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Women Increasingly Drawn To Islam In U.K.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Philip Reeves has the story.

PHILIP REEVES: This week, Warsi had this blunt message for her fellow Britons.

SAYEEDA WARSI: It has seeped into our society in a way where it is acceptable around dinner to have these conversations, where anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is quite openly discussed.

REEVES: Plenty of people worry about this.

FIYAZ MUGHAL: There's a growing gulf of misunderstanding within faith communities and a growing gulf of misunderstanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

REEVES: Fiyaz Mughal is founder of Faith Matters, an organization that promotes better inter-faith relations.

MUGHAL: This is worrying. This is a trend, and this is a trend that if we do not stop is going to lead to major divisions within the U.S., within Europe.

REEVES: Yet, says Mughal, the media usually takes a different view.

MUGHAL: The typical view taken of somebody converting to Islam is that they are somehow unbalanced, that they are somehow brainwashed, that they are missing or lacking something in their life.

REEVES: Recent converts include Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Booth remembers how she called her mother to tell her she'd been to a Muslim shrine and was deeply moved. She was encouraged by her mom's positive response.

LAUREN BOOTH: So I said, I'm thinking of converting, and she said, that's no problem to me at all, and I was amazed.

REEVES: When she met her mother a week later, Booth wore the hijab, the traditional Islamic scarf.

BOOTH: She asked, why are you wearing that? And I said, because I've converted to Islam. And she said, Islam? I thought you said Buddhism, not those nutters.

REEVES: Booth hasn't yet told her brother-in-law Tony Blair.

BOOTH: I believe he's a war criminal, so I can't say we've had this discussion personally.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

REEVES: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Unidentified Man: So when he was dying, he commands his people to look after women. Again, he didn't tell people: Go and fight.

REEVES: Some worshippers here are white British converts. They include a young mother, Helen Brooks-Wazwaz(ph). After prayers, she talks about her conversion, which was inspired by a visit to Egypt. She says her fellow Muslims welcomed her decision, but her father found it hard.

HELEN BROOKS: My dad's first reaction was you're going to have trouble all over the world, because his immediate instinct was, well, look at all these troubles that Muslims make, look at all these troubles that Muslims cause.

REEVES: There's a commonly held belief in secular Western societies that Islam represses women by compelling them to cover up. Brooks-Wazwaz says that's not her view of Islamic dress.

BROOKS: It makes me feel actually liberated rather than oppressed. As a woman in a Western society, you're very pressurized to try and wear something that you look your best and that people will look at you and think, oh, they look nice, they look attractive. But in Islam, your body is protected.

REEVES: Fiyaz Mughal of Faith Matters says everyone now needs to give a little.

MUGHAL: We need to stop just accepting the stereotypes about the other and start asking some questions about who we are and where we are going as societies.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.