Women & Islam: Rise of the Convert

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Richard Peppiatt

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Record numbers of young, white British women are converting to Islam, yet many are reporting a lack of help as they get used to their new religion, according to several surveys.

As Muslims celebrate the start of the religious holiday of ‘Eid today and hundreds of thousands from around the world converge on Mecca for the haj, it emerged that of the 5,200 Britons who converted to Islam last year, more than half are white and 75 per cent of them women.

In the past 10 years some 100,000 British people have converted to Islam, of whom some three-quarters are women, according to the latest statistics. This is a significant increase on the 60,000 Britons in the previous decade, according to researchers based at Swansea University.

While the number of UK converts accelerates, many of the British women who adopt Islam say they have a daily struggle to assimilate their new beliefs within a wider culture that both implicitly and explicitly positions them as outsiders, regardless of their Western upbringing.

More than three-quarters told researchers they had experienced high levels of confusion after conversion, due to the conflicting ways Islam was presented to them. While other major religions have established programs for guiding new believers through the rigors of their faith, Islam still lacks any such network, especially outside the Muslim hubs of major cities.

Many mosques still bar women from worship or provide scant resources for their needs, forcing them to rely on competing cultural and ideological interpretations within books or the internet for religious support.

A recent study of converts in Leicester, for example, found that 93 per cent of mosques in the region recognized they lacked services for new Muslims, yet only 7 per cent said they were making efforts to address the shortfall.

Many of the young women – the average age of conversion is 27 – are also coming to terms with experiences of discrimination for the first time, despite the only visible difference being a headscarf. Yet few find easy sanctuary within the established Muslim population, with the majority forming their closest bonds with fellow converts rather than born Muslims.

Kevin Brice, author of the Swansea study A Minority Within a Minority, said to be the most comprehensive study of British Muslim converts, added: “White Muslim converts are caught between two increasingly distant camps. Their best relationships remain with other converts, because of their shared experiences, while there is very little difference between the quality of their relationship with other Muslims or non-Muslims.

“My research also found converts came in two types: some are converts of convenience, who adopt the religion because of a life situation such as meeting a Muslim man, although the religion has little discernible impact on their day-to-day lives. For others it is a conversion of conviction where they feel a calling and embrace the religion robustly.

“That’s not to say the two are mutually exclusive – sometimes converts start out on their religious path through convenience and become converts of conviction later on.”

Another finding revealed by the Leicester study was that despite Western portraits of Islam casting it as oppressive to women, a quarter of female converts were attracted to the religion precisely because of the status it affords them.

Some analysts have argued that dizzying social and cultural upheavals in Britain over the past decades have meant that far from adopting an alien way of life, some female Muslim converts are re-embracing certain aspects of mid-20th-century Britain, such as rigid gender demarcation, rather than feeling expected to juggle career and family.

The first established Muslim communities started in Britain in the 1860s, when Yemeni sailors and Somali laborers settled around the ports of London, Cardiff, Liverpool and Hull. Many married local women who converted to Islam, often suffering widespread discrimination as a result.

They also acted as a bridge between the two cultures, encouraging understanding among indigenous dwellers and helping to integrate the Muslim community they had joined. Today, there is growing recognition among community leaders that the latest generation of female converts has an equally vital role to play in fostering dialogue between an increasingly secular British majority and a minority religion, as misunderstood as it is vilified.

Kristiane Backer, 45

Television presenter and author, London

I converted to Islam in 1995 after Imran Khan introduced me to the faith. At the time I was a presenter for MTV. I used to have all the trappings of success, yet I felt an inner emptiness and somewhat dissatisfied in my life.

The entertainment industry is very much about “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”, which is the exact opposite to the more inward-oriented spiritual attitude of my new faith. My value system changed and God became the center point of my life and what I was striving towards.

I recognize some new converts feel isolated but, despite there being even fewer resources when I converted than there are now, it isn’t so much an issue I’ve faced. I’ve always felt welcomed and embraced by the Muslims I met and developed a circle of friends and teachers. It helps living in London, because there is so much to engage in as part of the Muslim community. Yet, even in the capital you can be stared at on the Tube for wearing a headscarf. I usually don’t wear one in the West except when praying. I wear the scarf in front of my heart though!

I always try to explain to people that I’ve converted to Islam, not to any culture. Suppression of women, honor killings or forced marriages are all cultural aberrations, not Islamic ones. Islam is also about dignity and respect for yourself and your femininity. Even in the dating game, Muslim men are very respectful. Women are cherished as mothers, too – as a Muslim woman you are not expected to do it all.”

Amy Sall, 28

Retail assistant, Middlesbrough

I’d say I’m still a bit of a party animal – but I’m also a Muslim. I do go out on the town with the girls and I don’t normally wear my headscarf – I know I should do, but I like to do my hair and look nice! I know there are certain clothes I shouldn’t wear either, even things that just show off your arms, but I still do. My husband would like me to be a better Muslim – he thinks drinking is evil – so it does cause rows.

