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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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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
10:10 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
1:07 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
11:07 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.

April 1st, 2015
6:04 PM
I am a white western women who just got out of a relationship with a Muslim man and it was honestly the best relationship I have ever been in. It was refreshing to be with someone who respected me and was constantly lifting me up whenever possible. I personally grew to adore the religion because of the standards that they hold themselves to and how patient they were towards me as a Christian. It was because of him that I grew closer with my faith in Christianity. His family taught me that the Muslims that you see mistreating their wives is about the person individually. They said to me should we judge westerners based on such shows like Jerry Springer or the wild college girls that like to go out and get drunk and have their one night stands. It was through talking to each other that we learned about each others countries and the difference between culture and religion. In the end our break up had nothing to do with our religion it had to do with because we just grew out of our relationship and needed to move apart to keep growing as individuals. We left the relationship having a mutual respect for each side. As to the reason why Western women are attracted to the Muslim religion is because of the respect that women get. For me it was such a breath of fresh air to feel but through many conversations I came to conclude that it all comes down to me and my standards with myself. There is no need for me to switch religions to respect myself. That all comes from within. I have come to realize that society has a very low standard for women so if the women does not have the right support she will fall to these low standards. So as a Christian women I felt it important to strengthen myself within and make a promise to God that I would wait until marriage to have sex again. By doing these little things I have raised my standards by so much and have empowered myself. So in all I have come to the conclusion that it is our culture that is to blame not the religions who try to protect our women.

March 20th, 2015
12:03 AM
Why do Western women convert? Because they have the right and ability to do so. Muslim women living in most Muslim countries do not have the right or ability to convert to another religion. "Apostasy" is a crime that is punishable by lashes or prison or - in some cases - death. Perhaps Islam in the context of Western values and law can reinvent itself to something more civilised and practical. The question people need to ask themselves is this: if Islam as a religion is so perfect (and there is no separation of religion and state in nearly all Muslim countries,) then why are Muslims leaving Muslim countries in numbers that accelerate every year? And that 100,000 converts sounds like a decent number - until you reflect on the fact that in a much smaller country, Australia, 70,000 people put down "Jedi" as their religion in the official census.

January 5th, 2015
7:01 PM
I am very annoyed to see that a lot of you think women are not allowed education in Islam, actually you are wrong. The Prophet (pbuh) wife was a business woman, not all women actually want a career and would rather have babies but those that want a career are allowed to have one. Getting married in Islam makes both man and woman complete half their religion, Muslim women should be held in high regard, as a mother you are three times more of higher status than the father is to your children. I am certainly in education but I also think that having children shows how much of a woman you are as well as having a career, and its not just the women that aren't allowed to refuse sex too many times, the men aren't either, unfortunately no one is a pure example of how Islam should be as Culture which is totally different from religion, has ruined Islamic morality. Muslim men appear to be male fachists because of their culture not because of the religion, and a lot of quotes from the Qur'an are misunderstood. Whatever is mentioned to men or women alone in the Qur'an applies to both sexes, you cannot comment on this if you're not Muslim or haven't studied Islam, it just terribly annoys me that people misunderstand Islam so much, Muslim and non Muslim. My mum's friend who is a revert always has said thank God I knew Islam before I knew Muslims, which says a lot before everyone starts commenting. Yes I do believe feminism has got out of hand, but I do not believe you need a man, as a Muslim woman, my mother is absolutely fine without one but men and women were created to benefit each other. Also, nowadays women think freedom is being allowed to walk naked in the streets and they discriminate women who cover up, might I say a man and woman should only keep each other for their spouses, call me old fashioned but you don't have to be naked to be free. I can certainly say a man who is not my husband or relative, they do not deserve to see my hair, my body etc, that's why these Islamic dress codes are put in place. I certainly know where I stand Islamically as woman and its in a high place, I know many Muslim women who are married, have a career and a family and that's how it should be, unfortunately men want to conceal the rights of the women that's why Muslim women look down trodden on. All of you thoroughly do your homework before you critisize, if its not your religion, don't you dare put it down, Islam is perfect, Muslims are not!

