A seminar was hosted last month by Christians Together in England to consider ways to “stem the flight of black British youths to Islam and radicalisation”. In an unprecedented move, Muslims were invited to attend – and they did. Together, both faith groups discussed the reasons why a growing number of young black people are choosing Islam in preference to Christianity. According to this morning’s BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, one in nine black Christian men are converting to Islam.
The passivity that Christianity promotes is perceived as alien and disconnected to black youths growing up in often violent and challenging urban environments in Britain today. “Turning the other cheek” invites potential ridicule and abuse whereas resilience, strength and self-dignity evokes respect and, in some cases, fear from unwanted attention.
Islam holds there is only one God – Allah who does not share his divinity with anything. This made sense and is easy to comprehend. Islam recognises and reveres the prophets mentioned in Judaism and Christianity, therefore a natural and final progression of these earlier religions. The religious guidelines provide spiritual and behavioural codes of conduct with role models such as Malcolm X only helping to reinforce the perception that Islam enabled the empowerment of one’s masculinity coupled with righteous and virtuous conduct as a strength, not a weakness.
My personal experiences are supported by academic research on the same topic: Richard Reddie, who is himself a Christian, conducted research on black British converts to Islam. His studies reveal that the majority of young people interviewed converted from Christianity to Islam for similar reasons as mentioned above. Islam’s way of life and sense of brotherhood were attractive to 50% of interviewees, whereas another 30% and 10% respectively converted because of the religion’s monotheistic foundations and the fact that, holistically, the religion “made sense” and there were “no contradictions”.
The author’s research examined whether such converts were more susceptible to violent radicalisation or more effective at countering it. The overwhelming conclusion points to the latter – provided there are avenues to channel these individuals’ newly discovered sense of empowerment and identity towards constructive participation in society, as opposed to a destructive insularity which can be exploited by extremists. Many Muslim converts – not just black British ones – will confirm the sense of empowerment Islam provides, both spiritually and mentally. It also provides a context within which such individuals are able to rise above the social, cultural and often economic challenges that tend to thwart their progress in today’s society. Turning the other cheek therefore is never an option.