Recent studies appear to show an increasing number of British youngsters converting to Islam. A report by Faith Matters put the number in recent years at 1000,000. This figure is largely conjectural as it is based on an extrapolation from the Scottish census of 2001 to the whole of the UK today. The US based Pew Forum claims there are 2.9 million Muslims in Britain, a significant increase from the 1.6 million recorded in the 2001 census. These again are provisional estimates and we await the Pew forum report in full in March. It is doubtful that the conversion rate is as high as many Muslims and progressives make out. The Guardian has a useful article on the reports.
Behind the arguments concerning the sources and interpretation of poll data there is an imortant question. Why is it that some young people, sickened by their own excess and that of their contemporaries convert to Islam rather than rediscover the faith of their own people, Christianity?
The Faith Matters report contains interviews with actual converts. Their average age is 27, they are female, white and repelled by the moral standards of their contemporaries. Booze, promiscuity, a general “lack of morality” and “unrestrained consumerism” were identified as aspects of British society for which they see Islam as a remedy.
That they have recognised the emptiness of much of what passes for youth culture in the UK today is something for which we should be thankful. But why Islam? More importantly why not Christianity?
Many are girls, like Jemima Khan, who convert because their future husband is a Muslim who has a stronger grasp of his faith than does the average young Brit who has been brought up in a Christianity free environment. Brought up with a nominally Jewish background Jemima is representative of the rootless nature of the majority of British youth no matter what religion they or their parents may nominally adhere to.
But if it is hedonism, mindless materialism, sexual promiscuity and alcoholism which is the problem for which Islam is the solution, why not look for a solution at home? After all, if you are looking for condemnation of all of the above you need look no further than Paul. Christianity runs counter to much of the ethos of modern Britain.
One reason is the attraction of the foreign and exotic. It has often been noted that in the UK Christian evangelists from America are liable to attract greater numbers and have greater influence than native born evangelists. To the average young Briton the Church itself seems staid and boringly familiar, Islam is different and hence exciting.
The main reason why British youngsters don’t embrace Christianity is because they never encounter it.
In school the most they receive is liable to be lessons in comparative religion as a tool of community cohesion. An interpretation which is about as far from Christianity as crocheting doilies is from rugby league.
It is not difficult for Islam to appear more interesting and exciting when the only Church contact most have is catching the occasional glimpse of Songs of Praise when they visit their granny.
The only Christians they encounter in the media are the wet vicars and nutty lay people beloved of soap operas. If you were struggling with revulsion concerning the state of your own and your friends morals would you go to Dot Cotton for answers?
But we can’t blame others for our own failures. The numbers of young Britons converting to Islam is probably not as great as estimated and we shouldn’t be alarmed by those who would exaggerate the figures for their own ends. However, we should be prepared to admit that those youngsters converting to Islam, for whatever reason, are the Church’s bad debts.
Paul asks in Romans “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” These youngsters may be foolish, but they are rightly looking for something more than they encounter in everyday Britain and we, the Church, fail them.