A growing number of Scots are converting to Islam – with the majority young women.
Glasgow Central Mosque alone is now seeing more than 200 Scots a year ‘revert’. Due to the rising number of Scots finding Islam, mosques across the country are also setting up support groups for new ‘reverts’. Many are fearful of abuse and intimidation.
Reversion is the preferred term within Islam for those who ‘convert’ – as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said everyone is born believing in Allah.
In 2015, the Sunday Herald spoke to Hannah, a 25-year-old administrator from Glasgow who recently reverted. Hannah asked for her surname to be kept confidential. Though brought up without any particular faith, Hannah is one of a growing number of Scots who are turning to Islam despite what many see as a “demonisation” of the religion.
“I’d done a degree in comparative religion and had to analyse all the religious texts. I went away from that thinking that maybe I should be a Christian.
But a few months later, while meditating, I found myself pulled in the direction of Islam. After that I started reading again, but this time in a more emotional way. I found I preferred the simplicity of Islam.”
After mulling it over for six months, she decided to revert. In July this year, she visited Glasgow Central Mosque to take the Shahada – a declaration of faith in front of two witnesses, in which Allah is recognised as the only God.
Her conversion was shared online by the Glasgow Central Mosque along with others including 20-year-old Jade from the Shetland Isles, and Katie, also 20 and an administration worker from Glasgow, who made her Shahada last month.
Glasgow Central Mosque says numbers of “reverts” have been gradually rising and they are now dealing with up to four conversions a week.
Along with the Edinburgh Central Mosque, it has now started support groups for new Muslims. The total number of converts is not known, but according to a report by Faith Matters, 5,200 people now join the UK-wide Muslim population of three million every year. Scotland’s community is significantly smaller at 90,000 people, over one-third of whom live in Glasgow.
Rizy Mohammad, a co-ordinator at the Glasgow Central Mosque, said:
“We are seeing an influx, particularly in the number of women expressing an interest in Islam. I don’t think there is one reason for it but it’s interesting that after 9/11, where Muslims were blamed for the bombing of the twin towers, a lot of people started doing their own research. Many found out more about Islam that led them to different conclusions.”
“There is also the spiritual dimension. They’ve been part of the material world, done the shopping thing and now they are looking for a deeper connection.”
But for many reverts, it is not an easy transition. High-profile conversions of white Muslims such as Richard Dart, who is serving a six-year jail sentence for plotting an attack on soldiers in Royal Wootton Bassett, mean alarm bells often sound for family members.
“Because of the extent of Islamophobia in the media, my mum, who is a Pagan, thought that I was going to join IS,” said Hannah.
“People see the violent, loud things. They don’t see the quiet Muslims who aren’t doing anything bad. My brother told her not to be so ridiculous and after about a week she came round. Now she makes sure that I don’t drink when I come to her house and even cooks halal for me.”
Hannah has also found some of the more conservative aspects of the religion, which still segregates men and women at places of worship, difficult to deal with. She admits she has taken off her hijab in parts of the city where she perceived the reaction to Muslim men and women wearing full traditional dress to be less than supportive. Since converting she has not been swimming due to concerns about covering up, and finds it hard cycling while wearing a hijab.
A 2013 Cambridge University study about women’s experience of conversion claimed it was “not for the faint-hearted”.
“I think in Islam men and women are equal but different. But I also think there are some cultural issues with equality.”
Jay (not his real name), who converted less than three months ago after a near-death experience with drugs, said that while some friends had asked if he was going to travel to Syria and fight for IS, most people have been positive about his decision. Before his conversion, he said, he worked and partied too hard, and lived for the weekend.
“One of my colleagues in particular was keen to know why I converted,” said Jay. “He wanted to know how I could give up the clubs, drink and girlfriends, and now spend my time praying.
“I told him that now I had inner peace. I could now go to sleep at night. A few weeks later he also became Muslim.”
However, other converts have been left disillusioned. Dawud Duncan, originally from Oban, who became Muslim nine years ago, believes the lack of support from fellow “heritage Muslims” – people born into Islam -has led some reverts to leave their newfound faith.?
“When a person takes the Shahada they are treated like a superstar and everyone wants to know their story. However, within a week they can be left to their own devices. This can make the individual feel very isolated as they are often caught between two communities.”
Duncan, who now lives in Glasgow, currently hosts an online radio programme for converts and also aims to set up a support and advocacy group. He hopes that issues raised by the group can be taken up by the leadership of the mosque to help avoid future problems.
“New Muslims have so much to offer the Muslim community and Scotland,” said Duncan. “This would include a fresh perspective and a deeper understanding of the cultural issues our society faces. Converts find it easier to explain Islam to a Scottish audience.”
His experience chimes with that of Saleem Mcgroarty, 43, from Edinburgh, a member of the Edinburgh Muslim Community Association who was raised a Catholic and converted to Islam at 26.
He no longer attends his local mosque due to concerns about its links to Saudi Arabia, a country with a very conservative approach to Islam, and has found it hard to integrate.
Mcgroarty said: “I think there should be some emotional and community support, a buddy network; the things you really need when you are moving into another world.”