Thursday, March 19, 2009

Muslim Strategies to Convert Western Christians. Part II

 

by Uriya Shavit and Frederic Wiesenbach

 

2nd  part of 2

The Role of the 9/11 Attacks

Several narrators describe the 9/11 attacks as awaking their curiosity about Islam, which led them to embrace the religion. An anonymous female narrator on Islamselect.com, accessed through IslamOnline.net, wrote about a "Journey of a Lifetime: My Way to Islam," explaining that, after 9/11, she wanted to examine whether Islam was really about killing and hatred. She Googled with an open mind the words Islam and Qur'an. It so happened that her search came at a time when, at seventeen years of age, she had began to question her Roman Catholic faith. Two years later, she moved to another city where she met Muslims at the university she was attending; they gave her books and DVDs about their faith. Joining her new friends in the mosque, she felt at home as she never had in church. That experience, she said, completed her journey to the true religion.[27]

It is not a coincidence that these narratives emphasize personal friendships with Muslims as essential to brining about conversion. Many studies have found that friendship and kinship networks facilitate conversion.[28] Religious scholars such as Qaradhawi, who emphasize the duty of the lay Muslim migrant to bring others to Islam, understand that while new media is powerful, it is no substitute for personal relations. Indeed, an emphasis on personal relationships underscores Fethullah Gülen's movement and Tablighi Jamaat as well.[29] Islamic websites seek to encourage such relations by offering testimonies that demonstrate their efficiency. Muslim acquaintances are mentioned in several narratives as a bridge between complete ignorance and embracing the truth. They are depicted as particularly kind and warm people whose grace transforms the narrator's prior prejudices against Muslims. While saving no effort in bringing others to Islam, these lay Muslims do so in a non-imposing, gentle manner. Their happiness, inner peace, devotion, and hospitality serve as the best incentive for others to embrace Islam.

Another account refers to Muslim friends and shows how they played a similar role in the conversion of Omar Faruq (formerly Thomas Ordinius), a 48-year-old German convert of thirty-one years who appears on diewahrereligion.de. He describes having a friend of Turkish descent in school who introduced him to other Turkish Germans. Through this group of friends, he was introduced to Turkish culture and embraced its warmth and hospitality. He started to learn Turkish and developed an interest in Islam. Visiting his friend's village in Turkey, he was invited by a local imam to a Friday prayer. At the time, he still feared Islam, but he became increasingly involved in the religion. Back in Germany, a friend told him about a Turkish mosque in Mannheim, thirty kilometers from his home. He went there with the friend and officially converted. Three years after converting he traveled to Medina where he studied Islam and Arabic.[30]

 

"Islam's Truth Is Inescapable"

Other narratives also echo the idea that the personal conduct of the individual lay Muslim migrant is crucial to bring Christians to Islam. When Muslims meet with Christians, narrators hint, patience and courtesy can make the difference. When Hayat Ann Collins Osman finally decided she wished to convert, she called a mosque, but the brother who answered the phone told her to "wait until you are sure." However, that only further encouraged her, to the point that she "became obsessed with Islam" until some months later, while working in the kitchen, she "suddenly knew, knew I was a Muslim."[31]

Selma Cook explains in a narrative, "Why I Became a Muslim," on The Islamic Garden, how after moving into a new apartment and meeting Muslim neighbors, "I thought I would try out some missionary work on them. They listened to me patiently, and then I, too, listened to them. They didn't try to explain any complicated issues to me; they just read to me from the Qur'an."

This, it turned out, was enough: The beautiful sound of the Arabic language touched the narrator's heart, and the plain and direct language of the English translation struck a chord within..[32]

Narratives also suggest that Muslims can bring people to Islam even without intending to. This again serves to emphasize the concept of reversion: Islam's truth is inescapable, and therefore, the mere introduction to its tenets can open the process of fully embracing it. Here, a subtext is directed to Muslims reading the narrations: Interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims should not be feared; they will eventually serve the interests of Islam.

Sebastian from Kassel describes how falling in love with a Muslim was instrumental in his finding the true religion. While the relationship led him to the righteous path, conversion was not necessitated by a need to please a spouse but rather by deep belief. Sebastian testifies that at the time of developing a relation with a Muslim woman, he thought it was a sign from God that he should convert in order to be able to marry her. Two months later he ordered a copy of the Qur'an. His girlfriend noticed his transformation but apparently did not appreciate it. They broke up. However, his interest in Islam only increased. He read more and more of the Qur'an, and several months later he converted.[33]

Another narrator, Anna Linda Traustadottir, a native of Iceland, raised in Canada and the United States, mentions her Muslim spouse whom she met while working in Damascus: "To be honest, when I married Mohammad, I married him because I loved him, even though he was Muslim. Over time, I realized I love him because he was a Muslim. A good Muslim [emphasis in original]."[34]

