Mum, I've decided I want to follow Allah

Mum, I've decided I want to follow Allah

Western women are turning to Islam in rapidly increasing numbers. KAY
JARDINE discovers why they are so keen to become Muslims

Bullying, depression, and insomnia made Kimberley McCrindle's teenage
years particularly difficult. Taunts from classmates about her weight 
and how she looked left the 19-year-old student feeling like she didn't 
really fit in, and always searching for something that would make her feel 
happy, that would make her feel she belonged.

McCrindle, from a family of atheists, did not encounter religion until 
she began religious studies at high school in Penicuik, when her new 
interest prompted her to start going to her local church on Sundays. But the 
peace and happiness McCrindle was looking for eluded her until she started
college in Edinburgh, where she made friends with some Muslim people 
and discovered Islam.

"I was looking for peace," she says. "I'd had a rough past. My teenage
years weren't great: I was bullied at school, people called me fat and
ugly, and I was looking for something to make me happy. I tried to go 
to church once a week but I wouldn't class myself a Christian; I was just
interested. But it wasn't for me, I didn't feel in place there.

"When you walk into a mosque you feel really peaceful. Praying five 
times a day is really focused. It gives you a purpose in your life. The Koran 
is like a guide to help you: when you read it, it makes you feel better."

McCrindle became a Muslim three years ago and is now known by her 
married Arabic name, Tasnim Salih. She is one of a rapidly increasing number of
British women turning to Islam, thought to be the fastest growing 
religion in the world. Although there are no official figures on the subject, 
there is no doubt that the number of converts is on the rise and the majority
are women, according to Nicole Bourque, a senior lecturer in social
anthropology at Glasgow University and an expert in conversion to Islam 
in Britain.

"There are people converting all the time," she says. "I would estimate
that there are probably around 200 converts to Islam in Glasgow alone, 
but that's just a rough estimate. The data is difficult to acquire." Other
estimates put the Glasgow figure closer to 500.

Mohammad Faroghul-Quadri, imam at the Khazra mosque in Glasgow, says 
that whichever religion people choose to reach God, whether it's 
Christianity or Islam or something else, the important thing is that they are 
getting peace of mind and heart, and proper guidance from God.

The appeal of Islam to liberated western women is difficult for many to
understand, largely because of the widespread perception in the west 
that it treats women badly. A forthcoming documentary, Mum I'm a Muslim,
addresses this very issue by talking to converts in Sheffield about 
their experiences. At a preview in Glasgow, I asked a group of converts from
Glasgow and Edinburgh what motivated them to change every aspect of 
their lives, including their names, to become Muslim.

For 27-year-old Bahiya Malik, or Lucy Norris to her parents, it's
difficult to explain. Bahiya, who lives in Edinburgh, her twin sister,
Victoria, and their brother, Matthew, grew up as practising Christians 
in a rural area in the West Midlands, where they attended Sunday school in
the little church at the top of their road. As they got older, the 
three stopped going to church and seven years ago, at the age of 20, both 
Bahiya and her sister converted to Islam - six months after their brother.

"Maybe all through our teenage years we hadn't been that happy. I can't
really say what it was. I don't know if we felt there was something
missing or that we didn't fit in. We were a little bit shy and we 
weren't really outgoing sort of people," she says. At the time, Bahiya was two
years into a media and television course in Edinburgh but was feeling
uninspired. After around six months of learning about Islam, Bahiya
realised that living her life according to the rules of Islam was what
would make her happy and, during an emotional visit to a mosque in 
London, made her declaration of faith.

"I think it's something you feel in your heart, this pull," she says. 
"You can't really put it into words. It's like your heart speaking, 
something you feel inside and you know it's for you. Allah has chosen this for 
you, it's out of your power."

Women who turn to Islam are aware of the widespread western perception
that they are oppressed and discriminated against, but insist that the
depiction is a false image. For many it is a spiritual journey, which, 
far from repressing them, improves their social status and gives them new

"You seem to be really looked after," says Tasnim. "As a Muslim woman,
Muslim men really respect you; they do everything for you. You're 
highly thought of and protected." Bahiya says: "I feel that because you cover
yourself up you're not seen as a sex symbol, and because people can't
judge you on your appearance, they have to judge you as a human being.
That's quite liberating."

