arabic text of the Qur'an

The Qur'an is the most widely read book in the world. All Muslims memorise parts of it to recite in their prayers.

Some Muslims memorise the entire Qur'an.








Snooker coach converts

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Monday October 18, 2010

British snooker coach embraces Islam

British head coach of Iran's National Snooker Team David John has embraced Islam during an official ceremony held in the capital city of Tehran.

Chairman of Iran's Physical Education Organization Ali Saeedlou and the Head of the Friday Prayer Leaders' Policymaking Council Reza Taqavi attended a ceremony on Monday to congratulate John on his new faith.

John, who changed his name to Davoud (the Islamic pronunciation of David), said he decided to convert to Islam after he came to Iran and visited the shrine of the 8th Shia Imam in the city of Mashhad.

"I was very excited to visit Mashhad," he said after the ceremony.

"I used to be a coach in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain for several years and I was familiar with Islam, but it was the Iranian culture and the holy shrine of Imam Reza which encouraged me to embrace Islam."

Saeedlou promised to send John on his first Hajj pilgrimage and Taqavi offered him a number of books on Islam as well as a Holy Quran with English translation.


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Britain Switching

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More and more white women are converting to Islam. Why?

British newspaper The Times tries to find of what is the appeal in becoming a muslim.

YOUNG. BRITISH. FEMALE, MUSLIMS.

Thousands of young British women living in the UK decide to convert to Islam - here are some of their stories

Sarah Harris - THE TIMES, 29 May 2010

It’s a controversial time for British women to be wearing the hijab, the basic Muslim headscarf. Last month, Belgium became the first European country to pass legislation to ban the burka (the most concealing of Islamic veils), calling it a “threat” to female dignity, while France looks poised to follow suit. In Italy earlier this month, a Muslim woman was fined €500 (£430) for wearing the Islamic veil outside a post office.

And yet, while less than 2 per cent of the population now attends a Church of England service every week, the number of female converts to Islam is on the rise. At the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, women account for roughly two thirds of the “New Muslims” who make their official declarations of faith there – and most of them are under the age of 30.

Conversion statistics are frustratingly patchy, but at the time of the 2001 Census, there were at least 30,000 British Muslim converts in the UK. According to Kevin Brice, of the Centre for Migration Policy Research, Swansea University, this number may now be closer to 50,000 – and the majority are women. “Basic analysis shows that increasing numbers of young, university-educated women in their twenties and thirties are converting to Islam,” confirms Brice.

“Our liberal, pluralistic 21st-century society means we can choose our careers, our politics – and we can pick and choose who we want to be spiritually,” explains Dr Mohammad S. Seddon, lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Chester. We’re in an era of the “religious supermarket”, he says.

Joanne Bailey
Solicitor, 30, Bradford

“The first time I wore my hijab into the office, I was so nervous, I stood outside on the phone to my friend for ages going, ‘What on earth is everyone going to say?’ When I walked in, a couple of people asked, ‘Why are you wearing that scarf? I didn’t know you were a Muslim.’

“I’m the last person you’d expect to convert to Islam: I had a very sheltered, working-class upbringing in South Yorkshire. I’d hardly even seen a Muslim before I went to university.

“In my first job at a solicitor’s firm in Barnsley, I remember desperately trying to play the role of the young, single, career woman: obsessively dieting, shopping and going to bars – but I never felt truly comfortable.

“Then one afternoon in 2004 everything changed: I was chatting to a Muslim friend over coffee, when he noticed the little gold crucifix around my neck. He said, ‘Do you believe in God, then?’ I wore it more for fashion than religion and said, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ and he started talking about his faith.

“I brushed him off at first, but his words stuck in my mind. A few days later, I found myself ordering a copy of the Koran on the internet.

“It took me a while to work up the courage to go to a women’s social event run by the Leeds New Muslims group. I remember hovering outside the door thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ I imagined they would be dressed head-to-toe in black robes: what could I, a 25-year-old, blonde English girl, possibly have in common with them?

“But when I walked in, none of them fitted the stereotype of the oppressed Muslim housewife; they were all doctors, teachers and psychiatrists. I was struck by how content and secure they seemed. It was meeting these women, more than any of the books I read, that convinced me that I wanted to become a Muslim.

