New to Islam? A Muslim in the family

ummi taalib
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Conversion Stories
How do families react when a loved one converts to Islam? Rageh Omaar looks at four real-life stories

1. Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne was the journalist captured by the Taliban while reporting undercover in Afghanistan, soon after 9/11. Held on spying charges, she feared she would be stoned. Instead, she was treated with respect. She promised her captors that, after her release, she would study Islam. She read the Qur'an looking for an explanation of the Taliban's treatment of women, only to find there wasn't any: "It's a magna carta for women!"

She converted in 2003 and has found that her new faith has helped put behind her three broken marriages and a reputation as the "Patsy Stone of Fleet Street." But she still can't persuade her Mum that converting was a good idea.

2. John Standing

John used to try to talk his Muslim girlfriend, Nasera, out of her faith. It was only when she stood firm that he decided to read the Qur'an for himself. Within months, he'd converted to Islam. His father, Tony, admits that John seems a calmer, kinder person since his conversion, but can't help worrying that John's been brainwashed. He's warned him that, if he gets involved in violent extremism, the family will disown him... Not that they expect him to.

What his father can't understand is why John feels the need to change his name to Jamal Udeen; why he's abandoned a promising musical career (John believes Islam forbids music); and why he's now talking about emigrating to a Muslim country. Does Islam really demand all those changes?

3. Aqeel Burton

Aqeel was brought up in Manchester by Jamaican Christian parents, but rejected his parents' faith because it seemed to him a white person's religion. Not that Islam seemed any less exclusive. The only Muslims he knew at school were Asians. It was only when a Jamaican friend converted that Aqeel became interested in the faith. He read the Qur'an and found that whereas in the past his head had been full of questions, in Islam he found answers.

A former professional boxer, Aqeel no longer fights, because of his new faith, but he still trains and finds that the discipline of boxing goes hand-in-glove with the demands of his new faith.

4. Shahnaaz Malik

Shahnaaz grew up in a white family in Slough and converted to Islam when she married her Asian boyfriend, Naseer. Back then, he wasn't even a practising Muslim, but over the last six years, she has brought him back to the faith. First, she started wearing a headscarf or hijab. Then, this year, without any prompting from Naseer, she started wearing the full burkha veil. "Ninjas, we call them," says Nas, a little bemused.

Not that Shahnaaz is discouraged. She feels liberated from "the beauty contest" that, she says, dominates western culture. Interestingly, her veil provokes abuse from both Asian and white people.

All four of the converts have found different ways to reconcile their old lives with the new. However, the fact that all four of them are determined to reconcile the "before" and "after" versions of themselves is a very hopeful sign. Perhaps, in them, we can see a living bridge between Islam and the West - two cultures that many see as being on an inexorable collision course.