THOUSANDS of Britons are converting to Islam every year – with more women becoming Muslims than men, a Welsh study has found. The research suggests that the numbers converting to the religion may have nearly doubled by 2010 from the 60,669 converts in 2001.
A detailed study by Swansea University for inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters, suggests that despite an often negative portrayal of Islam in the media, more people are adopting the religion each year. Kevin Brice of the Centre for Migration Policy Research at Swansea University suggested that 56% of converts to Islam were white British, with 62% being female.
The average age at conversion is 27.5, with 5,200 people becoming Muslims in the last 12 months. “These numbers should be put into perspective,” the report states. “Even at the highest estimate (100,000) this remains a small minority group (at most 4% of the Muslim population and less than 0.2% of the total population of the UK).
“There is no evidence of a mass conversion of the population and this is hardly the beginning of the ‘Islamification’ of the UK as is suggested by some groups (both pro and anti-Islam).”
Among the report’s findings is evidence that many converts experience difficulties because of the negative attitudes of their families, with complaints that there is a lack of support networks available for converts.
To counter that problem, an organisation has been established in Wales to provide support for people converting to Islam.
The New Muslim Network Wales was set up to act as that bridge between communities.
Edward Charles and Matthew McDonald from the network, which was established in 2001, said the findings of the report backed up experiences of its volunteers.
They said their work was not only in supporting converts, but also trying to dispel myths about conversion, such as having to change one’s name or lose one’s cultural identity.
Mr Charles said: “We have a spread of individuals who measure their conversions in weeks and others in decades.
“We are able to help the new Muslim to settle into their new faith gently and help them sort out the cultural stuff from the actual faith.
“Having people to talk to who have been through it all before and treat the individual in a non-judgmental way is something most of us lacked and are keen to provide to others.”
The pair were keen to stress that converting to Islam was not about being brainwashed.
Mr McDonald said: “Most of us have kept our original names and we encourage new Muslims to do the same – but ultimately it’s a personal choice.
“There is a feeling that we need to absorb everything all at once, whereas in reality even those converts who have been around for decades freely admit they are still learning and will do so throughout their life, as will all Muslims.”
The report by Faith Matters also studied the way converts were portrayed by the media and found that while 32% of articles on Islam published since 2001 were linked to terrorism or extremism, the figure jumped to 62% with converts.
It also describes the “persistent myth” of converting to Islam for marriage – with many relationships forming only after someone has converted to the religion.
The report adds: “The findings... help dispel some of the persistent myths and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims as well as about converts themselves.
“Converts do not represent a devious fifth column determined to undermine the Western way of life – this is a group of normal people united in their adherence to a religion which they, for the most part, see as perfectly compatible with Western life.
“Converts are generally at ease living in the UK and do not feel that British people are essentially hostile to Islam.”
Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, said the media needed to take a more tolerant stance towards converts.
He said: “New Muslims are not a security threat, nor are they a population that should be at the mercy of those within Muslim communities who want to push obsolete and unethical cultural practices.
“They are a community that have very much to offer to our country and to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and no doubt they will play an increasing role around integration for communities in the future.”