“After four years, in March 2008, I made the declaration of faith at a friend’s house. At first, I was anxious that I hadn’t done the right thing, but I soon relaxed into it – a bit like starting a new job.

“A few months later, I sat my parents down and said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’ There was a silence and my mum said, ‘You’re going to become Muslim, aren’t you?’ She burst into tears and kept asking things like, ‘What happens when you get married? Do you have to cover up? What about your job?’ I tried to reassure her that I’d still be me, but she was concerned for my welfare.

“Contrary to what most people think, Islam doesn’t oppress me; it lets me be the person that I was all along. Now I’m so much more content and grateful for the things I’ve got. A few months ago, I got engaged to a Muslim solicitor I met on a training course. He has absolutely no problem with my career, but I do agree with the Islamic perspective on the traditional roles for men and women. I want to look after my husband and children, but I also want my independence. I’m proud to be British and I’m proud to be Muslim – and I don’t see them as conflicting in any way.”

Aqeela Lindsay Wheeler
Housewife and mother, 26, Leicester

“As a teenager I thought all religion was pathetic. I used to spend every weekend getting drunk outside the leisure centre, in high-heeled sandals and miniskirts. My view was: what’s the point in putting restrictions on yourself? You only live once.

“At university, I lived the typical student existence, drinking and going clubbing, but I’d always wake up the next morning with a hangover and think, what’s the point?

“It wasn’t until my second year that I met Hussein. I knew he was a Muslim, but we were falling in love, so I brushed the whole issue of religion under the carpet. But six months into our relationship, he told me that being with me was ‘against his faith’.

“I was so confused. That night I sat up all night reading two books on Islam that Hussein had given me. I remember bursting into tears because I was so overwhelmed. I thought, ‘This could be the whole meaning of life.’ But I had a lot of questions: why should I cover my head? Why can’t I eat what I like?

“I started talking to Muslim women at university and they completely changed my view. They were educated, successful – and actually found the headscarf liberating. I was convinced, and three weeks later officially converted to Islam.

“When I told my mum a few weeks later, I don’t think she took it seriously. She made a few comments like, ‘Why would you wear that scarf? You’ve got lovely hair,’ but she didn’t seem to understand what it meant.

“My best friend at university completely turned on me: she couldn’t understand how one week I was out clubbing, and the next I’d given everything up and converted to Islam. She was too close to my old life, so I don’t regret losing her as a friend.

“I chose the name Aqeela because it means ‘sensible and intelligent’ – and that’s what I was aspiring to become when I converted to Islam six years ago. I became a whole new person: everything to do with Lindsay, I’ve erased from my memory.

“The most difficult thing was changing the way I dressed, because I was always so fashion-conscious. The first time I tried on the hijab, I remember sitting in front of the mirror, thinking, ‘What am I doing putting a piece of cloth over my head? I look crazy!’ Now I’d feel naked without it and only occasionally daydream about feeling the wind blow through my hair. Once or twice, I’ve come home and burst into tears because of how frumpy I feel – but that’s just vanity.

“It’s a relief not to feel that pressure any more. Wearing the hijab reminds me that all I need to do is serve God and be humble. I’ve even gone through phases of wearing the niqab [face veil] because I felt it was more appropriate – but it can cause problems, too.

“When people see a white girl wearing a niqab they assume I’ve stuck my fingers up at my own culture to ‘follow a bunch of Asians’. I’ve even had teenage boys shout at me in the street, ‘Get that s*** off your head, you white bastard.’ After the London bombings, I was scared to walk about in the streets for fear of retaliation.

“For the most part, I have a very happy life. I married Hussein and now we have a one-year-old son, Zakir. We try to follow the traditional Muslim roles: I’m foremost a housewife and mother, while he goes out to work. I used to dream of having a successful career as a psychologist, but now it’s not something I desire.

“Becoming a Muslim certainly wasn’t an easy way out. This life can sometimes feel like a prison, with so many rules and restrictions, but we believe that we will be rewarded in the afterlife.”

Catherine Heseltine
Nursery school teacher, 31, North London

“If you’d asked me at the age of 16 if I’d like to become a Muslim, I would have said, ‘No thanks.’ I was quite happy drinking, partying and fitting in with my friends.