In a narrative mentioned above, Abu Muhammed Abdullah Yousef says that he encountered Islam when he left the United Kingdom in 1976 for a Muslim country to teach electronics to commissioned and noncommissioned air force officers. Nothing in the behavior of his Muslim students impressed him: they neither prayed; nor did they have a religious attitude, and some were even drinking and womanizing. He started to read the Qur'an for two reasons: First, he wanted to be a good instructor and hoped reading the Qur'an would help him understand his students' mindset; second, he wanted to prove Islam was wrong. However, the result of his endeavor was quite the opposite. Once the students found he was reading the Qur'an, they brought a sheikh to the classroom to speak with him. After questioning Abu Muhammed about his beliefs, the sheikh told him: "You are a Muslim. You just don't know it yet."[35] For several months Abu Muhammed continued to read the Qur'an, and the more he read, the more he was impressed by its logic, consistency, and purity. Several months later he converted.

 

Why Islam?

Converts invoke several reasons for embracing Islam: that, unlike Christianity, it makes sense to them; that Islam is commensurate with modern science; that Islam is an egalitarian religion, blind to the racial prejudices so common to Western culture; and that one betters himself upon embracing Islam, doing away with adverse personal and social behavior. In some narratives, a rather more emotional attitude is suggested, depicting a defining metaphysical moment of peace and understanding in which Islam was embraced; in some, this emotional attitude is preconditioned with a logical acceptance of Islam's truthfulness. Many of these may sound doubtful to those not susceptible to conversion or familiar with the nuances of Islam, but they nonetheless illustrate the view which Islamists wish to convey.

One notion suggested directly or implied by almost all narrators is the complete transformation Islam brought about in their lives. Where there was a void, Islam brought meaning; where there was disorder, Islam brought harmony; where there was despair, Islam brought hope. After embracing Islam, all hesitation and confusion faded away. Each found peace with himself, with his surroundings, and with God.

In "Why I Came to Islam?" Susie Brackenborough advances as an ultimate proof for Islam's truth that the Qur'an prefigured science in discoveries made by scientists only hundreds of years later. She suggests: "These 'miracles' have been discovered by scientists (such as the study of embryology) and explorers (such as the world is indeed round and not flat) many years after the revelation, and many more miracles are still to be found as our society develops and progresses."[36] Her words echo a theory rooted already in nineteenth century Muslim scholarship, which remains resonant today in many Islamic books and websites, especially those directed to a Western audience. Still, this train of argument, while common, is ironic given Islamic societies' contemporary deficit in science.[37]

Invoking science as proof for Islam's truthfulness, Amina Islam, an Austrian scientist, contends that "the holy Qur'an confirmed not only my idea about God and the world, but all his statements, e.g., about natural sciences, did obviously not contradict the reality."[38] Mosa Rigani contends that the Qur'an's assertion that there exists a "partition wall between fresh water and salt water" fascinated him as a miracle, proving the holy book's truthfulness.[39]

In some narrations, the egalitarianism of Islam is invoked as a reason for embracing it. Here, an incentive is offered for people of all colors and social strata to embrace Islam without fear of prejudice, but the subtle reference to Western society, where such differences still matter, is also clear. An anonymous narrator, depicting her conversion under the title, "Dressed all in white—the coward within," recalls how on her first visit to a mosque she was impressed by seeing that "every country or race you could imagine was represented in these rows of people, all standing, bowing, and prostrating before the maker of all. No intermediary—just the individual and the Creator."[40] John Pugh, a Catholic-born Australian, writes: "It is known in Islam that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab."[41]

Some narrators depict the transformation Islam generated in their lives. Fabio Mosa Rigani claims that embracing Islam was the best decision he has ever made: Islam changed him into a better human being; now he is punctual and has stopped smoking. Steven Krauss (Abdul Lateef Abdullah), an American from New York born in 1973, who embraced Islam at twenty-eight, explains that after converting to Islam, he understands why so many people who do not believe have so much fear inside them: Life can be frightening without God. Finding Islam, he has acquired the ultimate "self-help" program; a path that puts everything in its proper place, that makes sense of life: "Now, life is order. Now, I know why I am here."[42]

Several narrators tell of an emotional experience that drew them to Islam. The anonymous "Dressed all in white" recalls that before going to the mosque for the first time, she felt her inner light was burnt out, but in the mosque, she found "a feeling of peace, inner solitude, and quietness that I'd also found in reading the Qur'an and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us."[43]

