German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has warned that militant groups are deliberately trying to recruit converts to Islam to carry out attacks because are less likely to raise suspicion. “We have information from the Islamic terrorism network that they are actively seeking to recruit converts for their own terrorist aims,” Schaeuble told AFP in an interview Thursday. “The reason for this is obvious – they think that they will be less likely to attract the unwelcome attention of the security services,” he said.
Turkish authorities confirmed that they had arrested a suspected al-Qaida member wanted in Germany. Atilla Selek was detained in the central Anatolian city of Konya on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and preparing to carry out bomb attacks, with the aim of extraditing him to Germany, police said in a statement. Two German converts to Islam and a Turk were arrested in Germany in September, accused of planning massive bombings against U.S. and other facilities in Germany.
The recent arrest of two German converts on accusations of plotting terrorist attacks has placed Muslim converts in the European country under the microscope. “You can’t say that conversion to Islam carries an implicit tendency towards becoming a radical,” said Stefan Reichmuth, a professor of Islamic studies at the Ruhr University in Bochum. Last week, Germany announced the arrest of three people, including Germans who embraced Islam, for planning attacks on Frankfurt international airport and a nearby US military base.http://themuslimweekly.com/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=8EF250850E968DE76DA7BC26&MENUID=INTNEWS&DESCRIPTION=International%20News
Karlsruhe, Germany (dpa) – It would be wrong to cast a general cloud of suspicion over converts to Islam, German Attorney General Monika Harms said Thursday, following the smashing last week of an alleged Islamist terrorist cell. The revelation that two of those arrested on September 4 for planning potentially devastating bomb attacks against US targets in Germany were Germans who had adopted Islam provoked debate on the radicalization of converts. Speaking to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in an interview, Harms said many converts to Islam were peaceful, although watchfulness was needed. But she added: “We can’t cast suspicion on entire population groups. That’s not acceptable, and nobody wants that.
By Esra _zy_rek In a guest editorial, anthropologist Esra _zy_rek from the University of California, San Diego argues that German converts to Islam are not the threat they are claimed to be, and explains how converts make a valuable contribution to German society. Recently the German press has been filled with stories about how German Muslims are a hidden threat to German society. As an anthropologist who has conducted a year-long ethnographic research project among German Muslims, I observed a very different picture. Rather than being a theat, ethnic German converts to Islam are in fact a very valuable asset to Germany. They serve as a bridge between immigrant Muslims and non-Muslim Germany, and by doing so they help to create a well-integrated German society.
It’s not known exactly how many have converted to Islam in Germany Two of the men held in connection with a plot to bomb US military installations and other targets in Germany are converts to Islam. It has raised the question of whether converts are more likely to become radicalized. Perhaps just as shocking to many Germans upon hearing that the terrorist attacks planned could have been more deadly than those carried out in London or Madrid was the fact that two of three suspects taken into custody, Fritz G. and Daniel S., were Germans who had converted to Islam. It led Bavaria’s interior minister and premier designate, G_nther Beckstein, to argue that in certain cases, German authorities should keep an eye on people who convert to Islam. While there is no central register for converts, the conservative minister told the financial daily Handelsblatt last week that when “security forces learn of a conversion, they should establish whether it involves a liberal and humane form of Islam or an Islamist one.” The controversial suggestion has unleashed a discussion over the nature of conversion, religious zeal and the appeal that converts have to Islamic radicals.
The number of converts to Islam rose four-fold from about 1,000 in 2004. While previously mostly women followed their husbands into their religion, now converts come from all social groups and ages, across the board. There are approximately 3,22 million practising Muslims in Germany, the number of mosques is set to double shortly – and other new data also became available.