“Growing up in North London, we never practised religion at home; I always thought it was slightly old-fashioned and irrelevant. But when I met my future husband, Syed, in the sixth form, he challenged all my preconceptions. He was young, Muslim, believed in God – and yet he was normal. The only difference was that, unlike most teenage boys, he never drank.

“A year later, we were head over heels in love, but we quickly realised: how could we be together if he was a Muslim and I wasn’t?

“Before meeting Syed, I’d never actually questioned what I believed in; I’d just picked up my casual agnosticism through osmosis. So I started reading a few books on Islam out of curiosity.

“In the beginning, the Koran appealed to me on an intellectual level; the emotional and spiritual side didn’t come until later. I loved its explanations of the natural world and discovered that 1,500 years ago, Islam gave women rights that they didn’t have here in the West until relatively recently. It was a revelation.

“Religion wasn’t exactly a ‘cool’ thing to talk about, so for three years I kept my interest in Islam to myself. But in my first year at university, Syed and I decided to get married – and I knew it was time to tell my parents. My mum’s initial reaction was, ‘Couldn’t you just live together first?’ She had concerns about me rushing into marriage and the role of women in Muslim households – but no one realised how seriously I was taking my religious conversion. I remember going out for dinner with my dad and him saying, ‘Go on, have a glass of wine. I won’t tell Syed!’ A lot of people assumed I was only converting to Islam to keep his family happy, not because I believed in it.

“Later that year, we had an enormous Bengali wedding, and moved into a flat together – but I certainly wasn’t chained to the kitchen sink. I didn’t even wear the hijab at all to start with, and wore a bandana or a hat instead.

“I was used to getting a certain amount of attention from guys when I went out to clubs and bars, but I had to let that go. I gradually adopted the Islamic way of thinking: I wanted people to judge me for my intelligence and my character – not for the way I looked. It was empowering.

“I’d never been part of a religious minority before, so that was a big adjustment, but my friends were very accepting. Some of them were a bit shocked: ‘What, no drink, no drugs, no men? I couldn’t do that!’ And it took a while for my male friends at university to remember things like not kissing me hello on the cheek any more. I’d have to say, ‘Sorry, it’s a Muslim thing.’

“Over time, I actually became more religious than my husband. We started growing apart in other ways, too. In the end, I think the responsibility of marriage was too much for him; he became distant and disengaged. After seven years together, I decided to get a divorce.

“When I moved back in with my parents, people were surprised I was still wandering around in a headscarf. But if anything, being on my own strengthened my faith: I began to gain a sense of myself as a Muslim, independent of him.

“Islam has given me a sense of direction and purpose. I’m involved with the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and lead campaigns against Islamophobia, discrimination against women in mosques, poverty and the situation in Palestine. When people call us ‘extremists’ or ‘the dark underbelly of British politics’, I just think it’s ridiculous. There are a lot of problems in the Muslim community, but when people feel under siege it makes progress even more difficult.

“I still feel very much part of white British society, but I am also a Muslim. It has taken a while to fit those two identities together, but now I feel very confident being who I am. I’m part of both worlds and no one can take that away from me.”

Sukina Douglas
Spoken-word poet, 28, London

“Before I found Islam, my gaze was firmly fixed on Africa. I was raised a Rastafarian and used to have crazy-long dreadlocks: one half blonde and the other half black.

“Then, in 2005, my ex-boyfriend came back from a trip to Africa and announced that he’d converted to Islam. I was furious and told him he was ‘losing his African roots’. Why was he trying to be an Arab? It was so foreign to how I lived my life. Every time I saw a Muslim woman in the street I thought, ‘Why do they have to cover up like that? Aren’t they hot?’ It looked oppressive to me.

“Islam was already in my consciousness, but when I started reading the autobiography of Malcolm X at university, something opened up inside me. One day I said to my best friend, Muneera, ‘I’m falling in love with Islam.’ She laughed and said, ‘Be quiet, Sukina!’ She only started exploring Islam to prove me wrong, but soon enough she started believing it, too.

“I was always passionate about women’s rights; there was no way I would have entered a religion that sought to degrade me. So when I came across a book by a Moroccan feminist, it unravelled all my negative opinions: Islam didn’t oppress women; people did.

