Why are So Many Westerners Converting to Islam?
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It is a fact that Islam is growing rapidly in the West. In the U.S. alone the number of Muslims has risen dramatically, from about 10,000 in 1900 to 3 million or more in 1991 (some authorities say 4.5 million). Most of this growth is due to recent immigration and the high birth rate of Muslims (5 children per family on average), rather than to conversion. Still, the number of those who convert to Islam is significant. In the U.S., the majority are African-American (a third of all Muslims according to most authorities), but there have also been significant numbers of Anglos to convert as well, many of them well-educated.
What is motivating people to turn to Islam? A recent article in Christianity Today (Aug 20,1990) reported that in the U.S., the average age of those converting to Islam (31) is about twice that for conversion to Christian faith (age 16). It listed 5 main reasons given for becoming Muslim: Islam's doctrine is simple and rational, all believers are equal, it is a "practical" religion, and lacks a priesthood. I read and clipped the article at the time, but when I recently pulled it out to re-read it, it struck me that those "reasons" merely parrot the arguments Muslim apologists use to propagate Islam. On reflection, I would say that all that they show is that Muslim apologetics is having some effect, but these are not necessarily what is motivating Americans to become Muslim.
An American Muslim interviewed in a fairly recent book (Neighbors: Muslims in North America. Friendship Press, 1989) gave the following reasons when asked why African-Americans are turning to Islam. I have heard the same things from African-Americans in Philadelphia more than once. First on his list is racism in the church. "The discrimination that we feel makes Islam attractive to us because it's a way of rejecting the culture that will not have us. In sociological terms I think that one of the reasons that many African-Americans go to Islam as opposed to Christianity--and many of us have been raised Christian--is that the people doing these things to us are also Christian." How often does one not hear it said, "America is no more segregated than at eleven o'clock on Sunday mornings." The second reason he gives is, I believe, also important in the conversion of Anglo-Americans. "Another factor--and this is part of what attracted me to Islam--is direction and discipline." Our society is disintegrating for lack of discipline, especially in the city. Through its disciplined life-style, to many people Islam seems to hold out the promise of helping them get their lives back in order again.
Finally, there is a third factor which probably no one would ever mention explicitly, for obvious reasons, but which, I believe, is nevertheless important. This is the fact that Islam offers a conversion experience and the opportunity to get one's life in order, without needing to confess ones sin and need of salvation. In fact, Islam makes quite a point of denying these truths. It tells people they do not need salvation; all they need is to follow the "guidance" of God's law, and they will make it to heaven. That is something the natural man likes to hear.
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