CAIRO, December 27, 2005
) - Islam is a message that appeals to more and more Europeans who are “looking for inner peace and reacting to the moral uncertainties of Western society”, Muslim and non-Muslim researchers told a leading US paper Tuesday, December 27.
Although there are no precise figures, observers who monitor Europe's Muslim population estimate that several thousand men and women revert each year, The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) said.
Mary Fallot, who reverted to Islam three years ago after asking herself spiritual questions to which she found no answers in her childhood Catholicism, told the paper she finds the suspicion her new religion attracts "wounding". "For me, Islam is a message of love, of tolerance and peace," Fallot said.
Only a fraction of reverts are attracted to radical strands of Islam, researchers told the paper, adding that even fewer are drawn into violence.
A handful have been convicted of terrorist offences, such as Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" and American John Walker Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan, according to CSM.
"The phenomenon is booming, and it worries us," the head of the French domestic intelligence agency, Pascal Mailhos, told the Paris-based newspaper Le Monde in a recent interview.
"But we must absolutely avoid lumping everyone together."More WomenThe Monitor quoted experts as saying that admittedly patchy research suggests that more women than men revert.However, contrary to popular perception, only a minority do so in order to marry Muslim men, it added.
"That used to be the most common way, but recently more [women] are coming out of conviction," says Haifa Jawad, who teaches at Birmingham University in Britain.
Though non-Muslim men must revert in order to marry a Muslim woman, she points out, the opposite is not true.
Fallot laughed when she is asked whether her love life had anything to do with her decision.
"When I told my colleagues at work that I had reverted, their first reaction was to ask whether I had a Muslim boyfriend," she recalls.
"They couldn't believe I had done it of my own free will."
In fact, she explained, she liked the way "Islam demands a closeness to God."
"Islam is simpler, more rigorous, and it's easier because it is explicit. I was looking for a framework; man needs rules and behaviour to follow. Christianity did not give me the same reference points."
Those reasons reflect many female reverts' thinking, experts who have studied the phenomenon told the daily.
"A lot of women are reacting to the moral uncertainties of Western society," Dr. Jawad said.
"They like the sense of belonging and caring and sharing that Islam offers."
Others are attracted by "a certain idea of womanhood and manhood that Islam offers," suggests Karin van Nieuwkerk, who has studied Dutch women reverts. "There is more space for family and motherhood in Islam, and women are not sex objects."
At the same time, argues Sarah Joseph, an English revert who founded "Emel," a Muslim lifestyle magazine, "the idea that all women reverts are looking for a nice cocooned lifestyle away from the excesses of Western feminism is not exactly accurate."
Some reverts give their decision a political meaning, says Stefano Allievi, a professor at Padua University in Italy."Islam offers a spiritualization of politics, the idea of a sacred order," he said."But that is a very masculine way to understand the world" and rarely appeals to women, he added.
After making their decision, some reverts take things slowly, adopting Muslim customs bit by bit, the paper noted.
Fallot, for example, does not yet feel ready to wear a head scarf, though she is wearing longer and looser clothes than she used to.
Others jump right in, eager for the exoticism of a new religion, and become much more pious than fellow mosque-goers who were born into Islam.Such reverts, taking an absolutist approach, appear to be the ones most easily led into extremism, the paper claimed.
The early stages of a revert's discovery of Islam "can be quite a sensitive time," says Batool al-Toma, who runs the "New Muslims" program at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, England.
"You are not confident of your knowledge, you are a newcomer, and you could be prey to a lot of different people either acting individually or as members of an organization," Ms. Al-Toma explained.
"New reverts feel they have to prove themselves," Dr. Ranstorp added.
"Those who seek more extreme ways of proving themselves can become extraordinarily easy prey to manipulation."
At the same time, Al-Toma said, reverts seeking respite in Islam from a troubled past.
She gave Muriel Degauque, a Belgian revert who blew herself up in a suicide attack on US troops in occupied Iraq last month, as an example of this type.
Degauque, who had reportedly drifted in and out of drugs and jobs before reverting to Islam, might be persuaded that such an "ultimate action" as a suicide bomb attack offered an opportunity for salvation and forgiveness, she added.
"The saddest conclusion" Al-Toma draws from Degauque's death in Iraq is that "a woman who set out on the road to inner peace became a victim of people who set out to use and abuse her."
Called by French and Belgian media as "la kamikaze Belge," Degauque left the impression that all Muslim reverts exhibit extremist tendencies.
The EU launched a drive against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks and stepped it up after the Madrid train bombings 14 months ago.
Muslim minorities have taken the brunt of the anti-terror measures, which include predawn raids and stop-and-search campaigns, for no reason other than being Muslims.
Recently, Europe’s main rights and democracy watchdog, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), expressed concern at increasing Dutch intolerance towards Muslims and the “climate of fear” under which the minority was living.
A recent report by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) also said that Muslim minorities across Europe have been experiencing growing distrust, hostility and discrimination since the 9/11 attacks.