Report: Muslim converts targeted by security services

A report by the University of Cambridge has concluded that many male converts to Islam feel a sense of isolation and of being a “minority within a minority.”

The report also found that there is often targeting of converts by the British Security Services to work as informants.

Among the other key findings to emerge from the report were:

  • White converts lose their white privilege on conversion.
  • Conversion to Islam in prison is usually driven by a desire to instill discipline into a prisoner’s life, but upon release Muslims find little support from their families or Muslim communities, increasing the risk of re-offending.
  • Converts are cut off from their families and friends and are only tenuously integrated within Muslim communities.

The experiences of British male converts to Islam was captured in a report launched today by the University of Cambridge.

Examining the conversion journeys of nearly 50 British men of all ages, ethnicities and faiths, “Narratives of Conversion to Islam in Britain: Male Perspectives,” examines the challenges and concerns facing converts to Islam in the UK.

The Muslim community often fails to integrate converts
The Muslim community often fails to integrate converts

The report, produced by Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies, captures the isolation and dislocation felt by many new converts, and the sense of being a “minority within a minority” as they adjust to life as a follower of one of the most maligned and misunderstood faiths in the UK.

With converts drawn from white, black and South Asian backgrounds from across the UK, the 50 British males were converts were from a diverse range of geographical and socio-economic backgrounds.

Professor Yasir Suleiman, Director of Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies, said: “In the West, conversion to Islam has been tarnished by claims of extremism (violent and non-violent), radicalisation, and, sadly, terrorism. It has also fallen victim to the general apathy towards faith in largely secular societies causing those who convert to be described by some as not only eccentrics, misfits, outcasts and rebels, but also as renegades, traitors or enemies of a fifth column who have turned their back on their original culture(s).

“Converts can be made to feel outsiders from the lives they have left behind and as new members of the faith they have embraced upon conversion. This report reveals that conversion to Islam is as much a matter of the head as it is for the heart and soul.

“What this report also illuminates is the importance of convert-specific organisations. There is not enough support for the convert community as things stand. But by sharing their experiences frankly and honestly, this diverse group of converts revealed a profound sense of their pride in both Islam and their British heritage, despite the often negative portrayal of converts in the mainstream press.”

Post-conversion suffering

Abdul Maalik Tailor, who converted to Islam from Hinduism, and now runs Islamic-themed tours of London, suffered considerably after converting.

“A number of things happened to me when I embraced Islam 20 years ago,” he said. “It was a very challenging time and an experience I won’t forget about. I suffered physical and emotional abuse from my family. It was a very testing time.

“For myself and other brown converts, it always goes back to the issue of partition between India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. My relatives thought I had become brainwashed. I was basically given an ultimatum: give up the religion or get out. I was 18 at the time. And I had to leave after being beaten up.

“A year later my father passed away and there was an expectation that I had to fulfil all the Hindu rituals as I was the only son. I had to say, ‘I can’t do it’, which was a challenge; I would have preferred to have a lot more support from the Muslim community at that time.

The Centre for Islamic  Studies in Cambridge
The Centre for Islamic Studies in Cambridge

Another participant, Adrian (Jamal) Heath, said: “I always joke with people that it’s a bit like ‘coming out’ and I’ve discovered a lot of people who concealed this until the later stages. I was exposed as a Muslim to friends and family inadvertently and my parents took it hard. They didn’t come to my wedding. I was also subject to some ridicule at work, which I now look back on as completely unacceptable in the modern world. I was ridiculed for my prayer times and to my face by people who had education and should have known better.

“As a white man in modern Britain, I’d never come across the feeling of being in a minority before and that actually quite shocked me.”

Another theme that provoked widespread discussion was the media portrayal of Muslims.

Convert Warren (Raiyyan) Clementson said: “Generally speaking, when I see converts on TV, they have been radicalised or involved in extremist activity. So for me personally, it’s a double whammy. Firstly, the negative portrayal of Muslims as a whole and within that, a sub-context of the convert community being portrayed in a radical light, or that they’re most susceptible to ideologies of violence. Being a convert myself, and having met so many other converts, this is a fallacy.”

Abdul Maalik Tailor questioned why there seemed to be such a propensity for negativity in the portrayals of both Islam and converts to the religion.

“You find a number of stories that concentrate on radicalisation. If there are successful Muslim converts who have contributed to society and to Britain, they won’t get highlighted by the media. Why do the media have a set agenda to try and demonise us?”

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