on: February 16, 2018
Why are so many Westerners converting to Islam?
Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in the world, which may come as surprise to many, considering the amount of negative coverage it constantly receives in the media. There are currently 1.8 billion Muslims in the world and that is nearly one-fourth of the world population, making it the world’s second largest religion, after Christianity (Pew Research Centre).
However, it has been estimated that within the second half of this century (around the year of 2050), Islam will become the world’s largest religious group. This is due to faster birth rates and the increase in the number of people converting to Islam.
So, why are so many people converting to Islam?
It is important to first understand that the Muslim population is extremely diverse and spreads across the globe. Although it is often associated with Arabs and the Middle East, only 15% of Muslims are Arab! The largest populations stem from southeast Asia (comprising more than 60% of the world’s total) with Indonesia currently holding the largest population of Muslims. (Pew Research Centre)
Regional Distribution of Muslims (2017)
- Asia Pacific: 986,420,000
- Middle East/ North Africa: 370,070,000
- Sub Saharan Africa: 248,420,000
- Europe: 43,470,000
- North America: 3,480,000
- Latin America/ Caribbean: 840,000
Top 12 Countries With the Largest Muslim Populations (approximations)
- Indonesia: 225 million
- Pakistan: 181 million
- India: 172 million
- Bangladesh: 146.6 million
- Nigeria: 104 million
- Egypt: 83 million
- Iran: 79.8 million
- Turkey: 79.5 million
- Algeria 40.61 million
- Sudan: 38 million
- Iraq: 37.2 million
- Morocco: 35 million
(Pew Research Centre)
Various studies have assessed the reasons why so many westerners are converting to Islam. This article will combine information that was obtained in studies conducted in America and Britain, as these countries have the highest conversion rates
Firstly, the media’s coverage in relation to Islam is predominantly negative. This consequently has to lead a lot of people to further research the ideologies and concepts of Islam, to find out if it really is a religion of war, oppression or terrorism. To their surprise, many found the peace and beauty within Islam, and the more they read and researched about Islam, the more they discovered how contradictory their original beliefs were. Further, in a study conducted by the University of Cambridge, a woman said she converted due to the apparent “Tranquility and stability despite the difficulties they experienced”. Another man claimed that when he realised that Muslims greet each other by saying “Peace be Upon you”, Islam could not be a religion of terrorism.
Next, upon researching Islam, many realised how its doctrine is simple and rational. The most crucial factor in Islam that differentiates it from other religions, it to believe in God & that Muhammad is His messenger. Further, it is required to pray 5 times a day, give charity, fast in Ramadan and perform Hajj (at least once a lifetime).
“Islam is raised on five (pillars), testifying that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is His messenger, the establishment of prayer, payment of Zakat (charity), Performing Hajj and the fast of Ramadan.”
It provides direction and discipline, which is another core reason why many convert. Contemporary society lacks discipline, and many believe that it is slowly disintegrating. Through Islam, hope is restored for an orderly life, with guidelines that ensure discipline is maintained, both for oneself and in broader society. A woman claimed that when researching about the modesty of women, she found that Islam “isn’t self-restricting but a way to implement and learn self-control.”
Many hold the ideology that Islam oppresses women, perhaps due to the fact that women have to wear a headscarf, or once again due to false media representations. However, Islam was actually the first religion to explicitly give women their own rights. 1400 years ago, girls used to be buried alive out of shame of having a daughter. However, as soon as Islam was introduced, it instantly banned the burial of children.
(Quran 81:8-9 & 17:31).
The Quran further exemplifies the vast amount of rights that it gives to women. Some of the many rights are as follows:
- Mothers are 3x more deserving of good treatment than fathers.
- Prophet Muhammad said: “The world is but a (quick passing) enjoyment, and the best enjoyment of the world is a pious and virtuous woman”. (Muslim)
- Women are allowed to work, and keep their wealth to themselves, whether it is inherited or earned.
- Women are permitted to participate in the battlefield (if need be, not just as nurses, but also as soldiers)
- Men have the responsibility to spend their earnings/wealth on the women in the family, whereas women are not obligated to financially support the family.
- No woman can be forced into a marriage, neither by her family or by a man. She also has the right to divorce.
- Domestic abuse is completely prohibited in Islam.
Muslim Council of Britain
In summary, Islam does not differentiate between the treatment of men and women. Both are created equal and both will be judged purely based on their actions.
“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women.”
Similarly, another central reason why the religion of Islam is growing is due to the fact that every human was created as an equal. No race, gender or social status is better than the other. All that matters in Islam, are one’s actions and intentions. The best among Muslims is the most righteous.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
Further, in the Prophet’s final sermon, he stated:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.”
Justice and equity are key factors that are lacking in broader society, and Islam has placed a great emphasis on both of these factors for over 1400 years.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“He who intended to do good, but did not do it, one good was recorded for him, and he who intended to do good and also did it, ten to seven hundred good deeds were recorded for him. And he who intended evil, but did not commit it, no entry was made against his name, but if he committed that, it was recorded as one evil.”
High conversion rates to Islam has also been found with those who are incarcerated. This radicalisation comes from a place where all hope is usually lost, and they primarily feel alone. When people are in a time of need or desperation, they commonly turn to religion, as a form of redemption. Many also have the time to read the Holy Quran, understand and appreciate it. The time spent alone gives them the opportunity to reflect upon their actions and their life thus far. In Islam, as soon as a person converts; by acknowledging that there is only one God, and repenting from their wrongful actions, all past sins are instantly forgiven. Converts are given a fresh slate to begin their life again and all their good deeds remain!
The prophet Muhammad (ﷺ ) said:
“… Do you not know that (embracing) Islam wipes out all that has gone before it (previous misdeeds).”
The final reason why people convert, is due to meeting other Muslims. In Islam, respect, kindness, and forgiveness are core values that each person should practice. Many, when interviewed about why they converted, replied that they met a Muslim that had extraordinary characteristics, that directly conflicted with what the media has portrayed. This leads them to research further about Islam, and eventually convert.
Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ ) said:
“Your smiling in the face of your brother is charity, commanding good and forbidding evil is charity, your giving directions to a man lost in the land is charity for you. Your seeing for a man with bad sight is a charity for you, your removal of a rock, a thorn or a bone from the road is charity for you. Your pouring what remains from your bucket into the bucket of your brother is charity for you.”
Within all these factors and reasons, one aspect stands out. The western culture, within the 21st century, promotes experimentation and variety. A westerner that converts to Islam is making the conscious decision to change their lifestyle in a diametrically opposite direction. They are accepting the predetermined rules in relation to belief, dress, diet and any social or sexual behaviours. Our current disintegrating society lacks the direction and discipline that is required within human nature.
The inaccurate portrayal of Islam in western media has lead to an increase in verbal and physical abuse experienced by Muslims, however, this has neither changed their beliefs nor values & this has been evident in the continuously growing number of Muslims around the world.
- Pew Research Centre
- Muslim Council of Britain
- Narratives of Conversion to Islam in Britain: Male & Female Perspectives sourced from University of Cambridge, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, 2018 HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies.