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Thursday, August 31, 2006

When converts become easy pickings for extremists

When converts become easy pickings for extremists
Irfan Yusuf - Australia

THE headline from the Weekend Australian (12-13 August 2006) screamed out:
"Terror's new 'white converts'". Don Stewart-Whyte's arrest shows extreme
forms of Islam sometimes attract new recruits from unexpected quarters.

Like Christianity, Islam actively seeks recruits. Unlike Christianity, Islam
has no central church or priestly hierarchy. Converts don't go on any
register. The process of conversion is quite simple – just recite a
two-sentence Arabic creed. No priest or witnesses are required. People even
convert on internet chat channels.

Islam attracts people from all walks of life. Prominent Aussie converts
include former diplomats, prominent sportspeople and a former ABC foreign
correspondent. A convert now heads the Islamic Council of Victoria.

Muslim converts often prefer to be known as "reverts". Muslims don't believe
inherited or "original" sin. Babies are born naturally sinless. Hence
converts claim they have merely "reverted" to that original sinlessness.

People turn to Islam and other non-Christian faiths for any number of
reasons. They might feel outcasts in conventional society or disillusioned
with aspects of mainstream culture. They might even be searching for an
alternative lifestyle.

Mainstream religion isn't a problem in Australia. Most Muslim Aussies treat
their faith as a deeply personal affair. Religion only becomes collective
during religious festivals or at weekly Sunday (or in the case of Muslims,
Friday) services.

Islam's core is deeply spiritual Sufi tradition Sunni Muslims describe as
tasawwuf and Shia Muslims describe as irfan. It's the stuff that inspires
Turkey's whirling dervishes. To this day, translations of Sufi poet Rumi
remain the biggest selling poetry books in the US.

Most converts enter Islam after exposure to Sufi teaching for reasons
similar to the attraction of Tibetan Buddhism.

Islam isn't the only faith be hijacked by fringe extremists. In Sri Lanka,
deeply pacifist Hinduism has been hijacked by Tamil Tigers who have turned
suicide bombing into an art-form.

Mainstream Muslims take for granted that Islam forbids suicide. The Prophet
Muhammad said that the first man to be judged and sent to hell would be a
person who claimed to have died as a martyr. In fact, that person didn't die
for God but only to be glorified by others after death.

Fringe politicised Islam has few followers among migrant Muslims.
Australia's radical "thick-Sheiks" have few followers among migrant Muslims,
tending to attract Muslim youth and converts.

Mainstream Muslims aren't a security threat, but failure of mainstream
institutions to provide facilities for young people and converts is.
Converts bring to the Muslim community a zeal which many migrant Muslims
born into Islam don't share.

Converts feel frustrated when ethnicity and migrant culture are presented as
Islam by Muslim leaders. They are angered at imams who cannot speak English
and at leaders making goofy public statements. Some non-European imams
expect converts to abandon parts of Western culture, to change their names
and to separate from their families.

Dean Jones recently described an observant South African cricketer as a
terrorist. His gaffe reflects popular attitudes to Islam. Converts often
hide their faith for fear of non-Muslim families and networks ostracising
them. Younger converts are often dependent on their parents. The combined
stress of family break-up and lack of support from "ethnic" Muslims is a
source of enormous stress for converts.

New Muslims with no family support and on the fringes of Muslim communities
fall into a dangerous twilight zone. Compounded with other factors (such as
un-medicated depression), they are fresh pickings for extremist groups.

One effective ways Muslim communities can contribute to fighting terror is
to be more welcoming to converts. Support services should be set up and
mosques should break down their cultural and linguistic barriers. When Islam
becomes a genuinely Australian religion and not just a cultural artefact,
terrorists will be forced to look elsewhere for recruits.

(Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. An edited version of this article was
published in the Adelaide Advertiser on 15 August 2006.)

Personally I was blessed to find the right Masjid.


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