I haven’t worshipped in a mosque since I got married, I find it intimidating. I worry about doing something wrong; people whispering because they see my blonde hair and blue eyes. Middlesbrough is a difficult place to be a Muslim who isn’t Asian – you tend to be treated like an outsider. Once, I was out wearing my headscarf and a local man shouted abuse. It was weird because I’m white and he was white, but all he saw was the scarf, I suppose. It did make me angry. My family were surprisingly fine with me converting, probably because they thought it would rein me in from being a bit wild.

Nicola Penty-Alvarez, 26

Full-time mother, Uxbridge

I was always interested in philosophy and the meaning of life and when I came across Islam it all just clicked. In the space of four or five months I went from going to raves to wearing a headscarf, praying five times a day and generally being quite pious – I did occasionally smoke though.

I felt very welcomed into the Muslim community, but it was a mainly white convert community. My impression of the Asian community in west London was that women felt sidelined and were encouraged to stay at home and look after the men rather than attend mosque. I think this was more a cultural than religious thing, though.

Non-Muslims certainly treat you differently when you’re wearing a headscarf – they’re less friendly and as a smiley person I found that hard. After a year-and-a-half of being a Muslim I stopped. I remember the moment perfectly. I was in a beautiful mosque in Morocco praying beside an old lady and something just came over me. I thought: ‘What the hell am I doing? How have I got into this?’ It just suddenly didn’t feel right. Needless to say my husband, who was a fellow convert, wasn’t impressed. He remained devout and it put a lot of strain on our relationship. We split up, but are on amicable terms now. I’m not really in contact with the Muslim friends I made – we drifted apart.

I don’t regret the experience. There is so much that I learnt spiritually that I’ve kept and I haven’t gone back to my hard partying ways.

Donna Tunkara

Warehouse operative, Middlesbrough

I was a bit of a tearaway growing up – drinking, smoking, running away from home and being disrespectful to my parents. I converted 10 years ago because I met a Muslim man but I’ve probably become more devout than him.

Sometimes, I miss going shopping for clothes to hit the town and then going home and getting ready with my mates, having a laugh. The thing is no one is forcing me not to – it’s my choice.

It did come as a shock to my family, who are Christian. They’ve not rejected me, but they find it difficult to understand. I feel bad because I don’t now attend weddings, funerals or christenings because they’re often at pubs and clubs and I won’t step inside.

There needs to be more resources for women who convert. I know some mosques that won’t allow women in. But in the Koran there is an emphasis on women being educated. I’ve learnt about the religion through my husband’s family and books – if you want support you have to look for it. It’s taken time to regain an identity I’m comfortable with. Because I’m mixed race and a Muslim ,people don’t see me as British – but what’s important is that I know who I am.

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Stand Up for Palestine

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Testimony of Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s Sister-in-law

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

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Lauren Booth speaks to her audience.

Newark, CA–August 14th–Ms. Lauren Booth of the United Kingdom came to this town in the Northeast Silicon Valley region of the South Bay just above San Jose to attend the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) Annual Ramadan Iftar Banquet.

Ms. Booth is amazing for many reasons; not the least of which, by any means, is her conversion and commitment to Islam.

Lauren Booth is an exceptional journalist and activist, and the poignancy of her conversion resides in the fact that she is the Sister-in-Law of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is presently a Special Envoy to the Quartet (of four non-Middle Eastern political entities plus the U.N.) who have an interest in settling the Arab-Israeli imbroglio.

Ms. Booth route to Islam and this Sunday night’s dais in Northern California at this well-touted San Francisco Bay Area Indo-Pakistani Restaurant, Chandani, were circuitous.  

Lauren Booth is mother to two, and sister to Cherrie Blair (the wife of the UK’s former Prime Minister); her brother in law also, has been quoted expressing pro-Palestinian views.

Lauren Booth is the sixth daughter of the actor Anthony (Tony) Booth and Pamela Smith (Cohen).  Although Booth had Jewish antecedents, she was not raised in that tradition.

She has a C.V. (Curriculum Vitae) which your resident journalist here on these pages can only look upon with jealousy.

She has worked on such prestigious English Newspapers as the New Statesman, The Mail on Sunday (for which she served on as a feature writer and columnist). 

Further, she has been a panelist on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC’s) “Have I got the News for You,” and is a broadcaster on other radio and television outlets.  Additionally, she is a regular reviewer of the U.K.  print news media on Sky, a satellite television network.

She remarked to our audience on the West Coast of the U.S.A. here that “The right-wing press has enabled my left-wing credentials!”  One of the most courageous stands she has taken was to publicly oppose the Iraq War while being a close relative by marriage of the architect of the British envolvement in that War, PM Tony Blair.

She began her speech by talking about the grave aggression by the Israelis in the Occupied Territories that she had beheld as a reporter.  “Something inside me [changed]… [when] I was sent to Palestine to cover the elections [there].”  An Israeli soldier from Brooklyn (Sic!) who examined her passport said, “Hey, a Brit, we love you!”  She realized something was askew in her country’s policies!

