Why European women are turning to Islam
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In fact, she explains, she liked the way "Islam demands a closeness to God. Islam is simpler, more rigorous, and it's easier because it is explicit. I was looking for a framework; man needs rules and behavior to follow. Christianity did not give me the same reference points."Skip to next paragraph
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Those reasons reflect many female converts' thinking, say experts who have studied the phenomenon. "A lot of women are reacting to the moral uncertainties of Western society," says Dr. Jawad. "They like the sense of belonging and caring and sharing that Islam offers."
Others are attracted by "a certain idea of womanhood and manhood that Islam offers," suggests Karin van Nieuwkerk, who has studied Dutch women converts. "There is more space for family and motherhood in Islam, and women are not sex objects."
At the same time, argues Sarah Joseph, an English convert who founded "Emel," a Muslim lifestyle magazine, "the idea that all women converts are looking for a nice cocooned lifestyle away from the excesses of Western feminism is not exactly accurate."
Some converts give their decision a political meaning, says Stefano Allievi, a professor at Padua University in Italy. "Islam offers a spiritualization of politics, the idea of a sacred order," he says. "But that is a very masculine way to understand the world" and rarely appeals to women, he adds.
After making their decision, some converts take things slowly, adopting Muslim customs bit by bit: Fallot, for example, does not yet feel ready to wear a head scarf, though she is wearing longer and looser clothes than she used to.
Others jump right in, eager for the exoticism of a new religion, and become much more pious than fellow mosque-goers who were born into Islam. Such converts, taking an absolutist approach, appear to be the ones most easily led into extremism.
The early stages of a convert's discovery of Islam "can be quite a sensitive time," says Batool al-Toma, who runs the "New Muslims" program at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, England.
"You are not confident of your knowledge, you are a newcomer, and you could be prey to a lot of different people either acting individually or as members of an organization," Ms. Al-Toma explains. A few converts feel "such a huge desire to fit in and be accepted that they are ready to do just about anything," she says.
"New converts feel they have to prove themselves," adds Dr. Ranstorp. "Those who seek more extreme ways of proving themselves can become extraordinarily easy prey to manipulation."
At the same time, says al-Toma, converts seeking respite in Islam from a troubled past - such as Degauque, who had reportedly drifted in and out of drugs and jobs before converting to Islam - might be persuaded that such an "ultimate action" as a suicide bomb attack offered an opportunity for salvation and forgiveness.
"The saddest conclusion" al-Toma draws from Degauque's death in Iraq is that "a woman who set out on the road to inner peace became a victim of people who set out to use and abuse her."