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Weekend Roundup: Islam Through The Eyes Of Western Converts



To discover the other within ourselves, for empathy to turn the soul, is a mark of common humanity. Religious converts who take the full journey to another faith offer insights and wisdom from the inside, out beyond what can be gained from the outside looking in.

This week, we publish two profiles in the latest of a remarkable series for The WorldPost by Islamic scholar Akbar Ahmed on Western converts to Islam. The first profile is of Tim Winter, a Londoner who joined the faith back in 1979, long before the present paroxysm of Islamophobia that identifies Islam with terrorism. Winter recounts the experience of previous converts in Great Britain, going back to the Victorian age, and takes a critical look at the disconnect between the preoccupations of Muslim leaders in the West today and the needs of their flock. To bridge the gap between both of his identities, Winter dedicates his days to preparing the next generation of Muslim thinkers to be better equipped to engage with British society as dean of the Cambridge Muslim College. He hopes to showcase what he already believes to be true ― Muslims are an important contribution to what makes Europe great and will only continue to be so. “The moral resources in Islamic tradition are limitless,” Ahmed quotes Winter as saying, “in terms of love for neighbor, love for the other, solid family values and respecting the old ― all these things that Europe is starting to lose are present in the ethical teachings of Islam.”

Ahmed also profiles 58-year-old Annette Bellaoui, who converted to Islam nearly two decades ago. The Dane proudly wears the hijab and through her “Missing Voices” program, tries to challenge “the media-enhanced idea” of Muslim women as “poor benighted creatures who sit at home shrouded in black.” In fact, Bellaoui is the opposite of that, Ahmed says, openly confronting her family’s disapproval of her decision to convert and Islamophobic actions with brave humor rather than hostility.

Previous articles in the series include Ahmed’s introduction to his project in which he defines his mission: “In sharing these stories of people who have chosen to adopt my faith,” he writes, “I aspire to shake up people’s perceptions of Muslims and Islam.” We also published last week the tale of a self-proclaimed “hillbilly,” also from Denmark, who has become a popular imam in his country. Next week, in the final installment, we’ll look at the journey of a female German convert who was once a well-known presenter on MTV Europe.

Reporting from Tunis, Ioana Moldovan surveys the many factors ― joblessness, poverty, corruption, injustice and a sense of indignity, to name a few ― driving some youth in Tunisia to become radicalized. Speaking to those who have returned from terrorist camps, families of those whose sons’ turned to extremism and activists working to help rehabilitate militants who come back, she paints a picture of the complexity of a country still grappling with how to respond to the poisoned promises of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab Spring it helped kickstart. She also depicts the worries of many that fighters returning from Syria or Iraq will foment terrorism at home. Ultimately, though, she finds that, “One of the most influential ways to counter terrorism stems from a mother’s effort to keep her son from the arms of radicalization.” Whether it’s text messages, phone calls or sheer guilt, terrorists all seem to have a “weak spot” for their mothers.

In another indication that Europe is turning away from populism, the British electorate last week vastly weakened the mandate for Brexit by failing to give British Prime Minister Theresa May a parliamentary majority. Taking in the results, HuffPost UK contributor Ali Reza Naraghi writes that “there has been a political eruption of historic proportions in British politics” as the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, “defied the odds without resorting to the politics of cynicism that has defined our politics” by advancing solidly in the election. “Whichever way you slice it,” says Naraghi, “Theresa May is finished. The Labour victory in this election is the fact that we now know that there is a viable alternative to Tory austerity. … [Corbyn] has recharged democracy with offering a genuine choice that ignites the hope that has made Labour electable again. He has opened the political space for a debate about a range of progressive platforms that will transform this country. Whatever happens, such a fundamental shift cannot be reversed.”

Other highlights in The WorldPost this week:

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