“Before I converted, I conducted an experiment. I covered up in a long gypsy skirt and headscarf and went out. But I didn’t feel frumpy; I felt beautiful. I realised, I’m not a sexual commodity for men to lust after; I want to be judged for what I contribute mentally.

“Muneera and I took our shahada [declaration of faith] together a few months later, and I cut my dreadlocks off to represent renewal: it was the beginning of a new life.

“Just three weeks after our conversion, the 7/7 bombings happened; suddenly we were public enemy No 1. I’d never experienced racism in London before, but in the weeks after the bombs, people would throw eggs at me and say, ‘Go back to your own country,’ even though this was my country.

“I’m not trying to shy away from any aspect of who I am. Some people dress in Arabian or Pakistani styles, but I’m British and Caribbean, so my national dress is Primark and Topshop, layered with colourful charity-shop scarves.

“Six months after I converted, I got back together with my ex-boyfriend, and now we’re married. Our roles in the home are different, because we are different people, but he would never try to order me around; that’s not how I was raised.

“Before I found Islam, I was a rebel without a cause, but now I have a purpose in life: I can identify my flaws and work towards becoming a better person. To me, being a Muslim means contributing to your society, no matter where you come from.”

Catherine Huntley
Retail assistant, 21, Bournemouth

“My parents always thought I was abnormal, even before I became a Muslim. In my early teens, they’d find me watching TV on a Friday night and say, ‘What are you doing at home? Haven’t you got any friends to go out with?’

“The truth was: I didn’t like alcohol, I’ve never tried smoking and I wasn’t interested in boys. You’d think they’d have been pleased.

“I’ve always been quite a spiritual person, so when I started studying Islam in my first year of GCSEs, something just clicked. I would spend every lunchtime reading about Islam on the computer. I had peace in my heart and nothing else mattered any more. It was a weird experience – I’d found myself, but the person I found wasn’t like anyone else I knew.

“I’d hardly ever seen a Muslim before, so I didn’t have any preconceptions, but my parents weren’t so open-minded. I hid all my Muslim books and headscarves in a drawer, because I was so scared they’d find out.

“When I told my parents, they were horrified and said, ‘We’ll talk about it when you’re 18.’ But my passion for Islam just grew stronger. I started dressing more modestly and would secretly fast during Ramadan. I got very good at leading a double life until one day, when I was 17, I couldn’t wait any longer.

“I sneaked out of the house, put my hijab in a carrier bag and got on the train to Bournemouth. I must have looked completely crazy putting it on in the train carriage, using a wastebin lid as a mirror. When a couple of old people gave me dirty looks, I didn’t care. For the first time in my life, I felt like myself.

“A week after my conversion, my mum came marching into my room and said, ‘Have you got something to tell me?’ She pulled my certificate of conversion out of her pocket. I think they’d rather have found anything else at that point – drugs, cigarettes, condoms – because at least they could have put it down to teenage rebellion.

“I could see the fear in her eyes. She couldn’t comprehend why I’d want to give up my freedom for the sake of a foreign religion. Why would I want to join all those terrorists and suicide bombers?

“It was hard being a Muslim in my parents’ house. I’ll never forget one evening, there were two women in burkas on the front page of the newspaper, and they started joking, ‘That’ll be Catherine soon.’

“They didn’t like me praying five times a day either; they thought it was ‘obsessive’. I’d pray right in front of my bedroom door so my mum couldn’t walk in, but she would always call upstairs, ‘Catherine, do you want a cup of tea?’ just so I’d have to stop.

“Four years on, my grandad still says things like, ‘Muslim women have to walk three steps behind their husbands.’ It gets me really angry, because that’s the culture, not the religion. My fiancé, whom I met eight months ago, is from Afghanistan and he believes that a Muslim woman is a pearl and her husband is the shell that protects her. I value that old-fashioned way of life: I’m glad that when we get married he’ll take care of paying the bills. I always wanted to be a housewife anyway.

