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 Muslimconverts.com. 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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