By Christine Armario UNION CITY, N.J. – Jasmine Pinet sits on the steps outside a mosque here, tucking in strands of her burgundy hair beneath a white head scarf, and explaining why she, a young Latina, feels that she has found greater respect as a woman by converting to Islam. “They’re not gonna say, ‘Hey mami, how are you?’ ” Ms. Pinet says of Muslim men. “Usually they say, ‘Hello, sister.’ And they don’t look at you like a sex object.” While some Latinas her age try to emulate the tight clothes and wiggling hips of stars like Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera, Ms. Pinet and others are adopting a more conservative lifestyle and converting to Islam. At this Union City, N.J., mosque, women account for more than half of the Latino Muslims who attend services here. Nationwide, there are about 40,000 Latino Muslims in the United States, according to the Islamic Society of North America. Many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting. Critics may protest that wearing the veil marks a woman as property, but some Latina converts say they welcome the fact that they are no longer whistled at walking down a street. “People have an innate response that I’m a religious person, and they give [me] more respect,” says Jenny Yanez, another Latina Muslim. “You’re not judged if you’re in fashion or out of fashion.” Other Latina Muslims say they also like the religion’s emphasis on fidelity to one’s spouse and family. But for many family members and friends, these conversions come as a surprise – often an unwelcome one. They may know little of Islam other than what they have heard of the Taliban and other extremist groups. That creates an inaccurate image, insists Leila Ahmed, a professor of women’s studies and religion at Harvard University. “It astounds me, the extent to which people think Afghanistan and the Taliban represent women and Islam.” What’s really going on, she says, is a reshaping of the relationship between women and Islam. “We’re in the early stages of a major rethinking of Islam that will open Islam for women. [Muslim scholars] are rereading the core texts of Islam – from the Koran to legal texts – in every possible way.” New views of women and Islam may be more prevalent in countries like the US, where women read the Koran themselves and rely less on patriarchal interpretations. “I think the women here are asserting more their rights and their privileges,” says Zahid Bukhari, director of the American-Muslim Studies Program at George- town University. ” Some Latina Muslims say they harbored stereotypes about Muslim women before deciding to convert, but changed their minds once becoming close friends with a Muslim. “I always thought, geez, I feel sorry for women who have to wear those veils,” says Pinet. Then she met her Muslim boyfriend and began studying the Koran with a group of Muslim women. She says she was impressed with the respect they received. “A women is respected because she is the mother, she takes care of the children, and she’s the one that enforces the rules,” Pinet says. “They’re the ones who are sacred.” Critics of the decisions of Latinas to convert to Islam say they are adopting a religion just as patriarchical as the Roman Catholic faith that many are leaving behind. “While it’s true the Latino culture tends to be more male-dominated, and there’s a tendency toward more machismo, I would venture to say it exists [in Islam] as well,” says Edwin Hernandez, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Latinos account for six percent of the 20,000 Muslim conversions in the United States each year, according to a report published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Anecdotal evidence suggests this number may be rising. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier for the women who make this choice. “At first it was anger and then more like sadness,” Nylka Vargas says of her parents’ reaction when she told them she was converting to Islam and began dressing more conservatively. “They would sometimes feel strange being around me.” Pinet’s family has been more accepting, but she too has encountered some resistance in her community. It’s as if you’ve betrayed your own kind,” she says. For some, the cultural differences are the most trying. “I can’t eat pork, I can’t wear [form- fitting] clothing, I can’t dance in the clubs, I’m not gonna attend church,” says Ms. Yanez, who is of Cuban and Spanish descent. “But I keep my language, and there’s still things that we do as Latinos that they don’t have to change.” Within the Islamic community, Latina Muslims report being warmly received, although language barriers sometimes exist for Latinas who only speak Spanish. There are few Spanish services at mosques and a limited number of Islamic texts in Spanish. Grassroots organizations specifically for Latino Muslims have been created in recent years. They function in part as an informational resource for new converts and but also as a support group for those who encounter difficulties at home. Ultimately, Latina Muslims say that time heals the divisions and angst their conversion sometimes causes among friends and family. “What I had to learn was patience,” says Vargas, whose family came to accept her religious beliefs after several years. “Sometimes things are not as we want them.”