Other narrators combine an emotional occasion with prior rational acceptance of Islam's truthfulness. Jennifer A. Bell tells how when her marriage was in trouble, she was losing faith in Christianity and found no comfort in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Shintoism, and other religions; she went on the Internet and visited chat rooms to escape from reality. There she met a man who was different from all the other men she talked to although she could not quite explain why. Only in their third or fourth meeting, did the gentleman tell her he was a Muslim. Then he started to explain to her what Islam was about and sent her e-mails with verses from the Qur'an that supported everything he told her. It "all felt right." Nevertheless, Bell was still not convinced that Islam was the true religion. When her marriage finally broke apart, and she became depressed, she contacted the man again: "He seemed to know so much about everything." He told her to take a bath, clean herself from head to toe, sit quietly to clear her mind, and concentrate on God. It sounded bizarre to her, but nevertheless, she did it. Then, "the most amazing thing" in her life happened: she started shaking, but as quickly as the shaking started, it stopped. Calming peace filled her heart and soul. That peace "was so absolute. I felt God enter my heart, and I accepted what he had to offer. Between this experience and what this friend has been telling me about Islam, I had finally found a religion that matched my feelings on theology."[44]

 

Conclusion

Muslim religious scholars envision Islam as a universal religion and the Muslim nation as a global political-religious entity. In constructing a framework of identity and roles for Muslim immigrants in the West, they assign them a task: to bring non-Muslims to Islam. Islamic Internet sites are part of that effort. They offer introductory contents, practical information, guides for those converting, and the narratives of new Muslims.

Narratives from converts to Islam are dichotomizing: They depict Christianity as irrational and Christian life as empty; in contrast, they depict Islam as a rational religion that provides a connection to God, personal peace, and social harmony. Westerners may interpret these narratives as assaults on their culture. But perhaps their more important target is the Muslim immigrant: The narratives of converts offer these immigrants reassurance about their roots and task them with a spiritual mission, one that compensates them for the daily hardships many of them face and rewards them with honor and dignity. Some Muslim immigrants—especially young ones—obtain their knowledge on Islam and its relation to Christianity through immensely popular Islamic websites such as the Saudi Islamway.com; lacking access to other sources of information—for example, national programs for multi-faith dialogue, or more moderate Islamic media—might encourage these young Muslims to adopt views scornful of the societies in which they live.

The right of any person to proselytize, or the right of any person to convert to a religion of his choice, is a basic tenet of Western liberal societies. The unique context of some Muslim conversion efforts should not be ignored, though: They do not envision two civilizations living in harmony, but one, Islam, gaining world domination. There is some irony in the fact that the most vocal and popular proponents of efforts directed at the Islamization of the West and de-legitimization of values it holds dear either operate from within the boundaries of, or are inspired by, Arab regimes which officially preach for multi-faith dialogue and are dependent on American support for their survival.

Uriya Shavit is a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, and author, most recently, of The New Imagined Community: Global Media and the Construction of National and Muslim identities of Migrants (Sussex Academic Press, 2009).

Frederic Wiesenbach is a graduate student at Frankfurt University, currently studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.             ./..

 

 

