Why are They Converting to Islam?
Why are They Converting to Islam?

One of the things that worries the West is the fact that hundreds and maybe even thousands of young Europeans are converting to Islam, and some of them are joining terror groups and ISIS and returning to promote Jihad against the society in which they were born, raised and educated. The security problem posed by these young people is a serious one, because if they hide their cultural identity, it is extremely difficult for Western security forces to identify them and their evil intentions. This article will attempt to clarify the reasons that impel these young people to convert to Islam and join terrorist organizations.

The sources for this article are recordings made by the converts themselves, and the words they used, written here, are for the most part unedited direct quotations.

Muslim migration to Europe, America and Australia gain added significance in that young people born in these countries are exposed to Islam as an alternative to the culture in which they were raised.
Many of the converts are convinced that Islam is a religion of peace, love, affection and friendship, based on the generous hospitality and warm welcome they receive from the Moslem friends in their new social milieu. In many instances, a young person born into an individualistic, cold and alienating society finds that Muslim society provides  – at college, university or  community center – a warm embrace, a good word, encouragement and help, things that are lacking in the society from which he stems. The phenomenon is most striking in the case of those who grew up in dysfunctional families or divorced homes, whose parents are alcoholics, drug addicts, violent and abusive, or parents who take advantage of their offspring and did not give their children a suitable emotional framework and model for building a normative, productive life.

The convert sees his step as a mature one based on the right of an individual to determine his own religious and cultural identity, even if the family and society he is abandoning disagree. Sometimes converting to Islam is a form of parental rebellion. Often, the convert is spurned by his family and surrounding society for his decision, but the hostility felt towards Islam by his former environment actually results in his having more confidence in the need for his conversion. Anything said against conversion to Islam is interpreted as unjustified racism and baseless Islamophobia.

The Islamic convert is told by Muslims that Islam respects the prophets of its mother religions, Judaism and Christianity, is in favor of faith in He Who dwells on High, believes in the Day of Judgment, in reward and punishment, good deeds and avoiding evil. He is convinced that Islam is a legitimate religion as valid as Judaism and Christianity, so if his parents are Jewish or Christian, why can't he become Muslim? He sees a good many positive and productive Muslims who benefit their society and its economy, who have integrated into the environment in which he was raised, so why not emulate them? Most Muslims are not terrorists, so neither he nor anyone should find his joining them in the least problematic.

Converts to Islam report that reading the Koran and uttering the prayers add a spiritual meaning to their lives after years of intellectual stagnation, spiritual vacuum and sinking into a materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle. They describe the switch to Islam in terms of waking up from a bad dream, as if it is a rite of passage from their inane teenage years. Their feeling is that the Islamic religion has put order into their lives, granted them a measuring stick to assess themselves and their behavior, and defined which actions are allowed and which are forbidden, as opposed to their "former" society, which couldn't or wouldn't lay down rules. They are willing to accept the limitations Islamic law places on Muslims, thereby "putting order into their lives" after "a life of inanity" that they led before "discovering the light" of Islam that cleansed them from all their past sins and mistakes.

Some converts talk about their five prayers a day as an encouraging and strengthening experience, one that was missing from their previous lives. The direct, constant contact with the Heavens, from pre-dawn until the sun sets, gives them the feeling that He Who lives on High holds their hand, leads them in the paths of life, counsels and helps them deal with daily hardships. They feel that Islam has provided them with the spiritual food they hungered for.

The Islamization process is not immediate. It can take months and even years. The convert advances step after step, adopting something new at each stage: refraining from drinking alcohol (a positive step for anyone); avoiding pork (while being taught, correctly or not, that pork harms one's health); allowed one prayer per day in his native language; perusal of Islamic philosophic texts which he receives for almost nothing and which he sees as widening his intellectual horizons; going to prayer in a mosque, usually with Muslim  friends; meeting the Imam who gives the convert explanations on Islam; meeting other converts who can talk to him using the conceptual world they share.

Sometimes a trip to an Islamic country is part of the conversion process, a trip which lets the convert observe the "real life" of Muslims, identify with their problems and rejoice at their happiness.  Many young Westerners, taught to identify with the unfortunate, poor and persecuted, see Western society's behavior towards Muslim immigrants as discriminatory and wrong, a situation that makes them identify with these unfortunates living at the economic, social  and political borderlines of society.

Empathizing with Muslim suffering awakens the young person's curiosity. He wants to get to know the culture of these persecuted people, he sees their religion as exotic and romantic, as something he would do well to know better.

One of the significant sources of converts in the USA is the prison system, and there, the overwhelming majority of converts are African Americans. Thousands of them see Islam as a return to roots dating from the days before their ancestors were sold into slavery. They generally do not know that the biggest slave traders were Muslim Arabs that overran idol-worshipping African villages and sold their inhabitants into slavery. And in Arabic, blacks are still called "slaves".

African American conversion to Islam also stems from a desire to leave "white" society, perceived as Christian, and to take revenge for the slavery of the past as well as for the suffering inflicted by current discrimination and  shunting aside.  

There are chaplains in American prisons who provide religious services and spiritual support to those serving jail sentences. Among them, naturally, are imams who open the doors of Islam to prisoners. A charismatic imam can easily persuade prisoners to adopt his religion.

There have been cases where the conversion of one member of a family influenced siblings and other relatives to follow in his footsteps.

Young women are attracted to Islam because it offers them a society that espouses morals and modesty, something that is often non-existent in their former lives.
Young women are attracted to Islam because it offers them a society that espouses morals and modesty, something that is often non-existent in their former lives. They are sick of a life of permissiveness, promiscuity, hedonism, drugs and drink, all characteristics of the lives they led beforehand. Islam offers them a clean, sane, orderly and moral life, something they were missing. The rules of Islam mandate distance between the sexes and they like that, after years of sexual behavior that has no rules or limits. Young women who were victims of sexual abuse find comfort in Islam, along with honor and appreciation, in contrast to the humiliation they experienced before they converted.

The converts' parents see their joining Islam as equivalent to joining a cult, and some describe it as the "cult of Satan" that brainwashes their children and makes them vulnerable victims of emotional manipulation. They are deeply disappointed by their children's decision to convert to Islam and feel that their children are not only lost to them, but have lost their own identity. Some see their children's action as betrayal of the family, their society and the land in which they were born and educated. They fear that they may become terrorists. Most live in hope that the conversion is temporary, simply a youthful prank and that they will sober up, return to sanity and leave Islam.

The Islamic conversion phenomenon includes thousands in Europe, the USA, Australia and even Israel. A small number of converts goes one step further – quite a large step – and joins the Jihad in Syria and Iraq.  This is not new as, after all, there were converts in the ranks of al Qaeda.

The rise of ISIS gave the conversion phenomenon a big push forward, as thousands joined Jihad – many from countries with Christian majorities – in order to fight in the holy war for Allah. The large number of Western converts form a pool which acts as a significant  reserve , even if only a small percentage eventually joins Jihad. 

This is how the Muslim migration to Europe, America and Australia gains added significance in that young people born in these countries are exposed to Islam as an alternative to the culture in which they were raised. The challenge facing Western democracies is how to deal with this phenomenon and remain unscathed. This challenge is surfacing in all its seriousness right now, as masses of converts turn into a public from which a certain percentage turns into bloodthirsty Jihadists.

Written in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky