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Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Ex-Christian helps Welsh-Muslim converts adapt

New project set up to switch to Islamic way of life
Taken from alarabiya.net

Deciding to change religion can be a daunting and confusing process; luckily for those in Wales that decide to convert to Islam there is something called the New Muslim Project Wales (NMPW)--an initiative set up to help new Muslims make the transition.

Whether it is dealing with negative family reactions or finding the nearest Halal meat shop, the project aims to welcome people to the faith and offers educational classes, social activities and a buddy system.

Abdul Rahman, a 57-year old previously called Richard Fairclough, set up the initiative with fellow "reverts" as they are known, basing it on the U.K.-wide New Muslim Project.

The group said it is compiling a register of new Muslims across Wales, and noted the number of people converting to Islam had rapidly grown in a short time frame.

“I don’t want to play the numbers game…but I was surprised when I was updating the database that we had such a large number in such a short time,” Abdul Rahman was quoted on the Welsh website, WalesOnline, as saying.

The report said Abdul Rahman was an active Christian for most of his life until he moved to South Africa, where he was intrigued by the call to prayer and felt compelled to learn more about the Prophet Muhammad.

“I went there [Capetown] in 1992, just post apartheid, when Muslims were put on a par with the main black group…I noticed that every Friday [Islam's holy day] many of the shops that were run by Muslims shut and that there was something spiritual going on," the website quoted him as saying.

“And in my neighborhood there were three or four mosques. I heard the call to prayer and it was lovely…Then I heard about the Prophet Muhammed and wanted to find out more,” he added.

“I had belief and understanding as a Christian, but what I have found with Islam is so much more straightforward," said Abdul Rahman.

A new Muslim's life
Abdul Rahman—who converted to Islam in 2002 when he returned to Wales—said he was well equipped to help deal with the negative reactions some converts face from family and said most new Muslims may have to give up some of their old ways of life.

This includes drinking alcohol, which can mean changing social habits and even finding new friends.

“As a Muslim I don’t drink because Allah doesn’t want us to drink, it says so in the Quran, so that meant I had to part company with all the friends I used to go drinking with,” he said.

“As a revert to Islam, people may have to cope with negative reactions because of the way the media often portrays Muslims as terrorists [but] as with all belief systems, you will get fanatics who interpret things badly and perhaps use religion as justification for their actions, but that is simply not true with the vast majority of Muslims," Abdul Rahman said.

Abdul Rahman stressed that the initiative was only for adults that had made the decision to convert by themselves and said the only purpose was to help people come to terms with Islam.

Members can gain access to a variety of services ranging from a pack that includes a copy of the Quran, a prayer mat and a biography of Prophet Muhammad. Although the website is still bare boned there is also a mailing list on offer that promises to connect converts to other members of the community.

"We are not converting people. These are adults who have already made that decision and just want to know where their nearest mosque is, where they can buy halal meat or if they have to wear funny clothes – which they don’t." he said, adding “we don’t go around banging on doors. The only time a Muslim will knock on your door is to offer hospitality.”

According to Abdul Rahman many of the NMPW members are converts, but the organization is open to born Muslims who want to learn more about their religion or those who have strayed but have decided to return to the fold.