Understanding the stages of conversion to Islam : the voices of British converts
This thesis analyses data provided by face to face interviews with a sample of British converts to Islam to find out how and why they came to convert, and what were the repercussions of their conversions. The work is placed in the context of the predominantly post-Christian British society in which they had spent the greater part of their lives and the existence of a sizeable community of British Muslims. Influential studies of the psychology and sociology of religious conversion are reviewed and applied to the data. These tend to leave a series of loose ends and fail to pin down the causes or reasons for the conversions. The encounter and reaction with a proselytising group, a key finding in many previous studies, is found to be lacking in the evidence of the current sample of converts. A need is found to broaden the analytic approach. A holistic academic framework is found that both enables the researcher to analyse the conversions as a process through time and allows for further fields of study to be incorporated in the analysis. Thus the stage model for analysing the conversion process proposed by Lewis Rambo (1993) is employed, with a minor modification. Rambo's stage model permits the researcher to include in the study the insights into the human predicament offered by classical Islam. Literature based on and including the Qur'an and sunnah is reviewed. This provides a way of linking together some of the factors previous researchers have considered significant in the conversion process. The degree of interaction with Muslims prior to conversion varied enormously. In all cases there had been some contact but it is not found possible to state that such contact was necessary for the conversions to take place. The Islamic concept of hidayah is proposed as a unifying concept that can account for the disparate factors and apparently random coincidences identified as having been factors in the conversion processes. The Islamic concepts of tawheed and fitrah also contribute to a unifying view of the conversion phenomena. It is found that the common factor in the 'interaction' and 'commitment' stages of conversion is not immersion in a group of people, but interaction with a book, the Qur'an. This proves to be the pivotal element in all the conversions in this study. The post-conversion experiences of the converts as they became members of the Muslim ummah are found to be broadly similar in that they had been unprepared for the differences between their view of Islam, based mainly on the original texts, and that of the mainly South Asian Muslim community which included a history of cultural accretions. The success of their socialisation with the South Asian Muslim community varied a little from person to person, language and culture being the main stumbling blocks, but major differences were found that related to the gender and ethnicity of the converts. Their relationships within the non-Muslim community continued with some modifications. Little evidence is found that social problems, linguistic and cultural barriers, or what the future might hold, had, or would, deflect the converts from their faith. This may be because they all came to Islam through the Qur'an. It is therefore suggested that research into the psychological effect the Qur'an has on its readers would shed further light on the phenomenon of conversion to Islam.