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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET



Actress Among Growing Number of Women Converting to Islam in Britain

September 24, 2010 - 11:04 AM | by: Amy Kellogg

Myriam Francois-Cerrah found fame as a child actress in the 90’s hit film Sense and Sensibility.  Now she’s known for being one of a growing number of educated middle class female converts to Islam in Britain.

Francois-Cerrah says the September 11 terrorist attacks evoked the same rage in her that they did in people around world.  Subsequently, she read a book that called for the expulsion of muslims from Europe.  All of this, and the controversy that had been building around the faith, made Francois-Cerrah, a university student at the time,  delve deeply into the subject of Islam.  She says she found nothing in the faith that justifies terrorist attacks, and instead found Islam inspirational.   Ultimately, Francois-Cerrah converted.  She believes the Prophet Muhammad was a man of peace.

She says, “There were several things that were pivotal in leading to this change in me.  One was looking into the Prophet Muhammad.  I think he is one of the great misunderstood figures of history.”

Francois-Cerrah goes on.  “One of his favorite quotes was, ‘Forgive him who wrongs you.  Join him who cuts you off. Do good to him who does evil to you and speak the truth even if it be against yourself.’”

Francois-Cerrah says the radical fringe behind terror attacks doesn’t represent the masses.

“Muslims as a rule, the mainstream, don’t look at these actions and think oh those Muslims over there are doing that.  They think who are these crazy loons!”

Kristianne Backer was an MTV host in Germany when she converted to Islam.  She moved to the UK when her conversion got a lot of negative press.

Backer says she has no regrets.

“I met a lot of famous, interesting people in life, but ultimately it was an empty life, so now I am from ‘Empty-V’, from entertainment to ‘inner-tainment.’ I had a crisis after a few years jetting around like a circus horse, on stage, home alone, empty and I didn’t know why I was doing it and Islam was somehow introduced to me.”

I asked editor of Emel magazine, Sarah Joseph, herself a convert, what is drawing women to the religion.

“People go to, travel to, Muslim countries, and see great beauty and hospitality and that draws them to it—the art and the architecture.”

Joseph explains that any negative press about Islam has not only served to repel some people, but it has drawn others.

The head of Islamic studies at London’s School of Theology says many of the converts are looking for greater structure or discipline in their lives.  But he also said that while there has been a small but steady increase in the number of women converting to Islam here, there are more Muslims dropping their religion than there are people converting to it.

Diana Nammi works to improve the rights of Muslim women.  She runs the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation.

“It’s a big question why women are converting to Islam considering that Islam and its sharia law is not based on equality between men and women.”

Nammi says while some like Francois-Cerrah and Backer find justice and equality in the faith, honor killings and household repression are the other extreme-manifestations of Islamic culture in some families she deals with.

“They prevent them from going out, prevent them from having boyfriends, prevent them from enjoying life.  Just because of their religion issue and the strictness that has been set for women.”

Some say the middle class converts living in the UK have the luxury of being able to cherry pick the aspects of Islam that suit and uplift them.

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