Tony Blair's sister-in-law, journalist Lauren Booth, made waves when she announced she was converting to Islam. Now, she explains that decision — and her frustration at having to.
Here's the thing: other people's conversion narratives are always tricky: at the end of the day, someone else's faith can't be explained. We can respect someone's decision, be glad they've found a system of belief that brings them peace and happiness, but more than that is difficult — particularly in the course of one Guardian article.
Booth's other point, though, is that many of her friends and acquaintances aren't even doing that. Instead, they fall back on cliche and stereotype that reveals them, for all their sophistication, to be in some ways deeply parochial. (See this article to get an idea of the backlash.) Writes Booth with understandable exasperation,
This week's screams of faux horror from fellow columnists on hearing of my conversion to Islam prove that this remains the stereotypical view regarding half a billion women currently practising Islam...Believe it or not, Muslim women can be educated, work the same deadly hours we do, and even boss their husbands about in front of his friends until he leaves the room in a huff to go and finish making the dinner. Is this patronising enough for you? I do hope so, because my conversion to Islam has been an excuse for sarcastic commentators to heap such patronising points of view on to Muslim women everywhere
Booth goes on to enumerate the varieties of Muslims she's (naturally) encountered, and reiterates the central, peaceful message of her new faith — what she calls "the gap between what had been drip-fed to me about all Muslim life – and the reality." The reality, of course, is complex. And the distinction must be made between Islam and how it's misinterpreted: "Women who are being abused by male relatives are being abused by men, not God."
It's no exaggeration to say that Booth writes with the zeal of the convert — and why not? She is one. It's impossible to defend one's faith, and one shouldn't have to. Her choices, too, should not need defending — that they do is telling.