Sunday, 8 June 2008

Facing Islam

Continuing from yesterday's piece (on which there has been a deafening silence comment-wise), my personal view is that the biggest problem Australia faces in respect of Islam is not growth from immigration, but converts.

It is not accident that so many some of the prominent terrorist cases so far in Australia have featured converts. And no-one who saw it will quickly forget 'Jihad Sheilas' from ABC TV a few months back (there are some clips on you tube if you missed it).

So why do people convert to Islam?

I think its about all the things the Church tossed out a few decades back, the things that gave Catholicism a distinct identity. Far from a foreign language (like Latin) being a barrier, Muslim converts eagerly learn Arabic. The Catholic fasts were abolished - so people adopt the even more rigorous fasts of Ramadan. And I could go on.

Latino converts to Islam

There is actually an interesting article on this topic over at Intentional Disciples on the current dramatic increase in conversions of Latina women converting to Islam, and the reasons for it. It certainly offers some food for thought for us I think:

"When Beatriz Kehdy was growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, she felt uncomfortable with the standards of beauty that she says were a part of the culture in which she was raised. An emphasis on external beauty and the body, she says, became increasingly foreign to her own personal values. [So Islam is partly a response to the objectification of women in our culture]

Kehdy moved to New York City almost 10 years ago and eventually discovered a sense of place in Islam and in the hijab, or headscarf worn by women in the faith.“When I wear the hijab, I feel more respected, people talk to me with respect,” she said.

The now 27-year-old architect converted from Catholicism to Islam four years ago, but didn’t tell her family until a few years later, in a letter.“When I started wearing the hijab, there was a problem,” she said.“My father didn’t want me to wear it in public in Brazil.”

Kehdy is one of many Latin American women in the US who have embraced the Islamic faith. The American Muslim Council, based in Chicago, estimates that there are more than 200,000 Latino Muslims in the United States. Women make up 60 percent of conversions to Islam, according to experts.Mosques around the country have begun to offer special classes where women converts can learn about Islam...Many Latinas choose to accept Islam because they marry Muslims. Others convert when they’re single, often because they feel unfulfilled by the religion in which they were raised.[And in Islam they have more change of getting married than in a culture that rejects commitment, especially on the part of men?]

For a large number of Latinas, that faith is Catholicism.“Some of them really have doubt about the Trinity,” a central belief in Catholicism that says God exists in three beings, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; said Chernor Sa’ad Jallah, assistant Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center, in East Harlem, the largest mosque in New York City.“They find it really confusing,”[So poor catechesis is another factor] In his community of about 1,500 people, between 10 and 15 percent are Latinos.

Some said they were uncomfortable making confessions to a priest and feeling as though they had no direct relationship with God. “I was raised as a Catholic but I didn’t like it. I felt this emptiness,” said Mayeline Turbides, a 21-year-old Dominican student who lives in West New York, N.J.” I was never convinced.”

She took the name Leila after she became a Muslim. Before discovering Islam, Turbides had explored evangelical Christianity and Mormonism, which failed to draw her in. About two years ago, her Muslim boss started talking to her about Islam.“I used to go out, to drink. I got drunk 500 times,” Turbides said in Spanish. “But nothing made sense. I wanted rules.”

When it comes to assimilating to a new faith, Islam appeals to Catholic Latinas for several reasons.“There are many similarities between Catholicism and Islam,” said Ibrahim Hooper, Communications Director and spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, D.C.“Both have principles that need to be followed, regarding how you conduct yourself as person, how you operate in a community.”

Others find a new religion to be an escape from the confines of machismo, or chauvinism.“I feel more protected,” Turbides said.“Men used to shout things at me when I was walking down the street. They would honk their horns. When I wear the hijab, nobody says anything.”

For New Yorker Yuri Lara, the 23-year-old daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, understanding the role of women in Islam, and dispelling what she considers to be stereotypes, was one of her biggest concerns when she was studying the religion.“We have rights, we have a voice, it’s all in the Quran,” said Lara, who studied psychology at SUNY Albany...

Cerry of Intention Disciples concludes: "You have heard it here before: If we don't evangelize our own, someone else will do it for us. And they may be Muslim."

So true.

Dialogue or evangelization?

Our naively nutty friends over at 'Jews, Christians and Muslims working together:

"...want to be ready for the next time violence breaks out in Melbourne. If the US decides to bomb Iran, and people start burning synagogues, mosques, and any churches with Arabic signage, I’d love to see groups praying and surrounding each place to prevent the madness. I know it will take a lot of work to build such active ready-response networks, but for the first time in awhile I feel optimistic."

The next time violence breaks out in Melbourne? Surrounding the Mosques to prevent them being attacked! Give me a break! We don't exactly live in Nazi Germany.

If we want peace, let's truly seek after it - and put our effort where it will count, into evangelization, not dialogue.

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