DUBAI - Presenting an insight into the lives of British women who choose Islam, a new study has looked into the cultural pressures and lack of support some women face after conversion and the role they play to bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the society.
We have endeavored to describe the experience of women converts to Islam in contemporary British society, Professor Yasir Suleiman, founding director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at University of Cambridge, told Zawya Emirati website on Sunday, March 10.
The relationship between the convert and the heritage Muslim communities and wider society is explored with reference to their political, social and religious contexts.
Meeting at the event, experts at American University of Sharjah (AUS) and the University of Cambridge presented their insights into the cultural pressures and lack of support some converts may endure.
The study, entitled Narratives of Conversion to Islam in Britain - Female Perspectives', was launched at an event hosted by the American University of Sharjah.
It was prepared earlier this year by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge in association with The New Muslims Project, Markfield.
The study narrates stories of women who have converted to Islam, dealing with different issues affecting them including; hijab, marriage, divorce, polygamy, domestic violence and mosque provisions for female converts.
Dealing exclusively with female converts to Islam in Britain, the study also tackles the challenges facing the children of convert mothers and the role converts play as bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims in the British society.
Professor Suleiman said that white women converting to Islam were more visible' in society and that wearing scarves made them stand out.
The question of dress, the hijab is an important one, he said.
I think there is a difference between wearing the hijab and being worn' by the hijab. Not every convert wears the hijab. It depends on how you feel about the faith and the culture you live in.
Locality is a factor. If you live in a small town, initially it's harder to wear the hijab than if you live in London, because you can just disappear in London.
Coming from diverse cultures and ethnicities, identification with a wider Muslim community posed a challenge for many converts.
For many converts identity is a fluid and continuous process of self-evaluation and re-evaluation, aligned with the possibility of arriving at a comfortable sense of Self, said professor Suleiman.
Perceptions of identity change or evolve as converts develop their own understanding of their faith, he added.
Nawar Golley, Associate Professor in Literary Theory and Women's Studies at AUS and panel moderator, said she was impressed with the report that portrayed a realistic picture of the women converts in Britain.
The report shows the need to help converts integrate into Muslim society, in order to enable them play a positive role, she added.
Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.5 million.
The majority of the multi-ethnic minority has Indian, Bengali and Pakistani backgrounds.
Last December, the 2011 census was released, showing that the proportion of Muslims rose from 3.0 percent to 4.8 percent, becoming the fastest growing faith in Britain.
In 2011, think tank Demo found that Muslims in the United Kingdom are more patriotic than the rest of population.
Responding to the statement I am proud to be a British citizen, 83% of Muslims said they are proud of being British.