by Soeren Kern
Irish actor Liam Neeson says he is thinking about becoming a Muslim after undergoing a spiritual awakening in Turkey.
Neeson, who was born into a Roman Catholic family in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, told the London-based newspaper The Sun that he was impressed by the religious atmosphere in Istanbul while filming a movie in the city.
He said: "The [Islamic] call to prayer happens five times a day, and for the first week, it drives you crazy, and then it just gets into your spirit, and it's the most beautiful, beautiful thing. There are 4,000 mosques in the city. Some are just stunning, and it really makes me think about becoming a Muslim."
Neeson is just one of hundreds of thousands of Europeans who are trading their Christian heritage for the supposed exoticism of Islam. The surge in conversions is contributing to the mainstreaming of Islam in Europe and contributing to the Islamization of the continent.
In Britain, the number of Muslim converts recently passed the 100,000 mark, according to a survey conducted by an inter-faith group called Faith Matters. The survey revealed that nearly two thirds of the converts were women, more than 70% were white and the average age at conversion was just 27.
The survey, conducted by Kevin Brice from Swansea University in Wales, asked converts for their views on the negative aspects of British culture. They identified alcohol and drunkenness, a "lack of morality and sexual permissiveness" and "unrestrained consumerism."
More than one in four acknowledged there was a "natural conflict" between being a devout Muslim and living in Britain. Nine out of ten women converts said their change of religion had led to them dressing more conservatively. More than half started wearing a head scarf and 5% had worn the burka.
Separately, government authorities revealed that an increasing number of inmates at British prisons are converting to Islam. For example, one-third of the inmates at one of Britain's most notorious youth jails are Muslims and the religion is attracting a large number of converts.
There are 229 Muslims out of a total of 686 youngsters detained at Feltham Young Offenders' Institution in West London, according to Ministry of Justice figures. There are now so many worshippers at Friday prayers that they have to be split between Feltham's mosque and its gym.
Prison insiders say most non-Muslims are locked up during Friday prayers because so many guards are needed to monitor the lunchtime service. As a consequence, many disillusioned youngsters are becoming attracted to Islam by the prospect of getting better food and superior treatment at the prison.
One of the more prominent Britons to convert to Islam is Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Booth, who converted after feeling a "shot of spiritual morphine" on a trip to Iran, now wears a hijab head covering whenever she leaves her home and prays five times a day.
In France, an estimated 70,000 French citizens have converted to Islam in recent years, according to a report by France 3 public television. As in Britain, the majority of converts to Islam in France are young women who say they are disenchanted with materialism.
In Italy, Ambassador Alfredo Maiolese, an Italian MP, recently became a Muslim and now dedicates his time trying to improving the image of Islam in the West. In Sweden, there are now at least 5,000 converts to Islam.
In Germany, at least 20,000 people have converted to Islam in recent years, according to a report by RTL television. Some of these converts are playing a growing role in jihad in Germany. In 2010, for example, two German converts to Islam who were found guilty of plotting to create what a judge called a "monstrous blood bath" by carrying out terrorist attacks against American targets in Germany.
"This trend has taken on a very threatening quality toward our security, and while not every convert is a potential terrorist, we are facing a sort of homegrown terrorism that has sprouted in our own backyard," according to Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Many European coverts to Islam on fact become vastly more pious than Muslims who were born into Islam. Such converts, taking an absolutist approach, are often easily led into extremism.
In Belgium, for example, Muriel Degauque, a woman from Charleroi and a convert to Islam, committed a suicide car bomb attack in November 2005 against American troops in Iraq. A bakery worker, Degaugue had married a Muslim man and quickly became radical in her religious views.
In Switzerland, young converts to Islam are a potential threat to the country's security, according to Alard du Bois-Reymond, who was head of the Swiss Migration Office until he was removed for his politically incorrect observations.
Du Bois-Reymond told the German-language newspaper NZZ am Sonntag that Swiss converts include people who want a "radically different society" and are "resistant to dialogue." He described the Central Islamic Council of Switzerland, which was founded and is run by Swiss converts to Islam, as "the most radical group in Switzerland."
Also in Switzerland, Daniel Streich, a former member of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) who rose to fame for his campaign against the construction of minarets for mosques, converted to Islam. He now says Switzerland needs more mosques.
In Spain, at least 50,000 native Spaniards have converted to Islam in recent years, many of them women. Webislam.net, a Spanish-language website devoted to propagating Islam in Spain, recently published an article that encourages Spanish women to wed Muslim men. The article describes marriage to a Muslim this way: "Multiculturalism is a rewarding experience for all concerned."Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.
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