Monday, 4 February 2013

Rise of Islamic Converts Challenges France

The Sahaba mosque in Créteil, a Paris suburb, popular with those converting to Islam.
Photo: New York Times
From the "paper of record", the New York Times, this report of the rising number of converts to Islam in France.
This conversion business has always puzzled me in the sense of "I don't get it".  I've never really understood why people convert(*) to the religion if they've read the Trilogy (aka the Trinity), the core documents of Islam.  Unless they convert without having read the Trinity, because they convert for the sake, say, of marriage: Muslim men, for example, are forbidden from converting to another religion, so a woman wanting to marry a Muslim must convert.  And maybe she does so without much due diligence... [Later: Melissa Kite ponders the issue of conversion to Islam for the sake of marriage, in "Britain's new Muslims"]
The NYT article suggests another reason: converting to be better socially integrated in the French neighbourhoods where Islam is dominant.  It is a kind of "reverse integration", says Giles Kepel, an expert on Islam and les bainlieues, in the article. This in itself says something about Islam: of its strong overt appearance, the "whole of life" aspects of its ideology, which compel near neighbours to covert for the sake of peace in their lives.
I live in a neighbourhood here in Hong Kong that is quite strongly Christian; neighbours hang out banners assuring me that "Jesus is Love", or that he "Saves" (me, presumably).  On Sundays a steady stream of churchgoers passes by our place.  But I never feel in the least that I'd be better off "integrating" by converting from my atheism to Christianity.  With Islam, by contrast, and as the article notes, the social pressure in a Muslim neighbourhood to convert is strong, verging on compulsion.
This increasing rate of conversion to Islam has its downsides: French anti-terrorism officials, according to the article,
... have been warning for years that converts represent a critical element of the terrorist threat in Europe, because they have Western passports and do not stand out....  Converts "often need to overdo it if they want to be accepted" as Muslim, and so veer into extremism more frequently that others, said Didier Leschi, who was in charge of religious issues at the Interior Ministry.....
There you have it: to be better "integrated" into substantial areas around Paris, les bainlieues, you need to convert to Islam, and to be a really good Muslim, you have to turn to terrorism.... To show your cred, man....
I wonder if that rather revelatory implication has dawned on France's Interior Ministry.  And if so, what they plan to do about it.
(*) The Muslim term for converts is "Revert".  The reason is that in normative Islam it is considered that everyone is actually born a Muslim, but is misled into believing another religion, such as Christianity or Buddhism (or Atheism too, I guess).  Hence, when the conversion to Islam happens, it's considered reverting to one's origin at birth, which is as a Muslim.