World Bulletin/News Desk
Using census data on race and religion, and questionnaires issued to mosques, Kevin Brice, a researcher at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, reckons around 5,200 Britons turn to Islam every year, bringing the total number of converts to about 100,000, the Economist reported.
According to the report, those who embrace Islam tend to do so after years of contact with Muslims. Some, mostly women (who make up around two-thirds of new believers), want to marry a Muslim. Others are fed up with the bawdiness of British society. Many speak of seeking a sense of community. Batool al-Toma, an Irish-Catholic convert who runs the New Muslim Project in Leeds, was attracted, she says, by the spirituality of Islam and the warmth of relationships she saw among Muslims.
For men, prisons have proven a fertile ground for conversions. Just over 11,000 prisoners are Muslims, about 13% of the total. A study by the prisons inspectorate in 2010 says converts, a third of those interviewed, said the discipline and structure of Islam helped them to cope with prison life. Others cited the support they received from their Muslim “brothers”. Some were initially attracted by the prospect of a cushier spell in jail—more time outside their cells, for example, and better food at Ramadan, but then completed their conversion.
Upon release though, some prisoners are shunned by their fellow Muslims, says Tracey Davanna, who studies Muslim prisoners at Birmingham University. Ex-cons are not the only ones who find integration tough. Many mosques are ethnic clubs, says Mr Moosavi, and can be unwelcoming to converts. Few mosques offer substantial support to new converts. Organisations such as the New Muslim Project have sprung up to fill the gap. It provides certificates of conversion that new believers can leave with their wills in case appalled relatives refuse an Islamic burial.
Two mosques in Britain are now run by converts. The Ihsan mosque in Norwich encountered antagonism from some Muslims, says Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison, who has been a member of the community since the mid-1990s. Some questioned whether new believers should be in charge of a mosque, he says. But it has flourished. At Friday prayers they struggle to squeeze everyone in.
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