The French newsweekly Marianne had a good article on religious conversion in its September 25, 2015 issue.

‘Ceux qui se convertissent’ — ‘Those who convert’ — is on their website in two parts here and here.

Whilst this concerns France’s converts to Islam, my American readers might find this of interest. It can only be a matter of time before this phenomenon — also present in the UK — becomes more widespread in the United States.

Highlights follow.

The figures

Dalil Boubakeur, a well-known imam who also serves as president of the French Council of Muslims (CFCM), says that 4,000 French men and women convert to Islam every year.

A national survey conducted by demographics service Ined-Insee in 2011 revealed that among France’s 2.1 million Muslims (some say 5 – 6 million), between 70,000 and 100,000 are French converts.

It should be kept in mind that, despite national councils for Muslims, there is no centralised record-keeping. The lack of reliability of the statistics is made more so by the fact that conversions can be done anywhere — the vow made by converts is simply recited three times before two witnesses. This can take place in a private home or a prison cell without the aid of an imam.

Whatever the case, imams around the country are reporting a steady increase in conversions.

Oddly — alarmingly — imam Abdelmalek of the Paris Mosque says:

Conversions doubled in the months following the events of Charlie

referring to the Charlie Hebdo / Kosher supermarket killings of January 2015.

It’s a worrying development, but Marianne discovered through their interviews that many young men are attracted to becoming warriors and dying in battle!

Statistics

As Catholicism is the main Christian denomination in France, Marianne focussed on lapsed Catholics for their article.

When I was young — so last century! — 90% of the French identified themselves as Catholics.

Today, that percentage has dropped considerably.

Marianne tells us that more and more French say they have ‘no religion’. Only 66% call themselves Catholic. Of those, only 10% are considered ‘practising’ — attending Mass once a month. Furthermore, for the most part, professed Catholics are older people.

By contrast, Islam is statistically a young person’s faith. Converts to Islam seek to convert their Catholic friends.

Who converts?

Having read about converts to Islam elsewhere in the French press, they share the following characteristics: poor religious instruction, a dysfunctional home, a penchant for crime and the search for structure (Islam) to set everything right. They also view the loving God of Christianity as weak!

More generally, young French people perceive Islam as being trendy, cool and robust.

It’s important to note those because more of us will be encountering such types in future, wherever we live. We should know how to counter these perceptions in a patient, biblical manner — and nip them in the bud.

Charles gave an interview to Marianne. He has taken the name Yunuss for personal and religious purposes. He grew up with an aunt in a council flat and was an active member of the JMJ (Jesus-Mary-Joseph) youth club.

However, as a young adult he left the Church and gravitated to satanism. He drifted into crime and served a prison sentence for robbery; he was part of a gang. He also engaged in gambling, alcoholism and adultery. He converted to Islam in prison because, for him, something was missing from Christianity, in his words:

The fear of God.

He likes that Islam

asks for the avoidance of certain things.

Charles admits that he backslid after his conversion once he left prison. Surviving a fist-fight brought him back to Allah. He now wears a beard, is married to a Muslim who wears a veil and has his own start-up. He enjoys the company of his fellow Muslims and looks forward to their ‘support’ for his business venture.

Another French convert, Régis Fayette, attended Catholic school in his childhood. He drifted into crime in his adolescence and became a Muslim at the age of 16. The two events were concurrent. He then began following a Sufi master and turned his life around. He became a rapper under his new name Abd al Malik. Later, he wrote books about his Muslim experience as a Frenchman. Last autumn, his film Allah bénisse la France (‘Allah blesses France’) appeared in cinemas around the country.

Marianne says that many European converts to Islam find Sufism attractive. A sociologist, Franck Fregosi, says that they are searching for ‘transcendence’ — what traditional Catholics and Anglicans term ‘mysterium tremendum’. Fregosi calls this type of conversion, largely seen among middle-class adults, ‘rational’.

Another of his conversion classifications is ‘proximity’, whereby working class youth without religion are recruited to Islam by the friends on their housing estate in metropolitan suburbs. M’Hammed Henniche, head of the Union of Muslim Associations in Paris’s Seine-Saint-Denis, explains that, often, such young people are struck by a life-changing event: a broken relationship, friend’s suicide, losing a job. Henniche says that Islamic tenets help them to make sense of the event and to move forward (emphasis mine):

We tell them that the right thing to do is to work, even at minimum wage, and to set up their own household rather than to look for the ideal woman or Prince Charming, which is pure telly, not real life. They need a community with regular meetings, prayers five times a day. There are loads of people at the mosque. We help them to find work, a spouse. We don’t leave them alone. Many come to get married.

It sounds rather cult-like, however, what this does say is that social misfits find friends in their spiritual home. In some ways Christianity was like that not so long ago when local churches were not only a place of worship but provided a social-employment network.

Twenty-three-year-old Alexandre-Ali gave his conversion story — one of proximity — to Marianne. His father left the marital home before he was born. The boy grew up in Alfortville, outside Paris. At school, he was intrigued by children who refused to eat pork for lunch. He left school at 14 and started working odd jobs. When he saw his work going nowhere, he attended a local mosque. At the age of 18, he converted, by saying the vow of confession before a friend of his. He said they had to redo it later in front of another witness. It took a few years before Islam had a personal effect on him:

I was very vulgar. I’m now polite. I used to argue with my mother. Now I’m calmer.

He is now married and taking graphic design courses. What he says about his personal associations echoes what M’Hammed Henniche described:

When I slip up, one of my ‘brothers’ helps me get back on the right track. We help each other. We support each other. We call on each other. Before, I knew a lot of people. Today, my circle of friends is smaller, but they are people I trust. I’ve cut bad company out of my life.

Conclusion

I do not have many remedies here other than the usual ones:

  • Make sure your children know and understand the Bible;
  • Teach them how to pray from early childhood, including memorising the Lord’s Prayer, later the Apostle’s Creed;
  • Ensure they understand the beliefs of their denomination;
  • Study the appropriate confessions of faith and short catechisms, where applicable — and encourage young children to memorise important tenets;
  • Be able to explain the Trinity.

Islam is very sure of itself with answers for everything. Denouncing the Trinity as polytheism is one principal way they encourage lax Christians to convert!

May we know the Bible and Christianity sufficiently to encourage and support those in the one, true faith.

Tomorrow: Muslim converts to Christianity

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