6180Articles on Converts/Reverts
- Jan 18, 2006Why 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
"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
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
Comments on the street about her hijab (head scarf)
had sometimes been a problem, but most people were
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
"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 Quran because, for many
erstwhile Christians, believe it or not, the church is
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 sons
conversion and believes he will return to the
Christian faith: Then he will be a dynamic preacher.
Eric says: Maybe some day shell 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
"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
"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
For Marret, the real danger lies elsewhere: "The
proselytism network across the street, in jail, in
universities, in suspect mosques, in companies, this
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
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
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 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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