N.Y. bomb plot: What radicalizes some converts to Islam?

The case of Jose Pimentel, an “al-Qaida sympathizer” accused of plotting a bomb attack in New York, has once again focused our attention on why converts to Islam appear to be so fascinated by violent jihad. Is there something in the act of conversion that transforms normal citizens into messengers of death?

For the answer, let us look at the pattern of converts to Islam in the West. In the last generation we have had many high profile converts such as Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens, Sheik Hamza Yusef, Ingrid Mattson, and of course, one of the most famous of them all, Muhammad Ali, the great boxer. Each one of them brought their extraordinary talents to Islam and promoted better understanding between Muslims and non Muslims.

So what has changed today? Why are we seeing a number of American converts to Islam plotting against this country? In order to answer this question, I travelled recently for almost a year through the United States with a team of young researchers. We published the findings in Journey into America (2010). What we found was a Muslim community that very much appreciative of being in the United States as proud citizens, but was also sharing a sense of being under siege after 9/11. They saw their religion, culture, and traditions mocked mercilessly. They were conscious of the attacks on mosques and women wearing Islamic dress.

Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference takes place in Toronto

Muslims from around the world gathered from December 23-26th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to attend an annual conference. More than 17,000 Canadian Muslims will gather at the ninth annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention, a meeting that offers Muslims a renewal of their faith just before the new year through sharing meals, group prayers and listening to lectures from prominent speakers.

The conference, created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, also offers young Muslims a discussion about Islam and applying its practice in a North American context, event spokesperson Ayman Faris said. The event works on “keeping the threat of extremism and radicalism at bay” as young generations of Muslims grow up in North America and, at times, turn to Internet, which can be a “dangerous” place to retrieve information about their faith, Heer said. She has seen the event grow from 6,000 to last year’s 17,000 attendees. Tariq Ramadan, an Oxford University professor, and Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert from Kitchener, Ont., who was also the past president of the Islamic Society of North America, are among the speakers at the 2010 conference.

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan calls for ‘revolution of trust’

Canada is more tolerant of immigrants than Europe and less afraid of terrorist attacks than the United States, meaning it could be a model for faithful Muslims trying to integrate into Western society, a controversial Islamic scholar says. Tariq Ramadan has two reservations: Canada must stop thinking of itself as peripheral to the debate and it must not knuckle under to U.S. policies. Ramadan spoke to CanWest News Service from his office in London, England, just before leaving for Ottawa, where he will speak to the Islamic Society of North America conference this weekend. About 3,000 Muslims from across Canada and around the world are expected at the event. Ramadan will be speaking with Ingrid Mattson, the first female and first Canadian to become president of the society. The worst thing the Muslim community can do, he says, is isolate itself from the society around it, making itself a ghetto. “We are living in a state of fear, on both sides. You need to promote what I call a revolution of trust.” Public policy gets warped by this mistrust until “it’s all about control and security. It’s wrong. (Muslims) are citizens, they have the same rights.” He said the community needs to pool its leaders in all faiths and walks of life, so co-operation is already established before a crisis erupts.