“Marrying an Afghan man was the cherry on the cake for my parents. They think I’m completely crazy now. He’s an accountant and actually speaks better English than I do, but they don’t care. The wedding will be in a mosque, so I don’t think they’ll come. It hurts to think I’ll never have that fairytale wedding, surrounded by my family. But I hope my new life with my husband will be a lot happier. I’ll create the home I’ve always wanted, without having to feel the pain of people judging me.”

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Americans Converting

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Why more and more Americans are accepting Islam

NBC NEWS: 20,000 Americans convert to Islam

A Wave of Conversion to Islam in the U.S. Following September 11


Reports indicate that Muslim proselytizing efforts have been unusually successful since the September 11 attacks.

Alaa Bayumi, Director of Arab Affairs at the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that "non-Muslim Americans are now interested in getting to know Islam. There are signs:

Libraries have run out of books on Islam and the Middle East.
English translations of the Koran head the American best-seller list.
The Americans are showing increasing willingness to convert to Islam since September 11.
Thousands of non-Muslim Americans have responded to invitations to visit mosques.

34,000 Americans have converted to Islam following the events of September 11, the highest rate since Islam arrived there in the United States.


A NATION CHALLENGED: AMERICAN MUSLIMS

Islam Attracts Converts By the Thousand, Drawn Before and After Attacks

By JODI WILGOREN - NEW YORK TIMES - October 22, 2001

Since she became a Muslim six months ago, Angela Davis has given up many things. She stopped listening to music, started sleeping on the floor, put away her 100 Disney videos and traded her porcelain doll collection for velvet posters with verses from the Koran.

Now, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ms. Davis may have to give up her children.

After her photograph, in full veil, appeared in the local newspaper on Sept. 30, Ms. Davis's soon-to-be-ex-husband refused to return their children, 5 and 2, from a weekend visit. She has not seen them since.

''It's a test that is given to me from Allah to see if my faith is strong enough,'' said Ms. Davis, 27, who discovered Islam in an Internet chat room this spring and now teaches pre-kindergarten at the Al-Salam Day School in this St. Louis suburb. ''I'm asked to give up my religion for my kids, but I won't do it. On Judgment Day, as much as I love my kids, they won't be there with me.''

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/22/national/22CONV.html

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'More Americans converting to Islam'

25/09/2010

Despite post-9/11 anti-Islam sentiments in the US, figures show thousands of Americans convert to Islam each year.

About 20,000 Americans convert to Islam annually, a Press TV correspondent in Washington said.

"It was learning about God and our creator that really inspired me, from Malcolm X and from what I read about Islam, to come back to our natural state of believing," a recent convert to Islam, Umar Abdul Wahab, told the correspondent.

Wahab who was formerly a Christian, now attends Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Centre in Falls Church, Virginia.

"To me Islam is total submission to our creator, total submission to what he wants us to do, [and] following the way of Prophet Mohammed," Wahab added.

Wahab says he converted to Islam after realizing he was meant to follow a different course. Letting go of old conventions in pursuit of an individual path, however, was not an easy task.

"My parents [eventually] saw that Islam made me a better person than I was previously and they came to respect that… they really admire me for standing up for my beliefs," he added.

However, anger spurred by anti-Islamic hysteria has been sweeping through America in recent weeks, as shown by a Florida pastor who had called for holding a "Burn a Qur'an Day" on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

But the ability to exercise religion freely has always been a part of the American dream that every one is entitled to, says Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, director of outreach at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center.

http://www.presstv.ir/detail/143879.html

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Pre 9/11

Chicago Tribune, September 8, 1999

Searching Americans Embrace The Logic Behind The Teachings Of Islam

"It's like seeing God without all the baggage"

In retrospect, Carole Sturm traces her conversion to Islam to a prayer she uttered as a 15-year-old in a Roman Catholic church.

It was the appeal of a spiritual teenager, raised in the church; the plea of a young woman who believed in God but struggled with the Catholic mysteries of faith and forgiveness.

"I said, `God, show me what this means or show me something else,'" Sturm, 34, said, recalling an afternoon nearly 20 years ago in Tulsa, Okla. "After that, I figured I was going to hell. I mean, I was 15."

It took about five years, but God answered her prayer and showed her Islam, Sturm said.

"It was a slow dawning," said the Arlington, Texas, resident and computer systems analyst for Sabre Group, based in Ft. Worth. "It wasn't like I woke up one night and said, `This is it.'"

