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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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September 3rd, 2017
4:09 PM
How can a mother held supreme in Islam when the next thing she said "If I needed Muayid to listen to me I would ask my mother to talk to him, which SOMETIMES worked". If it really supreme, then it should be always or at least often. Not "sometimes". And the important of mother (or father, parent) is universal in every culture, it's not just in Islam or religion or particular nation. It seems to me that she was just trying to makeup as much reasons to justify the dogma of Islam, perhaps to has a (false) sense of security and respect.

February 16th, 2017
1:02 AM
At first,I think people can change despite the fact that religion want to remain the same. Second, many sources of Islam like hadith ... ,besides Quran, must be read critically since they were written at least 100 years after prophet so you may see some exotic things in it. Therefore, some western historian who like to depict a bad face of Islam take those exotic things and neglect analytical thinking. For example, using those source one can deduce that Muhammad married Aysha when she was a child while it is not true. Since using some brain in reading those sources, one can see that she was between 19 and 24. If this depicting is not conspiracy, then what would you call it? Before I came west, my view about Muslims were very bad for no reason (even I was a moderate and good Muslim). But when I saw western people in front and their disrespect to Muslims, black people, and east Asians ... I thought by myself what was wrong with me as a Muslim. I was very tolerant, kind, never did a bad thing.... So, why should I judge Muslims according to western medias while ordinary Muslims are really kind and hospitable. Ironically, I found the good face of Islam in west! Here, people are very selfish, disconnected, disrespect to non-Caucasian... . While as a Muslim I really love Christians, Jews,... because Quran teaches its believers that Christians are true friends of Muslims, ... and Christians, Jews ... go to heaven because they believe in God and do good. Even in first centuries of Islam, Jews and Christians...had their special courts... . Islam 1400 years ago was very progressed and tolerant than western societies now, so I can be much more progressed than that time.

July 1st, 2016
9:07 AM
I'm an orthodox Christian from India and this importance to mothers is in our culture as well perhaps it's because you haven't met many religious folk from the east. Our churches are full with people and people do tend to give importance to women even after having all the freedoms of western Christianity as well

June 5th, 2016
9:06 AM
Person A:Western women are free to believe whatever they want, be athiest ,christian or whatever Person B:or Islam Person A: no no she can't be a Muslim , that's not liberating Person A:in west women are free , she can do whatever she wanna, she can wear whatever she wanna, we are progressive nations, we look into the inside and don't judge by looks, we don't call a mini skirt girl a bad girl Person B:and what about nikab or borko Person A: no I don't like terrorist ---these are type of conversations we get about women But the observation is:In the public news Islam disrespect women, but when it comes to personal experience , many women tend to choose Islam cause I think they feel Islam can understand women , when no man could I think that's why more women converting

May 31st, 2016
9:05 PM
I am a formerly Muslim man born to immigrant South Asian Muslim parents in the USA, and I grew up in a small southern town. The reasons why I rejected Islam as well as Orthodox religion of any sort might give me a bit of light into the matter of why one might make the mistake of converting to Islam. Before 9/11 I could feel comfortable knowing that the religion my parents believed in coincided with many of the values and viewpoints, that the predominantly Christian populace in my hometown espoused, a good example was opposition to same sex relations, importance placed on women knowing their place, intolerance for people of other faiths and an obsessive fixation on religious literature written thousands of years ago, needless to say assimilation was not hard where I was, discussion regarding religion hardly arose before 9/11. After that terrible day things changed, ironically not on the part of the outsiders, but on the part of family members, the country that had been their country for decades and mine for my entire life now was treated as the enemy, regularly I was bombarded with conspiracy theories of how America wishes to annihilate Islam and about how supposedly the Zionist Jews control all world affairs from finance, to media, to military. Growing disheartened with this I decided to read the Quran for the first time, along with the Hadith, later books of other such as the Bible, the Talmud. I was disappointed to know through reading the Hadith that Muhammad practiced child marriage, and advocated the taking of female prisoners of war as sex slaves. While my perception of Islam changed. Learning the realities of Islam I felt free because I finally felt the drive to leave, I understood that a woman who has sex outside of wedlock isn't a whore, but simply a woman, I realized that gays were not an abomination, but just people who had a different preference sexually, I realized I never wanted to hate people who "sinned" but I was pressured and made to hate them. I opted to embrace American culture to the fullest. However as I remained constantly curious about my surroundings I decided to look at things more objectively and through the experience I learned that. We have our flaws as a society as well, campus rapes, are far too common, rape victims do not get justice as often as we would hope. Women have to put on make up which will eventually ruin their skin, wear uncomfortable heels which will ruin their back, and bras which are painful to gain societal approval just as in Islamic countries, a woman must be covered very thoroughly in extremely hot weather, or fully cover themselves while publicly swimming which causes a drowning hazard. Misogyny is everywhere. While religion such as Islam or Christianity by definition cannot be changed as creating change in religion is blasphemy, we as people can, however here in the West while we changed quite a bit we have not changed enough, women are still drugged and raped in bars, the sex industry treats women as a commodity for males as opposed an equal human being, thus some women still feel the illusion that if they escape to some exotic value system from some far away land Western problems won't affect them, while neglecting to consider new problems that may arise, problems that can be more life threatening than the western ones such as public stoning due to the accusation of adultery, or repeated marital rape in an Islamic country that has no law forbidding marital rape, and requires that a woman provide two male witnesses in the case of non-marital rape. In short I am a man who rejected Islam and believes that Islam is more dangerous for women than western issues facing women, however women who are victimized may too often overlook the problems they will face upon converting because they are generally aggrieved by issues they are facing in western culture. I am a feminist, I wholeheartedly believe that religion, hijab(Islamic dress), bras, make up, marriage, porn, uncomfortable high heels, objectifying women in pop culture are all tools in oppressing women, too often women leave one form of oppression for another form of oppression, just as battered women often enter abusive relationships in the future.

