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Sister act: A Muslim woman at prayer (AFP/Getty Images)

Following 9/11, the number of people converting to Islam began to rise. In the US it is estimated that approximately 30,000 convert annually. There are about 2.4 million Muslims in Britain and studies suggest there are between 10,000 and 14,000 white converts among them. It is estimated that 75 per cent are female.

As a feminist who rejects religion on the grounds that it promotes inequality between men and women, I wanted to try to understand why so many women are attracted to Islam. Its messages are clear about a woman's role. She will be subservient to her husband and devote her life to pleasing him and raising his children. "If a man calls his wife to his bed, and she refuses, and he goes to sleep angry with her, the angels will curse her until morning," is a popular phrase recited to Muslim women during religious study. 

"The true Muslim woman is always keen to win her husband's love and to please him. Nothing should spoil his happiness or enjoyment of life," says the Sisters' section of The website also has a section on how the Taliban upheld certain rights of women that are "non-existent in the West". 

Saskia converted to Islam 15 years ago during her first year at university. "I did so because I married a Muslim. I can't imagine why women would do it for other reasons." But prior to meeting her future husband, Saskia had begun to engage with Islam. "The Bible can be vague about the roles of men and women and I wanted certainty. Islam gave me that." She was brought up by an atheist father and a "pushy feminist" mother who occasionally attended church. "Although they had quite a traditional marriage, my mother made it clear that the only options for her daughter's future, as far as she was concerned, were an education and a career. I rebelled."

Soon after starting at university, Saskia began attending its Islamic Society through which she met Muayid, a Moroccan Muslim. "I was attracted to the conservative family values and the high esteem in which mothers are held." Dropping out of university, Saskia married Muayid and had two children within the first three years. But she was unhappy. "Marriage to Muayid was very hard. I wanted to be a good Muslim but he hardly prayed and almost never went to mosque." Saskia became increasingly devout and as a result tension built up in the relationship. The children would be taken to mosque every day to learn Arabic but Muayid was uninterested in their education. "He didn't even work, even though the Koran makes it clear that a man has to provide for his wife."

The fact that Muayid's family lived in Morocco meant that there was no pressure on him to change his ways. "The mother reigns supreme in Islam and even grown men have to respect and obey them," says Saskia. "If I needed Muayid to listen to me I would ask my mother to talk to him, which sometimes worked."

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March 13th, 2014
10:03 PM
The woman who was gang-raped and converted, may have been suffering from a form of Stockholm syndrome. There are many stories of clubbers who convert. They cite disgust with their former promiscuous, drunken lifestyles, and their satisfaction with their newfound modesty, but they could just have easily chosen a modest secular lifestyle. As far as I'm aware there is no party police forcing girls to go and behave horribly. Obviously some do it for marriage, and others as a form of rebellion. One thing I find interesting is that I've yet to hear someone say that they converted after a serious study of Islam and realising that it is the truth. I did meet a Muslim woman who converted to Judaism, but was too afraid to tell her family lest they try to kill her. Unfortunately, most of the western women who convert have no idea what they're getting themselves into - polygamy, sanctioned domestic violence, modesty patrols, etc. It's really very sad as millions of Muslim women would love to have the freedoms that these women are throwing away.

January 1st, 2014
9:01 PM
(("Violence and abuse are allowed")) This statement is false. In islam, it is not allowed for a man to abuse women physically or mentally. Its sad that many Muslims are ignorant about their own religion.

November 20th, 2013
3:11 PM
the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

October 8th, 2013
1:10 AM
People should understand that individual muslim's acts do not always portray islam... as with christians.. hitler was a christian... do we blame christianity for his acts? highly biased article!

September 26th, 2013
9:09 AM
If you study the Islamic history, you will find stories of Men and women who were living at the same time with the prophet Mohammad" peace up on him" who hurt and bothered the prophet while they were muslims and non muslims. The prophet showed them how they could behave for themselves, their families or for others. His respect and love to all specially children and women, the poor and slaves, the Black and white a real view of what Quran is teaching the human being. We, men/women, should follow Mohammad's "P..." manner in our lives to reach to the peak of rationality, morality and humanity.

July 3rd, 2013
1:07 PM
From the picture at the beginning of the right-up, I know its gonna be biased! The picture pictured somewhat unhappy covered woman, which try to portray that's how Muslim women are. Not minding to ask whether that's how Islam made it compulsory for the women. In the first place, covering of women's body is only in the presence of men who are not are close relations! And the Niqab/burqa (the picture) above is never compulsory in Islam.

April 21st, 2013
7:04 AM
So you think Muhammed (in the final story) acted upon the teachings of Islam? Absolutely not!. And so do many others who do stuff totally out of the fold of Islam and claim it to be affliated to the religion. Your final comment ".. choose a lifestyle that brings subjugated existence" makes me laugh out loud! I am a Muslim woman and the hijab has undoubtedly liberated me. And yes it was never forced over me and I choose to adopt it.

