Islam’s naïve neophytes
According to the 8th November Independent:
“Record numbers of young, white British women are converting to Islam, yet many are reporting a lack of help as they get used to their new religion.”
The article is unintentionally amusing – with its whining, self-pitying and pleading tone, and the Independent’s implicit assumption that ‘something should be done’ (by the government).
The naïve neophytes report that imams and worshippers at mosques seem reluctant to make allowances for the newcomers’ inexperience of Islam and generic liberal attitudes. Yet they joined this exotic, historically antipathetic belief-system essentially because it is stern and strong, and offers both a simple way of looking at a complex world and a sense of belonging. (Some people also relish theology for its own sake; many converts come from Christian sect backgrounds, or have previously sampled other religions in search of some ‘inner truth’.)
Early Christianity succeeded partly because it took root amongst women and groups which were, or which saw themselves, as weak and marginalized. It offered the frustrated the possibility of freedom and ‘progress’ away from a pagan universe of endless ‘cycles’ in which the strong and wealthy always won. This tendency was reinforced when political leaders adopted the new religion, because the majority of people in all ages and cultures have always cleaved to whatever happens to be the prevailing philosophy in their society. They in turn brought up their children in the new belief, and so what started as a kind of fashion accreted into a fervently held faith. Now that faith is fast becoming attentuated.
By contrast, today’s nascent ‘Euro-Islam’ seems to be at least partly a kind of reaction against too much freedom. It is attracting the loyalty of women (three quarters of converts are female) who are lonely and feel their lives are empty – arguably the outcome of 40 years of decline in family life. But the principle of attracting marginalized minorities is the same.
Islam is also on the increase among prisoners, who convert either out of sincere repentance or as a prudential measure to avoid victimization at the hands of Muslim prison gangs (Millie Dowler’s murderer Levi Bellfield is the latest notorious example).
In the face of this dynamism, mainstream Western Christianity offers only saccharine insipidity. The Catholic and (especially) Protestant centres are reasoning themselves into irrelevance; they cannot hold for ever.
In the medium term, Islam will continue to grow in Europe despite the difficulties these slightly pathetic new converts encounter as they struggle to reconcile their assumed Islamic identity with their inculcated liberalism and the manifold temptations of secularism, consumerism and rationalism. Religion is a psychological necessity for many individuals, and at present there is a vacuum at the heart of European existence which only Islam seems willing to fill.
But there is a long way to go before Islam predominates – if it ever does. The same cultural and intellectual pressures which have laid low mainstream Christianity are at work within Islam too. Some of these converts will revert, some cradle Muslims quit the faith every year, and millions of Muslims are already Muslim in name only. Even Islam’s most dangerous variants, about which Western policymakers are understandably so concerned, are small, divided and dependent on a very few sources of funding. Although mainstream Christians may be ceding ground to Islam, fundamentalist Christians (whose numbers are not shrinking) are not, and neither are Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and others. Seen over a perspective of several decades, Christianity’s current crisis may therefore eventually become Islam’s emergency too. But by then there may be no mainstream Christian Europeans to care.
Derek Turner, 11 November 2011