She came with what she described as Arabphobia, but she had to overcome a lifetime of propaganda within seventy-two hours. 

She was told “Don’t comfort the children because they won’t [can’t] cry…!”    She asked several Palestinian children what they would like to be as adults.  One young precocious girl replied, “I want to be a psychotherapist because we all are suffering [here].” 

The Israeli press undoes its photographic documentation [of the West Bank and Gaza] through its accompanying prose.

She told us about her first relief trip to Gaza, and how the citizens there were unaware of their arrival.

During Operation Cast Iron (the Israeli brutal assault on the mini-country during the last month of 2009 through the first month of 2010) the Israeli soldiers went as far as to loot the bodies of their Gazan victims!             
From reports directly from Gaza last month from doctors documenting abuses through their mobile phone cameras, she saw a boy wrapped by Israeli soldiers in barbed wire!  Also, a baby born with her intestines outside her body without the means for further emergency treatment!  She saw graphic images of Israeli mistreatment of the doctors themselves – even a M.D. being shot in the back!   There has been reported mass rape of Arab women, also.

She quotes a Palestinian boy replying to: “What did you do when they kicked you?  I got up, and I threw stones [at them]!”

She ended her comments in Newark (California) with “Thank you for listening.  Stand up for Palestine!”

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Photovoltaics

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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A photovoltaic module or photovoltaic panel is a packaged interconnected assembly of photovoltaic cells, also known as solar cells. The photovoltaic module, known more commonly as the solar panel, is then used as a component in a larger photovoltaic system to offer electricity for commercial and residential applications.

Because a single photovoltaic module can only produce a limited amount of power, many installations contain several modules or panels and this is known as a photovoltaic array. A photovoltaic installation typically includes an array of photovoltaic modules or panels, an inverter, batteries and interconnection wiring.
Solar panels use light energy (photons) from the sun to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect (this is the photo-electric effect). The majority of modules use wafer-based crystalline silicon cells or a thin-film cell based on cadmium telluride or silicon. Crystalline silicon, which is commonly used in the wafer form in photovoltaic (PV) modules, is derived from silicon, a commonly used semi-conductor.

In order to use the cells in practical applications, they must be:

* connected electrically to one another and to the rest of the system

* protected from mechanical damage during manufacture, transport, installation and use (in particular against hail impact, wind and snow loads). This is especially important for wafer-based silicon cells which are brittle.

* protected from moisture, which corrodes metal contacts and interconnects, (and for thin-film cells, the transparent conductive oxide layer) thus decreasing performance and lifetime.

Most modules are usually rigid, but there are some flexible modules available, based on thin-film cells.

Electrical connections are made in series to achieve a desired output voltage and/or in parallel to provide a desired amount of current source capability.

Diodes are included to avoid overheating of cells in case of partial shading. Since cell heating reduces the operating efficiency it is desirable to minimize the heating. Very few modules incorporate any design features to decrease temperature, however installers try to provide good ventilation behind the module.

New designs of module include concentrator modules in which the light is concentrated by an array of lenses or mirrors onto an array of small cells. This allows the use of cells with a very high-cost per unit area (such as gallium arsenide) in a cost-competitive way.

Depending on construction, the photovoltaic can cover a range of frequencies of light and can produce electricity from them, but sometimes cannot cover the entire solar spectrum (specifically, ultraviolet, infrared and low or diffused light). Hence much of incident sunlight energy is wasted when used for solar panels, although they can give far higher efficiencies if illuminated with monochromatic light. Another design concept is to split the light into different wavelength ranges and direct the beams onto different cells tuned to the appropriate wavelength ranges. This is projected to raise efficiency by 50%. Also, the use of infrared photovoltaic cells can increase the efficiencies, producing power at night.

Sunlight conversion rates (module efficiencies) can vary from 5-18% in commercial production (solar panels), that can be lower than cell conversion.

A group of researchers at MIT has recently developed a process to improve the efficiency of luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) technology, which redirects light along a translucent material to PV-modules located along its edge. The researchers have suggested that efficiency may be improved by a factor of 10 over the old design in as little as three years (it has been estimated that this will provide a conversion rate of 30%). Three of the researchers involved have now started their own company, called Covalent Solar, to manufacture and sell their innovation in PV-modules.

The current market leader in efficient solar energy modules is SunPower, whose solar panels have a conversion ratio of 19.3%. However, a whole range of other companies (HoloSun, Gamma Solar, NanoHorizons) are emerging which are also offering new innovations in photovoltaic modules, with a conversion ratio of around 18%. These new innovations include power generation on the front and back sides and increased outputs; however, most of these companies have not yet produced working systems from their design plans, and are mostly still actively improving the technology. As of August 26, 2009 a world record efficiency level of 41.6% has been reached.

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