As an act of modesty, many Muslim women don't wear make up outside the
home and it is often a part of their old life that new female converts 
are happy to discard because of the liberating feeling that comes from 
knowing their appearance doesn't matter. They resist being shown as they were
before their conversion.

Hafsa Hashmi, who lives in Glasgow, converted to Islam 24 years ago and
felt life outside Islam was like having to "keep up with the Joneses".
Under Islam, however, she says: "Your aim is not for this life, your 
aim is for the afterlife. To some people that sounds pretty horrific: they
can't think about death, but in Islam belief in the afterlife is one of
its main features, because you know if you're doing the right thing 
you've got a better life to come. So why go for all the material things?"

Converting to Islam usually means a complete change of lifestyle for 
those who take the plunge, including a different diet, often a new Arabic 
name, and your time revolving around the five daily Islamic prayers. In the
workplace, some people organise with their employer a room where they 
can have some peace and quiet to pray. Wherever they are in the world, all
Muslims face in the direction of the Kab'aa, or the Holy House in 
Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during prayer.

For female converts, the experience can also involve a quite dramatic
change in appearance. Muslim law provides that women must dress 
modestly. The hijab, or the head scarf, is a particular focal point and can be a
tricky area for new Muslim women to deal with. Dr Bourque suggests this 
is because it is such a visible symbol of the faith. Tasnim wore the hijab
straight away, although she found wearing it in public scary at first
because she felt people were looking at her. She was then forced to 
take it off when she was out because of some of the comments directed at 

"People would shout, 'Go back home to your own country'. I had someone
spit at me once when I was standing at the bus stop at college."

Now, though, she wears it all the time and says: "People don't say
anything to me now and I feel more confident about wearing it." Bahiya 
was happy wearing the hijab from the beginning, but her parents found it 
quite difficult. She says her sister, her brother, and herself were lucky
because their parents were "quite good" about their conversion. For
others, however, families are not always so accepting, often because 
they know little about the religion and why their loved ones want to follow 
it. For Tasnim, telling her parents, who are atheist, was nerve-wracking.
"They thought I was going through a phase at first but they realised 
when I started wearing the hijab that I was serious. They started getting 
angry when I began to talk about getting married. They weren't too pleased 
that I'd met someone older than me, who was Muslim as well, and a different

While Tasnim and her mother are still close and enjoy a good 
relationship,they tend not to talk about her faith much. She and her father no 
longer speak. For Hafsa, telling her parents 24 years ago was perhaps even 
more difficult because converting to Islam then was anything but a common
occurrence. The reactions of her parents were totally opposite. "I 
think my mother felt that I was only becoming a Muslim because of who I was
marrying, but that wasn't the case because I had been introduced to 
Islam about four years previously although I didn't convert until I got 
married. It took her practically her whole life to get over it. When we got
married, my mum said, 'If you're happy, I'm happy', but obviously she
wasn't. My dad said it and he meant it, that was the difference between

Tasnim has been married to Sabir, who is Sudanese, for two years, and 
says she has never been happier. "I met my husband at college and it seemed
like the right thing to do. I was teaching him English and he was 
talking to me about Islam, and we just fell in love," she says. Bahiya's 
husband, Sharafuddin, is also is also a convert, formerly known as Cameron. They
have two children, aged two and four.

For Tasnim, Bahiya, and Hafsa, life revolves around the five daily
prayers, they cannot eat certain foods, or drink alcohol. But the women
say they miss nothing from the days before they converted to Islam. 
"Islam is enough for me," says Bahiya. "You don't need anything else once 
you've found it."

Becoming Muslim has provided Tasnim with the happiness and belonging 
she was looking for. "It's a complete change in your attitude, behaviour, 
and the way you think," she says. "I'm now more confident, happy and
satisfied. I've achieved the fulfilment I was looking for."

Mum, I'm a Muslim can be seen on Channel Four on Sunday at 8pm.

- March 8th


Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact for further information