February 22nd, 2016
7:02 PM
Recently I have been very interested in studying Islam and have attended prayer at the mosque. I have several Muslim friends and we have frequent discussions about religion. While at mosque, listening to prayer and the service, I felt very sad. Sad because families are separated. Sad because I sense sadness and anger in the room, in the sermon. As a woman I sat with the other women in a small dingy room separate from the men, even entering through a separate door. Why can't men and women sit together with their families? I understand they say that the mother is most important...and yes, mothers are important but so are fathers, and equally so. BOTH parents are important. Husband and wife as a team are important. Not separate. Why does one have to be more or less important? Also, at what point do men (and women) become responsible for their own thoughts and actions? Men not being able to control NOT raping a woman because she wasn't covered?!?! Women not being able to NOT judge another woman because of her appearance and not her personality?!?! What is wrong with people?!?! Maybe Islam truly helps some people...I just happen to find it very sad.

November 15th, 2015
9:11 PM
Some people are strong, some people are weak. Some people need a blanket to cower beneath during a thunderstorm. Some admire the rain. I believe, the reason why a western woman would convert to islam, is simply because that some woman need the rigidity, and comfort that Islam provides. Some men need that too. Some people need somebody to tell them the 'why', in life. A world without meaning is just too terrifying for some people. Not every one can live in modern western world. Not every woman wants to be her own 'man', some women may truly want to be kept comfortable by her man. A guy that will tell her everything she needs to know. Provide everything that she needs. Some guys actually doing both! People are strange.

October 7th, 2015
9:10 PM
The article is contradicting itself in some areas and feels choppy in others. This should be discussing why Western women in particular are so attracted by the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). I cannot speak for practices in predominantly Islamic countries. But in the West, women are CHOOSING to revert, why is that such a difficult concept to grasp? And not everyone reverting is a minority, not everyone is doing it because they are getting married. It is however, not fitting into the prescribed norms of Western society and it seems that the West needs to either feel sorry for reverts, or demonize them for making that choice. I say that because the author makes the point to associate all the negative stereotypes about Islam with the individual's experience and then make it look like this is the norm. People are good or bad, no matter what religion. There are mass murderers that don't believe in anything. There are religious fanatics of other religions that abuse their scripture to suppress their wives. In the end, women (in the West) who revert, who are Muslim following the Qur'an, do so out of their own free will and choice. Why is that so difficult to accept? They have the choice to leave it if they feel it does not satisfy them spiritually.

July 29th, 2015
12:07 AM
1) I think one of the attractions of Islam as a religion is that one can start afresh -- everybody's born innocent, one can repent for their wrongs and start with a clean slate. In other words it provides a means to move on from a previous state of mental stalemate. 2) Unlike a lot of other religions, Islam provides a structure (albeit rigid), as opposed to a rather hectic and seemingly consumerised lifestyle that many in the West are forced to live by. A lot of the times we, humans, get baffled by choices -- evolutionary psychology suggests that we gravitate towards choices that require the least amount of energy and effort. If one is given a structure; i.e. when to wake up, pray, eat, etc. it makes it a lot easier. 3) I am pretty sure the readers commented on Muslim women being oppressed probably have never met one or generalising based on what the media fed them. Like any religion or society, there is a small minority who may try to oppress women but my experience tells otherwise. Women had the right to their parent's and husband's property since the beginning of Islam. An Islamic society, true to the principles, will treat women with respect -- more so than a lot of other societies. I personally am not in favour of looking for reasons behind somebody's lifestyle choices. Who are we to judge people? Have we looked at ourselves in the mirror lately?

July 16th, 2015
10:07 AM
Convert to Islam ? I played with the thought to do so because I was initially impressed with the way they prayed TOGETHER.I soon realised that most Masjids do Not even let females enter through the front door much less let them pray inside the Masjid behind their men as it was practiced in the days of Prophet Muhammad.As a western raised women I can simply not comprehend why the very men praying to THEE GOD would deprive their women from their rightful place inside the Mosque behind their men to nurture her spiritual needs as well.I have since been doing a lot of reading ( Quran) and find that Islam is a MALE oriented religion in which women are hardly even seen.Maybe some women dont mind this practice of religious separation inside the Masjid and maybe they feel honored that the men give them often ugly side rooms to pray in under the pretense of "privacy" maybe that is all they have ever known.In my opinion and based on what I have found out over the past year by trying to find a masjid that will practice ISLAM the original the real way,Islam has been influenced by cultural practices which are discriminating and oppressive to women.Females are expected to pray behind barriers obstructing their view,behind curtains,wall,balconies with glass walls where the females are "kept" like apes in the zoo.It seems to me that every effort has been made by those in charge to remove women from the Masjids.The practice of Islam has been altered by the "brothers" to suit their own needs at the expense of the sisters and that STINKS to the heavens ! Their poor excuse is ?? women distract them from prayer ??? In the last row behind men ?? All covered up from head to toe ?? Really ?? Truly the brothers ought to pray to Allah to give them more resistance to the female distraction they claim is bothering them.PURE sexist oppression that is what I think.If I had a choice between Muhammad or Jesus ?? Guess ? Why dont you start to educate yourself and READ compare the Quran to the Bible,Jesus to Muhammad and then think about if you still want to convert.

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