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6180Articles on Converts/Reverts

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  • Zafar Khan
    Jan 18, 2006
      Why hundreds of ordinary West Aussies change faith

      With defined rules for life and a strong sense of
      community, Islam is attracting many Perth converts, as
      Paul Lampathakis reports


      AXEL Cremer used to turn heads when he'd roar up to
      prayer time at the Rivervale mosque on his
      Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

      "When I first turned up, I freaked them out," the
      50-year-old reticulation company director said.

      "They'd see someone in black leather flying down the
      road, who stopped, then all of a sudden took all the
      leather off and walked into the mosque in Islamic
      clothing. Now they know me and miss me when they don't
      hear the bike."

      Mr Cremer, whose Muslim name is Mohammed, is one of
      hundreds of West Australians who have converted to
      Islam in recent years, despite the stigma surrounding
      the religion that has grown since the 9/11 terror

      Local converts say they number about 200, among about
      20,000 Muslims in WA from more than 70 countries in
      the Middle East, Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.
      Nationwide, numbers increased about 40 per cent
      between 1996 and 2001, according to the Australian
      Bureau of Statistics, mainly because of migration.

      Converts say that in Islam they have found clearer
      answers to questions of spirituality than in
      Christianity, a stronger sense of community and rules
      to live by.

      "There are guidelines for everything. It shows you how
      to do the right thing, to be nice to people," said Mr
      Cremer, a former Catholic. "The Bible does this as
      well, but it has been translated too much, it has been
      tampered with too much.

      "And one major difference with Islam is there is no
      hierarchy above me, no priests, no bishops, no

      "Imams (holy men) lead you in prayer. But beyond that
      it's just you and Allah. You're talking directly to
      God, that simplifies things."

      Mr Cremer was also attracted to rules such as Muslims
      donating a percentage of their annual income to the

      The fact that Islam was a lifestyle rather than a
      weekend event was appealing too, because it advocated
      morality in all areas, including politics and work,
      where he believed morality was sorely needed.

      The southern suburbs father of four, who migrated to
      Australia from Germany 22 years ago, said his
      Indonesian wife triggered his "reversion" in Jakarta
      seven years ago. Muslims believe people revert, not
      convert, because they say everyone is born Muslim.

      But Mr Cremer said he became enthusiastic about Islam
      while researching the religion before his marriage –
      after years of questioning other faiths.

      Mother-of-two Nicole Banks, 36, said non-Muslim women
      were not compelled by the religion to switch to Islam
      if they married a Muslim and were allowed to keep
      their maiden names.

      But the former Church of England follower chose to
      convert in 1999, two years after marrying her
      now-estranged Egyptian husband. She had admired
      aspects of the religion, such as its focus on family
      and respect for elders, which she saw while travelling
      in the Middle East in 1996.

      "For instance, you wouldn't send your parents off to a
      nursing home. They're looked after in the home by
      their kids," she said. "(In Muslim homes) wives are
      doing the chores, while grandmothers are looking after
      the younger children. Whereas here, you might not see
      your family from one week to the next.

      "If someone's sick within the community, the other
      girls will bring food to the house. If somebody has a
      baby, people will bring food and help clean the house.

      "That feeling of closeness is very much missing in
      Australian society."

      The former optician/retail manager said the religion
      taught her not to be so materialistic and to be
      thankful for God's blessings, such as good health.

      "Before, I was a workaholic, six days a week, 10 hours
      a day," she said. "I drank alcohol . . . smoked
      cigarettes, about a pack-plus a day, partied very
      hard. Now my days are spent looking after my kids,
      helping the community, still taking Arabic, Koran and
      religion classes twice a week."

      Ms Banks's family was apprehensive about her
      conversion, but she had subsequently grown closer to
      her parents.

      Comments on the street about her hijab (head scarf)
      had sometimes been a problem, but most people were
      just curious.

      She said people should not connect Islam with terror
      because suicide and hurting innocents, particularly
      women, children and the elderly, were forbidden by the

      Perth banker Maariyah, 62, converted from Catholicism
      last February after reading books presenting evidence
      against the claim that Jesus was the son of God.

      She preferred Islam's belief that Jesus was a prophet.