[1] Bernard Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (New York and London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1982), pp. 90-2; pp. 297-8.
[2] Khalil Breuer, "Debatte: Warum Islam?" Islamische Zeitung, Mar. 2007; Martin Spiewak, "Meinungssstark aber ahnungslos," Die Zeit (Hamburg), Apr. 19, 2007.
[3] Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 11, 2006.
[4] International Herald Tribune (Paris), Aug. 8, 2006.
[5] The New York Times, Oct. 22, 2001; NBC News, Mar. 11, 2008.
[6] "DHS Reminds Visa Waiver Program Travelers of ESTA Requirements Effective Today," Department of Homeland Security, Jan. 12, 2009.
[7] Uriya Shavit, "Should Muslims Integrate into the West?" Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2007, pp. 13-21.
[8] Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, "Duties of Muslims Living in the West," IslamOnline.net, Mar. 24, 2008.
[9] Muhammad al-Ghazali, Mustaqbal al-Islam Kharij Ardihi: Kayfa Nufakiru fihi? (Amman: Orient Public Relations and Translation, 1984), p. 104.
[10] Hamdi Hassan, "Taf'il an-nishat al-I'ilami fi d'am Surat al-Islam wal-Muslimin fi Uruba," in Al-Muslmun fi Uruba (Cairo: Dar al-Bayan, 2002), compilation of presentations given at an international conference on Islam in Europe, Vienna, May 12-14, 2000, p. 312.
[11]
Safr bin 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hawali, Al-Muslimun wa Risalat al-Mustaqbal (Alexandria: Dar al-Iman, 2000), p. 41.
[12] Muhammad al-'Umrani, Fiqh al-Usra al-Muslima fi al-Muhajar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiya, 2001), p. 50.
13 For example, James Brandon, Virtual Caliphate: Islamic Extremists and Their Websites (London: Centre for Social Cohesion, 2008); Souad Mekhennet, Claudia Sautter, and Michael Hanfeld, Die Kinder Des Dschihad (Munich: Piper, 2006), pp. 156-84.
[14] Douglas A. Boyd, "Saudi Arabia Broadcasting: Radio and Television in a Wealthy Islamic State," Middle East Review, Summer and Fall 1980, p. 20.
[15]
Ja'far Sheikh Idris, "Al-Da'wa … wa wasa'il al-Itisal al-Haditha," Al-Bayan (Dubai), no. 148, Apr. 1999.
[16] "Al-Muslimun al-Judad," Asharq al-Awsat (London), Mar. 18, 2001.
[17] For example, Yasir Hussein, Al-Islam Mustaqbal Uruba (Cairo: Dar al-'Amin, 1997); Muhammad Haneef Shahid, Why Women Are Accepting Islam (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2002); Ibn Ahmad Rasoul, Bruder Johann Ibn Goethe (Islamische Bibliothek, 1419, h.); Murad Wilfried Hofmann, Religion on the Rise: Islam in the Third Millennium, Andreas Ryschka, trans. (Belysville, Md.: Amana Publications, 2001).
[18] Zakir Naik, Why the West Is Coming to Islam, Islamic Dawah Centre International, Birmingham.
[19] For an overview, see Lewis R. Rambo, "Theories of Conversion: Understanding and Interpreting Religious Change," Social Compass 46 (3), 1999, p. 262.
[20] Lamman Ball, "God, If You Exist Then Guide Me," IslamOnline.net, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[21] Lewis R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 87.
[22] "Top Sites in Islam," Alexa.com, accessed Jan. 19, 2008.
[23] V. Bailey Gillespie, The Dynamics of Religious Conversion: Identity and Transformation (Birmingham: Religious Education Press, 1991), p. 79.
[24] Abu Mohammed Abdullah Yousef, "You Are a Muslim, You Just Don't Know It Yet," IslamOnline.net, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[25] Hayat Anne Collins Osman, "Could I Deal with God Directly?" IslamOnline.net, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[26] David Pradarelli, "Finding the Truth," IslamOnline.net, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[27] Anonymous, "Journey of a Lifetime: My Way to Islam," accessed Jan. 2, 2009.
[28] Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, p. 84.
[29] Alex Alexiev, "Tablighi Jamaat: Jihad's Stealth Legions," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp. 3-11; Rachel Sharon-Krespin, "Fethullah Gülen's Grand Ambitions," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2009, pp. 55-66.
[30] Thomas Ordinius, "Warum Islam/Konvertiten/Faruk aus Köln," diewahrereligion.de, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[31] Osman, "Could I Deal with God Directly?"
32 Selma Cook, "Why I Became a Muslim," The Islamic Garden, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[33] Sebastian, "Warum Islam/Konvertiten/Sebastian aus Kassel," diewahrereligion.de, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[34] Anna Linda Traustadottir, "An Icelander's Journey to Light," ReadingIslam.com, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[35] Yousef, "You Are a Muslim."
[36] Susie Brackenborough, "Why I Came to Islam," accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[37] Aaron Segal, "Why Does the Muslim World Lag in Science?" Middle East Quarterly, June 1996, pp. 61-70; see also Toby Huff's review of George Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), in Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2008, pp. 77-9.
[38] Amina Islam, "An Austrian Scientist Discovers Islam," ReadingIslam.com, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[39] Fabio Mosa Rigani, "Warum Islam/Konvertiten/Mosa aus Frankfurt," diewahrereligion.de, accessed Mar. 19, 2008.
[40] Anonymous, "Dressed all in white—the coward within," The Islamic Garden, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[41] John Pugh, "An Australian Man Finds His Way Home," ReadingIslam.com, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[42] Steven Krauss (Abdul-Lateef Abdullah), "A Martial Art Led Me to Islam," IslamOnline.com, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.
[43] Anonymous, "Dressed all in white."
[44] Jennifer A. Bell, "Looking for the Truth Since the Age of Eight," IslamOnline.com, accessed Dec. 16, 2008.

 

1 comment:

avraham said...

I read your post often but never comment. Now I want to mention the reason for all the worlds problems--choosing rationally to believe irrational things. This is the reason for chosing any religion. It is a combination of a feeling of holiness in the religious symbols but more important is the rewards of being welcome in a certain group that one likes. For that reason people choose to ignore evidence. This is not just with Islam. I am a basically religious Jew but I reject the irrational aspects of Talmud and Torah while I accept those teachings that are at least not against reason and evidence. But I would have gotten much reward if I had accepted all the teachings and halachot but I could not and still do not want to allow myself to believe things that are against reason.

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