Very recently Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, journalist Lauren Booth, embraced the faith after what she described as a “holy experience” in Iran. Based on what Ayaan Hirsi Ali has described as the brutal, totalistic character of Islam, one is obliged to ask why any modern career woman would opt for conversion to the Muslim religion.
After all, as so many autobiographies of Muslim women note, the religion bans anything that is fun (“haram,” or forbidden). No chewing of gum, no bicycle riding, no make-up, no eating in public, no painting of nails, no pets, no questions, and of course, no answering back. For many Muslim women, there is an eagerness to assert independence as soon as adulthood is reached.
How then does one explain Lauren Booth? She notes that in the city of Qom “I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.” What precisely was Ms. Booth seeking, and why did she find it in Islam? Although it is difficult to generalize, I suspect that the convert is in a search for meaning in societies where the “anything goes,” permissive attitude of the moment proves to be a superficial void. Islam is totalistic; modernity, with all its freedom, is often vacuous.
One convert cited in the Daily Mail said Islam allows you to reject fads and fashion and “seek a higher goal.” Alas, one of course is free to reject fads without embracing Islam. But it is comforting — I guess — to have one’s life ordered by the ritual impulse of a totalistic religion. As another convert pointed out: “It makes life purer.” But does it?
By and large, Islam devolves into extremism, the repression of women, inequality, and brutality such as the stoning of adulterers. Converts, however, refer to the celebration of old-fashioned family values and hospitality, values which have been eroded in the West. For many, Islam is an escape route from the cultural degradation of Western society.
But what converts often confuse is culture and religion. The warmth a family confers is not the same as the demands of religious obedience.