      "And I like the feeling of one big family. We call
      each other brother and sister and we mean it," she
      said. "I also like the idea of kneeling five times a
      day and talking to God rather than once a week or once
      a year – we see praying as a privilege, not a duty."

      Her husband was not a Muslim and neither he nor other
      family members understood her move to Islam.

      Carlisle trainee English teacher Jeremy Meredith, 33,
      became a Muslim in Jakarta in 2003 because he also
      liked the sense of community and the guidelines.

      "People say they want freedom, they want liberty," he
      said. "But the bottom line is people want to know what
      they can and can't do. They want rules, they want
      guidelines, something to believe in, something to

      "In Islam, there's a rule for absolutely everything –
      how I eat my food, how I go to the toilet, how I get
      married, how I lend money."

      He said Muslims should not be lumped with extremists
      because that was as stupid as saying that because
      Hitler was a Christian, all Christians were genocidal

      Eliza-Aisha, 26, switched from Catholicism about four
      years ago before marrying her Pakistani husband, whom
      she met in university.

      In the northern suburbs home she shares with her
      Catholic mother and Muslim husband, she said she had
      researched different faiths from the age of 13 and had
      never been content with Catholicism. She liked the
      clarity of Islam; that you prayed just to God, not
      saints or others.

      Eliza-Aisha said she had met converts from areas
      including Walpole and Bunbury, and they shared common
      reasons for changing.

      "They want to know the purpose of their life. They
      don't just want an empty life filled with material
      things, a great house and a car. They want to know
      more," she said.

      "Every week you hear about converts, people in the
      country, in the local area. A university professor, I
      heard, recently became a Muslim."

      She disagreed with the assumption that women were
      repressed under the religion. If so, why did so many
      change, because she had heard about 80 per cent of
      converts were female.

      Other converts said they disliked Christianity's
      hypocrisy in preaching peace and love while being
      responsible for many atrocities, including the
      Crusades and Inquisition, and playing a big role in
      Northern Ireland's bloody conflict. They also believed
      the Bible had been edited so much it was no longer the
      true word of God, while the Koran had not changed.

      But Father Brian O'Loughlin, Vicar-General for Perth's
      Catholic Archdiocese, said he did not accept that
      Islam offered a "simpler" way to God. There were imams
      and ayatollahs (religious leaders), and in most
      Islamic countries it was a state religion with a
      structure that went much further than Christianity.

      He said tolerance was lacking in Islam because it
      wanted to be the one and only religion. For instance,
      Saudi Arabia had built mosques worldwide, including in
      Rome, but would not allow churches in its boundaries.

      He said many of the admired aspects of community in
      Islam were also present in southern European culture.
      But he conceded that such values might have been
      eroded in Western culture.

      Regarding charity, he said Christians had been
      outstanding for living the commandment of love that
      Jesus had taught, to include not just Christians.

      "And let's go back to the Boxing Day tsunami. Wealthy
      countries like Saudi Arabia had to be embarrassed into
      contributing some substantial amount," he said.

      Father O'Loughlin said a worrying aspect was Islam's
      concept of education, which in many cases was breeding

      Peter Rosengren, editor of Catholic newspaper The
      Record, said it was not surprising that ordinary
      Australians were attracted to Islam.

      A major phenomena of the past 40 years in developed
      areas such as the US, Australia and Europe had been an
      intensifying secularisation.

      "But human beings are fundamentally religious. When
      you reject belief in God as a society . . . people
      still search for the meaning of their lives. Where do
      I come from? Where am I going? What is my life all
      about?" he said.

      While he was a convinced Christian, he admired the
      fact that converts to Islam were going against the
      general trend and trying to put God first and he felt
      the same about Christians who were doing the same.

      Turning Muslim in Texas


      George W Bush may be backed by Christian
      fundamentalists but in his home state of Texas, Islam
      is the latest big draw. The Bible belt is transferring
      its allegiance to the Qur’an because, for many
      erstwhile Christians, believe it or not, the church is
      too liberal.

