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August 20, 2007


Denis MacEoin

Irene, Just last night Melvyn Bragg presented a one-hour show on the Islamic Jesus, i.e. Jesus as described in the Qur'an (and some apocryphal stuff). Now, this is not contentious in itself, but this was a straight presentation which brooked no academic criticism of, say, the sources (again apocryphal) of the sparse Quranic narrative. A daft undertaking, in other words, for a public that knows little or nothing of Islam. No doubt somebody somewhere will convert as a result. Sociologists know that people convert to New Religious Movements through social contact. It's a given that converts know next to nothing about the teachings when they become Moonies or whatever: they get their education later, in a new social context which controls what they know. Islam puzzles me more. Some Westerners will convert through Sufism, the doctrines and practices of which (through most of the orders) are just the sort of thing to attract young minds and hearts in search of the exotic. The ones who worry me are the young Brits who get taken into more radical groups. That's a hard transition (one day you're off to the nightclub, the next you're putting on the hijab). My explanation would be that for most part it's straight rebellion. There's little point in showing your defiance of social norms by becoming a Marxist. But a Muslim, a hater of all things Western, gives a certain frisson. Tell your Mum and Dad or your friends and see them blanch. Very satisfying. Maybe the police or MI5 start watching you in case you're a terrorist: what could be more thrilling? Then there's all the special language. You don't just say 'Muhammad', but 'Muhammad, salla 'llah 'alayhi wa sallam', which you say with a holy look on your face. I can understand the Sufi converts: there was a time when I could have gone there myself. But the commitment to totally alien set of doctrines and practices? I suppose it supplies a new identity, a way of washing the slate clean, of being a new person with a new name ('I'm not Trevor, Mum. You have to call me 'Abd Allah now.') I'm being sarky, I know, but I think it really does come to things like that. Why be ordinary when you can be an honorary Oriental with a new name and a guaranteed edginess?

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