M. Elizabeth Roman, Telegram & Gazette WORCESTER – On the door outside Juan Perez’s home, a hand-written sign asks visitors to respect the Islamic custom of removing shoes before entering. The sign is one of the only indicators that this young Latino father, his wife and four small children tend an Islamic household. Inside, a person is likely to see the Hispanic cartoon character “Dora the Explorer” on the television, hear the sound of a rhythmic salsa band on the radio, or smell the aroma of adobo cooking in the kitchen. “As Latinos, we are a passionate people,” Mr. Perez says as he cradles his 1-1/2-year-old baby while his 3-year-old daughter, Mia, lightly kisses the child on the cheek. “Islam covers every aspect of your life; it’s not just going to church and praying. It deals with marriage, divorce, wills, orphans, what to eat, what not to eat. As Latinos, when we do something, we go full-fledged into it.” The Perez family is among an estimated 150 Latino converts to Islam in Worcester, reflecting a trend that researchers have taken note of in recent years. A 2001 study on faith communities, coordinated by Hartford Institute for Religious Research and conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, indicated Latinos made up 6 percent of all converts, which at approximately 60,000, made them the third-largest segment. The growth of this population can also be seen by the creation of bilingual Islamic centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, California’s San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, Florida, New York and Atlanta. Each site reports having hundreds of members and offers publications translated into Spanish. In addition, chapters of the Hispanic Muslim organization Latino Dawah are located in Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas and Arizona. “It is easy to accept once they found out what it is,” said Jason Perez, who, like his brother Juan, converted to Islam. “It is almost impossible to find a Latino that is an atheist because of our struggle. Being poor, we know it is the miracle of God when we get food. We know that it is not just our own work that helps us survive; we survive with the help of God.” In addition, many Latino converts profess that they do not give up any of their heritage to convert to Islam, but in fact learn more about their cultural roots. “Islam connected me with the struggle for self-determination and the struggles with the natives of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Perez says, adding that many Latino expressions and surnames originate in Islamic culture. “It’s not an Arabic culture thing,” said Adolfo Arrastia, executive director of the Worcester Youth Center for 10 years. “Only 15 percent of the Islamic population around the world is Arab. It’s amazing the amount of people that are Muslim, including people from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Mexico.” Mr. Arrastia converted 31 years ago in New York City. “It fit me like a hand in a glove,” he said. “Islam tells you to be a part of the community; to stand up against injustice. It gives me guidelines in how to be an activist without hurting and causing injury.” Juan and Jason Perez grew up down the street from the mosque in Plumley Village with a group of close friends, most of whom have also converted to Islam. Some of the friends, including Jason, now live in Pennsylvania, where they are learning how to translate ancient African manuscripts at the Sankore Institute. They were raised Catholic and even attended Catholic school, but when they had questions about the Holy Trinity and other Catholic doctrine, the brothers say, they were admonished, which made them move away from the church. “But I was involved in the street life and it wasn’t bringing me happiness,” Jason Perez said in a telephone interview from the institute. So despite the fact that neighborhood friends used to think the mosque was a satanic church, Jason decided to visit after his Islamic roommate encouraged him. “I jumped in and loved it,” he said. He said his mother was not opposed to him converting to Islam because he stopped smoking marijuana and began respecting and helping her any way he could, as instructed by the religion. “Latinos love Jesus and Mary – the Muslims do too,” Juan Perez said when describing the similarities between Islam and Christianity.
By ANDREA ELLIOTT In the wake of 9/11, Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Egypt and other countries have found themselves living in a newly suspicious America. Many of their businesses and mosques have been closely monitored by federal agents, thousands of men have been deported and some have simply been swept away – “rendered” in the language of the C.I.A. – to be interrogated or jailed overseas. But Muslim immigrants are not alone in experiencing the change. It is now touching the lives of some American converts: men and women raised in this country, whose only tie to the Middle East or Southeast Asia is one of faith. Khalid Hakim, born Charles Karolik in Milwaukee, could not renew the document required to work as a merchant mariner because he refused to remove his kufi, a round knitted cap, for an identity photograph last year. Yet for nearly three decades Mr. Hakim’s cap had posed no problem with the same New York City office of the Coast Guard. In Brooklyn, Dierdre Small and Stephanie Lewis drove New York City Transit buses for years wearing their hijabs, or head scarves, with no protest from supervisors. After 9/11 the women were ordered to remove the religious garments. They refused, and were transferred, along with two other Muslim converts, out of the public eye – to jobs vacuuming, cleaning and parking buses, said the women, who are suing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit. “I’m a U.S. citizen and I’m supposed to be protected,” Ms. Lewis, 55, said with tears in her eyes. “On 9/11 I was scheduled to take policemen to that site. I felt compassion like everyone else. And now you’re singling me out because I’m a Muslim?” New York City Transit officials said they would not comment because the case is in litigation. Regardless of how their cases play out legally, Mr. Hakim, Ms. Lewis and other converts have come to view America after 9/11 through a singular lens. An estimated 25 percent of American Muslims are converts. Some came of age as Americans first and discovered Islam as adults.