Tuesday, 5 February 2013
From The New York Times:
February 3, 2013
More in France Are Turning to Islam, Challenging a Nation’s Idea of Itself
Agnes Dherbeys for The New York Times
By MAÏA de la BAUME
Published: February 3, 201
CRÉTEIL, France — The spacious and elegant modern building, in the heart of this middle-class suburb of Paris, is known as “the mosque of the converts.”
Every year about 150 Muslim conversion ceremonies are performed in the snow-white structure of the Sahaba mosque in Créteil, with its intricate mosaics and a stunning 81-foot minaret, built in 2008 and a symbol of Islam’s growing presence in France. Among those who come here for Friday Prayer are numerous young former Roman Catholics, wearing the traditional Muslim prayer cap and long robe.
While the number of converts remains relatively small in France, yearly conversions to Islam have doubled in the past 25 years, experts say, presenting a growing challenge for France, where government and public attitudes toward Islam are awkward and sometimes hostile.
French antiterrorism officials 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.
In October, the French police conducted a series of antiterrorism raids across France, resulting in the arrests of 12 people, including at least three French citizens who had recently converted to Islam. Converts “often need to overdo it if they want to be accepted” as Muslims, and so veer into extremism more frequently than others, said Didier Leschi, who was in charge of religious issues at the Interior Ministry under former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
There are persistent concerns that French prisons are fertile ground for conversions and for Islamic radicalism; observant Muslims are thought to make up a least a third of the inmate population, according to French news reports.
Many Muslims counter that they regularly face prejudice, and consider a 2010 law banning the full-face veil from public spaces and the growing concern with conversions as reflections of French intolerance.
Whatever the impact, there is little doubt that conversions are growing more commonplace. “The conversion phenomenon is significant and impressive, particularly since 2000,” said Bernard Godard, who is in charge of religious issues at the Interior Ministry.
Of an estimated six million Muslims in France, about 100,000 are thought to be converts, compared with about 50,000 in 1986, according to Mr. Godard. Muslim associations say the number is as high as 200,000. But France, which has a population of about 65 million, defines itself as secular and has no official statistics broken down by race or creed.
For Mr. Godard, a former intelligence officer, it is the “nature” of conversions that has changed.
Conversions to marry have long been common enough in France, but a growing number of young people are now seen as converting to be better socially integrated in neighborhoods where Islam is dominant.
“In poor districts, it has become a reverse integration,” said Gilles Kepel, an expert on Islam and the banlieues, the poor, predominantly Muslim neighborhoods that ring Paris and other major cities.
Many converts are men younger than 40, experts say, often born in France’s former African colonies or overseas territories.
Charlie-Loup, 21, a student from nearby St.-Maur-des-Fossés, converted to Islam at 19, after a troubled adolescence and strained relations with his mother. He grew up Roman Catholic but had many Muslim friends at school. “Conversions have become a social phenomenon here,” he said, asking that his surname not be used because he considered his conversion a private initiative and did not want to draw attention to himself. Some convert simply “out of curiosity,” he said.
In some predominantly Muslim areas, even non-Muslims observe Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that requires fasting during the day, because they like “the group effect, the festive side of it,” said Samir Amghar, a sociologist and an expert on radical Islam in Europe. [it's like whites imitating the falling-down-pants fashion,and hip-hop music -- identifying with those you fear]
In many banlieues, Islam has come to represent not only a sort of social norm but also a refuge, an alternative to the ambient misery, researchers and converts say.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 5, 2013The Memo From France article on Monday about the increasing rate of French conversions to Islam gave outdated information about the sports career of one celebrity convert, Nicolas Anelka. Mr. Anelka once played regularly for the French national soccer team, but has not done so since he set off an uproar during the 2010 World Cup by insulting the coach.
Posted on 02/05/2013 2:24 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
7 Feb 2013
There are, of course, conversions that are going the other way: from Islam to atheism or agnosticism, and from Islam to Christianity.
We don't know quite how many there are. Not enough, of course, alas...but there are some.
I have a Christian source which suggests that although there are only about 100 Christian workers actively engaged in evangelism aimed specifically at Muslims within France, there may be some 15,000 Muslim-background believers, one-third of them choosing an Evangelical Protestant expression of Christianity and the other two-thirds choosing Catholicism. There are, of course, also, an unknown number of former Muslims who - like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan - have chosen atheism.
I wonder what would happen if someone wrote to the New York Times suggesting that they contact the Barnabas Fund, or similar organisations (perhaps even the Bible Society, which has at least some idea of how many people are buying their Arabic and Farsi and, today, Berber-language scriptures) and ask to be put in touch with ex-Muslims in France, converts to Catholic or Protestant Christianity, to tell their stories and visit their little fellowships and ask them why they left Islam and why they chose their new belief system...and why they persevere, despite the danger from their former co-religionists.
There is a reason, of course, why we don't hear so much about them, and why we will not see a photograph of a new little 'house church' gathering somewhere in France, attended by a group of Maghrebin or Turkish or Persian ex-Muslims. The reason is simply this: that whereas a French non-Muslim who abandons secularism or a nominal practice of Christianity and becomes a Muslim is not going to be pursued by a team of hit-men, a Muslim who leaves Islam is in mortal danger. Even in France, or indeed anywhere else in Europe, someone from a Muslim family who chooses to leave Islam, be it for atheism or for Christ, is in at least as much danger as any fugitive from the Mafia.