April 4th, 2013
3:04 PM
Interesting article which I think chooses to focus on people who are fundamental or are perhaps not able to explain in secular or articulate ways about why they converted. Why did I convert? I realised that many Western people are hostile to Islam and by default turn to Christianity, which in it's 2000 year history has been more oppressive towards minorities, women and slaves than any religion. Women are only human and Islam recognises this. It does not, as the article says, expect them to cover themselves head to toe. Even the face veil is not compulsory, but to cover the hair; a feminine aspect of beauty is compulsory. This is to protect their modesty and safeguard them from men's evil No, they are not blamed for their gender. The author also mentions 'Islams obsession with virginity'. I don't know where this misnomer has arisen. Muhammed himself married widows and divorcees. I doubt they were virgin at the age of 40 or more. Another quote: "Violence and abuse are allowed, even expected, because under Islam the man's word is law." is completely wrong. Many early muslims were soldiers and the Arabs had a warrior culture. Where has Muhammed allowed the hitting of women. On the contrary he was extremely kind and affectionate to his wives and his daughter. The author has chosen to concentrate on convertees alone, without doing primary research on Islamic texts or talking to proper Muslim leaders. The mosque attended is known for "extreme" views and the author should have done a variety of research. "Awlaki" mentioned in the article talks in his speeches about how women should play a greater role in society and how in the beginning of Islam women did play an important role and had freedom and he criticised conservative muslims of today for being to strict and conservative. Awlaki, touted in the West was an extremist, and his moderate views are not expounded in the article at all!

February 11th, 2013
12:02 PM
This is a very interesting article, including all the comments, I have had many questions to answer. Is it biased ? I think it just reflects experiences. In my experience I have seen my ex be used for passport and money reasons, as said by another commenter - how can these women be so dumb ? My ex grew up in a Northern UK town, and had seen the demographic change vastly during her life, out of interest she started to read about Islam to understand what this 'under culture' - was. She moved away ending up in London where she met myself, after a 7 month relationship together, she was introduced (by her Muslim Boss) to a man several years younger and an Illegal immigrant. My ex was a lady with low self esteem, so a man offering eastern promise - away from our rocky relationship (she was a difficult and stubborn woman) seemed like the better bet and off she skipped, citing a number of excuses - personally I think she just fell for him - even before we had split. That was 2 1/2 years ago, I have since moved on and got over things. This Christmas she started emailing me, and wanted to see me. A covert meeting was arranged, and I was truly shocked to find out she had converted to Islam and had married this man, he has since now been naturalised and been given a passport. She has also lent him a five figure sum so he can start a business. She tells me she is not very happy, and is quite isolated and restricted, she spends a great deal of time on her own in their flat, almost under curfew. They argue a great deal, in fact she feels quite threatened ... she said she would fear for her life if her husband found out we had met. Knowing her degree of stubbornness, I can only imagine at the tension within this type of relationship - she is now strongly of the opinion our two cultures should not mix like this. She says she wants to get back together again, but I am not sure ... she could just be putting out feelers. But I do know she looks unhappy and wants out, but she feels quite threatened, quoting terms like 'respect' and 'honour' ... and appears just stuck, living a thoroughly grey miserable and oppressed life. She is a reasonably well read lady - surely she should have realised that their maybe an opportunity for her to end up as she has - but blind by love she was ... and maybe that is why 75% of UK converts are women - driven by emotion not logic.

January 16th, 2013
12:01 AM
Attention is one reason why Western persons are converting to Islam. At the moment, Islam and more particularly Islamism is controversial. If you are having difficulty coping with what is going on in your life, ie. Western life, converting to a religion that is criticised within your culture for its infringement of human/civil rights (of followers and non-adherents) is an act of rebellion, by putting two-fingers up to the society perceived as the cause of your issues, and a cry for attention. The attention is being sought both from Muslims, who embrace the opportunity to advocate for their faith; as well as attention from the culture/faith being rejected by aligning with Islam, ironically feeling safe that Western political correctness and freedoms of religion/speech and anti-discrimination laws will protect your choice! I can't give you stats, but having dealt with some ardent Western converts, most did it for the context of marriage, and then felt they had to mount a defence of the sexism and inequality in Islam by appearing to embrace it wholeheartedly and being apologist about it, as the tenents espoused conflicted so much with their current civil rights and equal opportnity laws. They weren't converting spontaneously outside of marriage. There was an element of compulsion from their spouses who didn't want to be seen to have a wife independent or more accurately, disobedient enough, NOT to convert. Although Muslims can have a Christian wife, husbands are apostates to be put to death if they leave Islam and they also are under religious/cultural pressure to have children raised as Muslims, and eventually have full custody under Sharia law. Mothers may never be given access in Muslim countries with Sharia law. Even in countries without Sharia, custody beyond childhood (ie teenage years) is unlikely to be given to a non-Muslim. Three converts (two within marriages) were former drug/alcohol addicts who liked the structure and again, the sense of power from doing something shocking and controversial, within the protection of Western laws. In France for example, the vast majority of conversion occurs in prison where Muslims are greatly over-represented amongst inmates. To me this seems an act of rebellion from people having difficulty coping with their lives and seeking structure or attention. To become MORE Christian, within the prevailing Judeo-Christian-Secular culture of the West, which encourages individualism and thinking for oneself about moral issues (ie. less structure/tenents), doesn't attract the same attention.

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