AUSTRALIAN women who convert to Islam often find themselves with a foot in two camps and a tent in neither. A Muslim community may be very welcoming, but converts often find ethnic and language barriers difficult.
And, though they find themselves acting as spokeswomen for their new faith because they are more confident with the language, more certain of their entitlement to be heard, and are less likely to be inhibited by a perception that Muslims are negatively stereotyped in the culture at large, they are not always popular with Muslims, or non-Muslims, when they speak out.
So said Jamila Hussein, an academic who lectures in Islamic studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, who converted to Islam in 1988. New research by Swansea University on behalf of Faith Matters showed that over the past decade the number of converts to Islam in Britain has risen from 60,000 to 100,000 - a big jump - and that 5200 people converted last year alone, among them Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of the former prime minister, Tony Blair.
While there is nothing like the same sort of conversion rate in Australia, it is an under-the-radar phenomenon that brings with it unheralded problems that converts must rely on themselves to face.
Ms Hussein, for example, who says there are two types of convert - ''boots-and-all, tending to extremist'', or ''rational and gradual'' such as herself - belongs to a group of Muslim women, mostly converts, who meet in Auburn every Friday evening to discuss their faith, explode myths for newcomers and share the peculiarity of their experience.
''Suddenly you are not a part of mainstream Anglo society, and yet you might not feel entirely accepted by local Muslim communities either,'' Ms Hussein said. Her views are echoed by Silma Ihram, formerly principal of the Noor al-Houda Islamic College, and a convert.
At 15, Ms Ihram was a born-again Christian. At 23, she was in Indonesia and ''surprised as anyone'' to find herself converting to Islam. ''The classic situation is that Muslim converts are welcomed as an affirmation of the correctness of a Muslim's belief … But after a while people forget that [converts] need to be welcomed into the community … They can end up feeling a bit like a minority within a minority.''The 2006 census revealed that 1.7 per cent of Australians are Muslims, and 39 per cent are born in Australia.
Are conversions going to slowly change that? ''Conversion to Islam is not a massive phenomenon,'' said Professor Marion Maddox, the director of Macquarie University's centre for research on social inclusion. She said Buddhism is the most attractive religion for Western converts.
''In 2006 there was growth in the number of Muslims, but that could be explained by immigration and natural increase. ''But the increase in the number of Buddhists could only be explained by conversion.''