SHAFAQNA -Â Canadian converts to Islam risk social and religious isolation because of rejection by their families and disinterest from inhospitable mosque communities, a new groundbreaking study is revealing.
â€œConverts are disconnected from mosque communities usually because they are from a different ethnic background,â€ said Australian researcher Dr. Scott Flower during a weekend Ottawa workshop on conversion.
Mosques are initially warm and welcoming to converts because conversion is one of their duties, he said.
But the welcome can quickly wear out.
â€œMost mosques are Pakistani, Turkish, Saudi or whatever, and converts are not being accepted into those communities,â€ he said. â€œSo they are outsiders. If they are not connecting to the mosque and they lose their families, they are doubly isolated.â€
Flower, a professor in political economy at the University of Melbourne, is leading the first known Canadian study into conversion to Islam.
The study, featuring a 70-question survey for participating converts across the country, and separate interviewing of imams, is being funded with a $170,000 grant from Public Safety Canada.
Flower has conducted similar studies in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Public Safety officials havenâ€™t specifically told Flower what they hope to gain from the study when the research is complete andÂ analyzed, likely early next year.
â€œThey donâ€™t know anything about Muslim converts in this country because there is still not one peer-reviewed academic journal article on the topic,â€ he said. â€œThey are trying to get any general information they can to better understand converts.
â€œAnd Iâ€™m glad because in their world they see everything through this tiny pipe called classified information,â€ added Flower. â€œItâ€™s much broader and much more complex. Ninety-nine-point-nine per cent of converts never radicalize or even get political. They just practise their religion. If you want to understand those who do (radicalize), you also have to understand those who donâ€™t.â€
Flower concedes that an atmosphere of suspicion among Canadian Muslims in the â€œpost-911 environmentâ€ could be impacting the quality of the study.
â€œThey are living in this environment and itâ€™s not conducive to openness,â€ he said. â€œThey ask, â€˜Do you work for CSIS?â€™ or, â€˜Do you work for the government?â€™ Even if they donâ€™t ask it, it has to be on their minds. Itâ€™s the reality of doing research on this very sensitive topic.â€
While itâ€™s generally accepted that conversion to Islam is a growing phenomenon, Flower says a lack of co-operation from imams he and his researchers have approached so far is making it difficult to quantify.
But there is no simple answer to whyÂ Canadians convert, he added.
â€œWe canâ€™t say itâ€™s lack of education because we have people who are professors, have masterâ€™s degrees or Grade 12 educations. Itâ€™s not about income, either. We have people in our sample who are incredibly wealthy and have converted and people on welfare who have converted.â€
But typically, he says, converts experience a spiritual search or personal crisis before converting â€” a common trait, too, in Canadians gravitating to Pentecostal Christianity, another growing branch of religion.
â€œThey might be alcoholics or drug abusers, and seeking to solve and rectify that in some way,â€ said Flower. â€œIslam and Pentecostal converts are seeking security â€” Pentecostal Christianity, no drinking. Islam, no drinking. Itâ€™s black and white, and that simplicity is very powerful for someone who is confused, disoriented and unhappy.â€
Converting to Islam is basically the acknowledgment that the prophet Muhammad is the messenger of Allah and Allah is the one God.
But Flower says his research is showing that it takes converts from six to 12 months between discovering Islam and that final step.
â€œSo itâ€™s not spontaneous, not a rash thingâ€ he said. â€œMost Muslim converts think deeply about conversion. Itâ€™s a big commitment.”