LONDON, February 26 (IslamOnline.net) – Jonathan Birt, the son of Lord Birt and Emma Clark, the granddaughter of former liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith, are only two of 14,000 mostly-elite white Britons having converted to Islam.
In the first authoritative study of the phenomenon, carried by the Sunday Times on February 22, some of the country’s top landowners, celebrities and the offspring of senior Establishment figures have embraced the Muslim faith after being disillusioned with western values.
The new study by Yahya (formerly Jonathan) Birt, son of Lord Birt, former director-general of the BBC, provides the first reliable data on the sensitive subject of the movement of Christians into Islam.
He uses a breakdown of the latest census figures to conclude that there are now 14,200 white converts in Britain.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his faith this weekend, Birt argued that an inspirational figure, similar to the American convert Malcolm X for Afro-Caribbeans, would first have to emerge if the next stage, a mass conversion among white Britons, were to happen.
“You need great transitional figures to translate something alien (like Islam) into the vernacular,” Birt, whose doctorate at Oxford University is on young British Muslims, was quoted by the Times.
“The image of Islam projected by political Islamic movements is not very attractive,” he said.
Initially, Birt said he had no coherent reasons for converting, but “in the longer term I think it was the overall profundity, balance and coherence and spirituality of the Muslim way of life which convinced me,” he said.
Meanwhile, it emerged this weekend that Emma Clark, the great-granddaughter of a British prime minister has converted.
Emma, whose ancestor, the Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith, took Britain into the first world war, said: “We’re all the rage, I hope it’s not a passing fashion.”
Clark, who helped design an Islamic garden for the Prince of Wales at Highgrove, his Gloucestershire home, is now helping create a similar garden for a mosque in Woking, Surrey, on the site of a car park, said the British newspaper.
Furthermore, fresh evidence came this weekend that Islam has received formal acceptance at the heart of the Establishment.
The Queen has approved new arrangements to allow Muslim staff at Buckingham Palace time off to attend Friday prayers at a mosque.
A member of staff in the finance department is the first to take advantage of it, said the British paper.
Others have come to Islam through love or marriage.
Kristiane Backer, a former girlfriend of the cricketer Imran Khan, said she was introduced to the religion through love but converted after her break-up.
She has shrunk from speaking publicly about her religion before because of fears it might affect her work prospects.
“Imran sowed the seeds, but when (the relationship) finished (the faith) took on a momentum of its own,” she said.
Drawn to Sufi mysticism, Baker said that white converts had to overcome prejudice both from those born into Islam and from non-believers.
“In the mosque women come up and say to me, ‘You have hair showing: you must cover up completely.’ I say, ‘Mind your own hair, you’re here to think about God’ ”.
Many converts have been inspired by the writings of Charles Le Gai Eaton, a former Foreign Office diplomat, it added.
“I have received letters from people who are put off by the wishy-washy standards of contemporary Christianity and they are looking for a religion which does not compromise too much with the modern world,” said Eaton, author of Islam and the Destiny of Man.
Some prominent converts are even more wary, said the Times.
The Earl of Yarborough, 40, who owns a 28,000-acre estate in Lincolnshire, declined to discuss anything about his faith.
“I have nothing to say to you,” said Yarborough, who has apparently taken the name Abdul Mateen.
Muslim leaders are harnessing modern campaigning methods to promote their faith. Groups have sprung up on the internet (http://www.salaam.co.uk/themeofthemonth/june02_index.php?l=6) publishing “trophy lists” of white converts.
The state-funded school in London founded by Yusuf Islam, formerly the singer Cat Stevens, has turned to Premiership footballers to provide role models, said the Times.
Sources close to the school say converts including Nicolas Anelka, the Manchester City striker, and Omer “Freddie” Kanoute, of Tottenham Hotspur, have made visits.
The trend is being encouraged by Muslim leaders who are convinced that the conversion of prominent society figures will help protect a community stigmatized by “terrorism and fundamentalism“.
The Muslim Council of Britain has co-opted Joe Ahmed-Dobson, son of Frank Dobson, the former health secretary, to chair its regeneration committee.
“The community has been unfairly targeted and these developments encourage it in a time of difficulty,” said Zaki Badawi, chairman of the Imams and Mosques Council.