Advantages Easy to read, fascinating life stories, helpful comparative overview
Disadvantages Are there no happy endings?
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This brief 120 page book looks at various case studies of western women who convert to Islam, but who subsequently find things do not go as smoothly as they would have hoped. The book examines common threads from these case stories to look as various key points which are often not understood, not explained or even explicitly denied, of which the author thinks any woman considering converting to Islam should be aware.
The opening part of the book looks at the stories of various women whom Rosemary Sookhdeo has met in recent years. The things these case histories have in common is that the women we read about here all the women were drawn to Islam by things other than attraction to the teachings of the Qu'ran or Islam itself, but normally through falling in love with a Muslim man. In addition, some of the features of Muslim society were attractive initially - strong families, absence of drunkenness and loutish behaviour, and even the beauty of Islamic architecture. What equally emerges from the stories is how the initial high hopes are not met, resulting in disillusionment at best, (the feeling that their husbands were only interested in getting a permanent visa to stay in the UK) and in divorce, isolation, poverty, physical attacks and death threats at worst.From those stories, the author highlights various major cultural differences between the Muslim society and ours in the West. While she indicates that the problems encountered, particularly the subordinate role and second class status of women, are generally due to cultural expectations (be they North African, Middle Eastern or South Asian), the misogyny encountered is frequently reinforced and justified by teachings of the Qu'ran and Hadith (sayings attributed to the prophet Mohammed). She highlights the problems caused by the toleration of polygamy under Sharia law, and how the same law penalises women in the case of divorce and inheritance. She highlights how the different approaches to family law (marriage, divorce, inheritance) of Sharia law and British law mean that the women often are denied adequate protection and redress.
The third section highlights the differences between the picture of God given by Islam with the Biblical view of God, as understood by mainstream evangelical Christianity. This section was particularly useful in debunking the superficially attractive notion that Islam and Christianity are really quite similar. Put succinctly, the author's main premise is that Islam is based on submission to a wholly unknowable God, where entry to heaven is a reward for good works (although ultimately it is up to God to decide according to his own measure), whereas Christianity is about a relationship with a loving God, who has made it possible for us to enter heaven purely on the basis of what God has done for us, by Jesus dying on the cross - we cannot earn our place in heaven, but the good news is that we do not need to as it has all been done for us. The final chapter of the book sets out these differences in a very helpful table (ideal for a thumbnail comparison between the two faiths).
This book will hardly be welcomed by any of the many vocal organisations claiming to speak for the Muslim community. This is an inevitable consequence of the fact that the author is reporting on the cases of women who have been bruised emotionally by their encounter with Islam. Some converted willingly, others converted because they thought it was what their husbands wanted or expected from them and some didn't convert, but felt they were shunned as a result of the decision. All of them have renounced Islam, and have become painfully aware that apostasy (giving up Islam) is a source of shame for their Muslim friends and families, and can have horrendous, far-reaching consequences, even in some cases so-called "honour killings", ie murder, often at the hands of a close family member.There are some assertions that I found truly shocking - that the notion if truth can be subordinated to the need to prevent shame falling on the Muslim family; that faith in Islam is a one-way street, in that you can convert to Islam, but never leave; that Muslim men can date and marry non-Muslim women, but Muslim women cannot date or marry non-Muslim men, which is merely the mildest of the forms Islam-sanctioned misogyny described.
The question in my mind I am left with is whether these assertions by the author are a fair representation of what Islam is really like. We are frequently reminded by our political leaders that Islam is a religion of peace, that Islam is a great monotheistic religion worthy of our respect and that being a Muslim is no more an obstacle to being a full member of our society than being a vegetarian or a Leyton Orient fan. And yet, here are true life stories which show that tolerance between Muslims and the rest of society is a one way street, which reinforce the images of the grotesque spectacle of loud mouthed thugs taking advantage of the right to freedom of speech while inciting people to kill those who use their freedom of speech to 'insult' Islam.In summary then, this is a very interesting book, very easy to read, but it is a very disquieting book, showing the terrible situation some Western women end up in, when their dream life in an Islamic world turn sour. The clear message is to consider carefully what you are letting yourself in for before committing yourself to such a far-reaching change of lifestyle. Take the time to find out the facts, and not assume everything will work out alright. Go in with your eyes wide open.
Stepping into the Shadows: Why women convert to Islam
Isaac Publishing 2005
Paperback. 121 pages. £6.99
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Pages: 125, Edition: 2nd Revised edition, Paperback, Isaac Publishing
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