      Eric was a Baptist preacher before he became a Muslim
      14 years ago. Now he prays five times a day – even in
      the middle of watching a football game. His wife,
      Karen, also a convert, is covered from head to toe in
      the traditional Muslim burka. Islam, says Eric, ‘is
      everything I wanted Christianity to be’. His mother
      has found it hard to come to terms with her son’s
      conversion and believes he will return to the
      Christian faith: ‘Then he will be a dynamic preacher.’
      Eric says: ‘Maybe some day she’ll embrace Islam.’

      Women are also becoming followers of Muhamed. Yasmine
      (previously Mindy) arranged a marriage for herself and
      has three children. Islam, she says is ‘the solution
      to a lot of the prevailing evils: drugs, adultery,
      fornication…’ Converts often see the religious laws
      more clearly than those who have been brought up as
      Muslims and Yasmine can spot a mistake at 20 paces.
      She believes that she has a unique opportunity to help
      people who are born into the religion get back to the

      Catherine has been a Muslim for two weeks. She came
      from a privileged background – private school followed
      by a career in PR. Now the established Muslim women
      guide her through the purification rituals as she
      washes before prayer and removes her nail varnish.

      David is the only white Muslim in his little town on
      Route 66. He believes his new religion makes him a
      better American and, far from undermining liberties,
      gives the individual more rights. He had an arranged
      marriage and his wife, who was born a Muslim, was
      shocked by the strictness with which he insists they
      live their lives. His family – a white man with his
      wife and daughter dressed in their hijabs
      (headscarves) –are stared in the streets and
      supermarkets of their one-horse town.

      There are 400,000 Muslims in Texas alone and Islam is
      the fastest growing religion in the USA. Since 9/11
      there have been more converts to Islam than ever. Eric
      believes that people are trying to understand Muslims
      and want to learn about their religion. Yasmine says:
      ‘America should not be afraid. If it would be better
      Muslims were the majority. If a child asks me: “Who
      made this leaf?” I say, “Allah. Allah made

      Officials Concerned About Muslim Converts By ELAINE
      GANLEY, Associated Press Writer
      Mon Jan 16, 1:59 PM ET


      EVRY, France - Prostrating himself and touching his
      forehead to the ground, Mathieu Pawlak put his demons
      to rest. Once a practicing Catholic tormented by a
      spiritual void and the searching questions of youth,
      Pawlak embraced Islam and, he says, found peace.

      "I'm the same on the outside, but inside everything
      has changed," said the 25-year-old restaurant cook who
      converted 4 1/2 years ago. He took a Muslim name,
      Abderrahman, and last year married a Muslim woman who
      cloaks herself in a dark veil.

      "I found the way that Muslims pray to be truly
      profound. It links the body and the heart," said
      Pawlak during an interview at his home in this
      southern Paris suburb, where a large Muslim population

      Pawlak is one of about 50,000 French, and tens of
      thousands of others across Europe and North America,
      who have converted to the Muslim faith. Like most
      converts, he is a mainstream Muslim.

      But intelligence services are tracking a disturbing
      new phenomenon: A growing number of Westerners are
      giving their hearts to radical Islam and some may try
      to prove themselves through jihad, or holy war.

      Muriel Degauque, a 38-year-old Belgian woman who blew
      herself up in a suicide attack in Iraq in November
      embodies those fears, as does another convert, Richard
      Reid, the so-called shoe-bomber who tried to blow up a
      trans-Atlantic flight in 2001.

      "This phenomenon is in full expansion," Pascal
      Mailhos, head of the French intelligence service
      Renseignements Generaux, recently told the daily Le
      Monde. Some 1,600 converted Muslims follow the
      rigorous Salafist brand of Islam that breeds today's
      radicals — out of about 5,000 Salafists in France, he

      Converts are seen as potentially naive, malleable and
      zealous in their newfound faith, easy prey for
      radicals. Some came to Islam for the succor that
      society denied them, others for revenge, experts say —
      stressing that such scenarios apply to a small but
      worrisome fringe group.

      The path to Islam often starts with marriage to a
      Muslim or contact with the faith through Muslim
      friends — Pawlak's case. Others convert as part of an
      existential search. But prisons inmates, and people at
      loggerheads with society, may also take refuge in

      "Islam has become the religion of the oppressed," said
      Farhad Khosrokhavar, a sociologist who has written
      books on conversions in prison and on suicide bombers.