In converting to Islam, Sturm joined a growing number of Americans who switch to faiths that have been imported to the predominantly Christian United States. And like many others who convert, Sturm said she found that her new religion allowed her a spirituality and an understanding of God that previously seemed elusive.

National Islamic groups estimate that there are more than 6 million Muslims in the United States, placing the religion's membership ahead of several of the nation's mainline denominations.

There is no formal or elaborate conversion ritual to the faith. Someone who becomes Muslim must simply declare a belief in one God and recognize Mohammed as a messenger of God, Sturm said.

But like Christianity, attracting converts is important in thereligion, especially as Muslims choose to live in non-Islamic states, said Yvonne Haddad, a professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University.

"It is a missionary religion," she said. "In the 20th Century, (conversion) has assumed a more important role."

In many places in the United States, the Muslim community consists of families from Islamic states worldwide as well as American converts.

For Cherie Lyle, the decision to convert to Islam from the Seventh-day Adventist Church was prompted in part by the assortment of races and ethnicities she encountered during Friday afternoon prayers at a mosque on Center Street in Arlington.

"I saw this sea of Muslims that ranged from the blackest black to the whitest white, and what came to me was, This is what heaven must be like," Lyle said.

Lyle's journey to Islam began when she happened on a television show about the five pillars, or basic tenets, of Islam: a declaration of faith in the absolute oneness of God, prayers five times a day, gifts to charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan and a

pilgrimage to Mecca.

Lyle, who had taught Sunday school in her church, said readings of the Koran offered a believable way to understand God and an account of how to live as a Muslim.

The Christian Bible, and especially the writings of the Apostle Paul, had confounded her with contradictions.

"I had studied very deeply, but I always felt that the hard questions went unanswered," said Lyle, who is trained as a lawyer but now teaches at Al-Hedayah Academy, an Islamic school in Ft. Worth.

Although Sturm said that Islam once seemed a foreign faith to her, it became increasingly familiar as she pursued a degree in finance from the University of Oklahoma and met students from Islamic countries who shared their knowledge, including the man she eventually married, Shazhad Khan.

For Sturm, reading the Koran answered her questions of faith in a logical manner. Islam did not require her to make leaps of faith, such as accepting Jesus as the son of God and path to salvation, she said.

"There is no way we can earn our way to heaven without God's mercy, but there is more responsibility on the shoulders of the person," she said of Islamic teachings. "That was important to me." In addition to an emphasis on personal responsibility, teachings on

the importance of the family and morality also appealed to her, she said.

Watching his daughter convert to Islam did not feel right, said Sturm's father, Charles Sturm. But he came to accept her decision when he saw how she, Khan and their two children lived their religion.

"I would not have advised my daughter to do this," Charles Sturm said. "When she followed the tenets of the Catholic faith, she was a good woman. (But) I have no doubt that she is a good woman now that she is following the religion of Islam."

Although the teachings of Islam may feel instinctively right to Carole Sturm, following all of the customs is not always easy.

Lyle and Sturm said they have struggled -- to different degrees -- with the Islamic requirement that women cover their hair.

Once she made a declaration of faith, Lyle, 43, immediately took to wearing long, concealing clothing and to covering her hair. But after she broke the custom for her sister's wedding, returning to the covering became more difficult.

Now, she sometimes does not cover her hair for business meetings, she said.

Similarly, Sturm does not cover her hair at work, where she often deals with Sabre's clients, although she emphasized that the company offers a good working environment for Muslims.

"I just haven't been able to face the questions and the looks," she said. "People do take you differently...It colors how seriously they take you and what you say."

Despite their difficulties with dress requirements, Lyle and Sturm underscored that the decision about what to cover and when is a woman's to make. Both women objected to critics who say Islam is oppressive to women. Examples of extreme restrictions on women's freedom to work or even walk unaccompanied outside in some Islamic

countries are cultural or political impositions on Islam, they said.

In fact, both said that Islam offers women reign over their money and names. Requirements of modest dress are for both men and women, and nothing prohibits sun dresses at home, Sturm said.

For both Sturm and Lyle, Islam showed them a way to understand God.

"It was like seeing God without all the baggage," Lyle said.

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