October 27th, 2014
9:10 PM
To Sonya Anew - I feel sorry for you if you believe what makes a woman is her man. In that case most women will be shit because their man is useless, shiftless or just plain garbage. You seem to think that it is fantastic for a woman to be nothing more than an item. I mean my horses survive of "man" and I to take from your comment that my wife - who has a PhD and is working on some serious research into cancer - won't exist if she had stayed with her long held belief of being single. I respect my wife 5000 times more as she is - independent, intelligent and witty - than I would EVER respect a piece of furniture that spreads it legs. Look at it this way most Muslim women do not get educated not because they don't want to be ignorant but because they are little more than broodmares during their fertile period and there is no need to be educated when your "husband" supplies all. Do you KNOW what happens to divorced Muslim women in some of the more extreme countries. If they don't starve to death because they have no support - either do to this or that or male family members being dead - then they are open to shame and even rape. Not to mention the number of "criminal" Muslim women for what is by all rights MINOR THINGS that get continually raped, beaten and assaulted in jail makes one SICK to call themselves human if Muslim belongs to the same race. Look up the religion and excerise your pea brain before you yap like a worthless cur.

August 6th, 2014
8:08 AM
I came to this article through google by curiousity. I am a muslim man but in no way I consider myself or any other human being's personal life style as the real reflection of what Islam is. I was very desapointed by this article and the way it was manipulated just to paint an unrealistic bad image about Islam and muslims. I don't recognise myself nor my culture within what was described here. If someone wants an answer to what Islam is or why so many people are joining Islam at a time where most religions are losing their grounds, they should go to the source. Quran tells you what is Islam, the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad (POH) reflected on his followers tells you what is Islam. Islam has liberated women, raised their status in the society and gave them the highest most noble role in the society. The prophet Says that the salvation (paradise) is under the feet of MOTHERS. A muslim came to him and asked him "Messanger of God, who is most worthy of my companionship? He said "your mother" then the man asked: then who? The prophet said, Your mother. The man said then who? he said, your mother, the fourth time the man asked then who? the prophet said: your father. A woman in Islam is a mother (which is the highest most sacred status in the Islamic society, she is a sister, a daughter and a wife. The prophet (POH) also said: "The best of you (muslims) is the one who is best with his family" many scholars interpret "family" here as "wife" and in the muslim culture when men are talking about their wives they often use the term My "family" to mean "my wife". In the other hand the prophets words action and life style are regarded as the law and the reflection of the God's message and every muslim is to take him as the absolute role model. Every detail and aspect of his life, words, behaviour have been reported and detailed. There is not one account about him beating his wives. It's the opposit. He was extremely kind and affectionate, playful and makes jokes with them. He gave his wives the ultimate role of Educating women in the society and after his death, they were the consultant of leaders in legislating governmental laws. In Islam the first most sacred beleif is the unicity of God and not to worship Idles and not to make partners to him. the second most sacred belief is to be kind towards your parents. It wouldn't stand out that a father would raise his children witnessing him opressing and beating their mother. It just doesn't fit in the teachings of Islam. Does Islam give men authority over women in the family? in the aspect of leadership yes. Does he have the right to oppress her? NO and a big NO. A wife can at any time question his behaviour, or decision or his way of bringing up his children if he is not being truthful to the teachings of Islam. He doesn't have the right to stop her from Educating herself for example. Actually I come to the conclusion that this whole propaganda against ISLAM and the huge attempt by the media to make ISLAM look and sound oppressive to women, not only rediculous but its an organised attempt to stop people from making a free choice based on the truth about Islam and it certainly doesn't answer why most of the converts are women while the whole media (which is 90% owned by a certain group of people with a speccific agenda) has successfully given this Evil image of Islam and that it's a religion that subject women. The same media that have shown the biggest terrorists of human history as fighters for freedom and democracy. The victims as terrorists.

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