      "Nowadays, Islam is a kind of ideal means to express
      discontent with society and the Western world in
      general," he said.

      The ease with which one can convert makes Islam an
      accessible refuge. One need only recite the "Shahada,"
      a prayer that provides an attestation of faith, before
      two witnesses.

      "It can be done in a cafe," said Abdelhak Eddouk, a
      prayer leader in Grigny, south of Paris.

      The ability of the converts to blend into Western
      society augments the potential for danger. "They can
      move from one country to another and have a kind of
      multiple identity," Khosrokhavar said.

      Pawlak and a friend, Christophe Weiss, 23, who, like
      him, converted to Islam, shake their heads at such
      notions. They ascribe any radicalization to ignorance
      of the Muslim faith or immaturity — or a case of
      mistaken identity.

      "Some people will say we are extremists because we
      pray five times a day," said Weiss, a nursing student.

      Like other Muslims interviewed, they see
      fingerpointing as a new attack on their faith.

      "If one is troubled from the start, he will remain
      troubled," said Zuhair Mahmood, director of the
      European Institute of Human Sciences, a training
      center for imams, or prayer leaders, run by the
      fundamentalist Union of Islamic Organizations of

      However, authorities say the danger is real.

      The Dutch government, in a Dec. 2 letter to
      parliament, said that "various Dutch converts are
      experiencing a radicalization process."

      French intelligence is so concerned it conducted a
      detailed survey of 1,610 Muslim converts who were
      active preachers, delinquents or had ties to radicals,
      according to Le Monde. The survey last June concluded
      that 3 percent of the converts "belong to or are in
      the circle of the movement of Islamist combatants,"
      the newspaper wrote.

      At least three Muslim converts in France have been
      convicted in recent years on terror-related charges,
      the most recent Lionel Dumont, given a 30-year prison
      term last month. He was co-leader of a gang of violent
      hoodlums in the northern city of Roubaix that provided
      Ahmed Ressam, the so-called millennium bomber, with
      his start in terrorism. Dumont later fought for the
      Muslim cause in Bosnia.

      Several Muslim converts are being prosecuted in the
      U.S.-led war on terror. American-born Taliban fighter
      John Walker Lindh is serving a 20-year prison sentence
      in the United States.

      In France, only several dozen converts are
      "potentially violent," said Jean-Luc Marret of the
      Strategic Research Foundation, a think-tank.

      But one Islamic Internet site where al-Qaida has
      posted claims recently carried a chilling portrait of
      "the future al-Qaida soldier" — a secretly converted
      Muslim "born in Europe of European and Christian
      parents. They studied in your schools, they prayed in
      your churches" and now swear "to take up arms after
      their brothers."

      For Marret, the real danger lies elsewhere: "The
      proselytism network across the street, in jail, in
      universities, in suspect mosques, in companies, this
      is real."

      There is no simple reason to explain why even a tiny
      minority of converts radicalize, Marret said.

      "Why do we fall in love? It's the same," he said. "Why
      does one become a terrorist? We can cite political,
      historic, ethnic, family reasons and we will have
      simplified reality."

      Islamic group urges Catholic school to move to Muslim


      AN ISLAMIC campaign group has called for a Catholic
      primary school to be based on the Muslim faith.

      The Campaign for Muslim Schools said 90 per cent of
      pupils at St Albert's Primary, in the Pollokshields
      area of Glasgow, are Muslim, yet children are having
      to take part in Catholic rituals like saying the
      Lord's Prayer and attending mass.

      Osama Saeed, co-ordinator of the alliance of Glasgow's
      main mosques and Muslim organisations, said he could
      see no reason why the main faith of the school should
      not change.

      He said: "Clearly the parents of that area find a
      faith school, even if it is of another denomination,
      preferable to a secular one. But surely it should be
      possible for them to have one that is relevant to
      their own faith.

      "To move towards this would be a fantastic example of
      good faith - in more ways than one - on the part of
      the Church."

      The call came just days after Scotland's most senior
      Catholic, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, sparked controversy
      by stating that Scotland's core faith was Christianity
      and that other faiths should recognise they were
      "living in Scotland as a Christian country". A
      spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland was not
      available for comment tonight.

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