British converts to Islam are often left feeling isolated from their families and the rest of society, according to a new study.
Experts at Cambridge University’s Centre of Islamic Studies looked at the experience of 50 British men of all ages, ethnicities and faith backgrounds, to gain a snapshot of the experience of Muslim converts.
They found many were left feeling isolated and dislocated, partly due to stereotypes about religious extremism.
Abdul Maalik Taylor, who converted to Islam from Hinduism 20 years ago and now runs Islamic-themed tours of London, took part in the study.
He said he suffered considerably after converting: “It was a very challenging time and an experience I won’t forget about.
“I suffered physical and emotional abuse from my family. It was a very testing time.”
He said many felt demonised by media coverage.
“You find a number of stories that concentrate on radicalisation,” he said.
“If there are successful Muslim converts who have contributed to society and to Britain, they won’t get highlighted by the media.
“Why do the media have a set agenda to try and demonise us?”
The study, titled Narratives Of Conversion To Islam In Britain: Male Perspectives, said many converts found themselves a minority within a minority.
They are often targeted to work as informants for British security services and end up cut off from their families but only tenuously integrated within Muslim communities.
Men who convert in prison in order to instil discipline into their lives often find little support from their families or Muslim communities on release, increasing the risk of reoffending.
Professor Yasir Suleiman, director of the Centre of Islamic Studies, said: “In the West, conversion to Islam has been tarnished by claims of extremism (violent and non-violent), radicalisation, and, sadly, terrorism.
“It has also fallen victim to the general apathy towards faith in largely secular societies causing those who convert to be described by some as not only eccentrics, misfits, outcasts and rebels, but also as renegades, traitors or enemies of a fifth column who have turned their back on their original culture.
“Converts can be made to feel outsiders from the lives they have left behind and as new members of the faith they have embraced upon conversion.”
He said the report, which gathered together converts from white, black and South Asian backgrounds from across the UK, highlighted the need for convert-specific organisations.
The study found reasons for converting ranged from love, marriage and friendship to rational choice and an appreciation of music, arts and architecture.
Convert Adrian Heath said: “I always joke with people that it’s a bit like ‘coming out’ and I’ve discovered a lot of people who concealed this until the later stages.
“I was exposed as a Muslim to friends and family inadvertently and my parents took it hard.
“They never came to my wedding. I was also subject to some ridicule at work, which I now look back on as completely unacceptable in the modern world.
“I was ridiculed for my prayer times and to my face by people who had education and should have known better.
“As a white man in modern Britain, I’d never come across the feeling of being in a minority before and that actually quite shocked me.”