Source: The Washington Post
Lindsay Lohan, the American actress, is said to be “exploring” Islam. Speculation was first stirred by a photograph of the celebrity carrying a copy of the Koran while completing a stint of community service. This week, in an interview with the Sun, Lohan told the British tabloid that she was indeed reading Islam’s holy book.
“I’m a very spiritual person and I’m really open to learning,” she said. “America has portrayed holding a Koran in such a different way to what it actually is. We all believe in something and at the end of the day it all ties to a god or a spiritual adviser.”
She wasn’t converting to a new religion, just learning more. “Lindsay has always been very spiritual and is open to exploring all religions and beliefs. She is simply educating herself on other people’s beliefs,” a Lohan representative told Page Six. Some bloggers suggest it’s little more than a play for attention; some conservatives, meanwhile, expressed deeper outrage.
Whatever her convictions, Lohan may or may not know that she’s walking in a long tradition.
These days, of course, the idea of foreigners turning to Islam evokes grim thoughts. Numerous Western converts joined the ranks of violent extremist groups, from the Taliban to the Islamic State. In the eyes of many politicians and pundits, Islam — and, by extension, Muslims — posesa radical and ideological threat.
This was not the case in an earlier era, long before the rise of global jihadist organizations. In the 19th century and into the 20th century, myriad European elites displayed a fascination with the religion, languages, and customs of Muslims they encountered in the fraying domains of the Ottoman empire and lands further east.
This interest took myriad forms: These included the adoption of the garb of the Zouaves, seen originally on Berber tribesman, by military units in Europe and the United States; in the fixation of European painters and writers with the supposed sensuality and licentiousness of Muslim societies; in the encyclopedic efforts of Western Orientalists to learn Arabic and other languages of the Middle East and South Asia, and also dig up the region’s forgotten ancient cities.
Some people did convert after their travels. Britain’s most famous 19th century convert was William Quilliam, the son of a Methodist preacher who returned after a visit to Morocco in 1887 with the new name Abdullah. His embrace of Islam fitted alongside his championing of the Temperance Movement, which advocated abstinence from alcohol.
There were plenty of other figures who also believed the West could gain from adopting the customs of the East, or drew inspiration from Muslim heroes. For example, the town of Elkader, Iowa, founded in 1846, was named after an Algerian guerrilla resisting French colonial forces.