Last month Lauren Booth, ex-PM Tony Blair’s sister in law, declared her conversion to Islam following a spiritual experience in Iran. Ever since this news was broadcast, there have been articles in most mainstream newspapers (tabloids and broadsheets) poking fun at her, making snide comments about rolling around on the floor at a holy shrine and even commenting on her mental stability – as though to convert to Islam one either has to be a) intimately involved with a Muslim; b) experiencing some life trauma, and so are vulnerable enough to convert and c) just be plain loopy.

Most of the negative vibes come as a result of the stereotypes banded around in the media of Muslims; wife beaters, deluded, extremist, detached from society, regressive and psychotic – some exaggerated stereotypes, but some add fuel to the fire and are pandered to by some Muslims themselves. Lauren acknowledges the bad press Islam and Muslims receive – but comments on the root causes of the state of Muslim women in the Muslim world:

So let’s all just take a deep breath and I’ll give you a glimpse into the other world of Islam in the 21st century. Of course, we cannot discount the appalling way women are mistreated by men in many cities and cultures, both with and without an Islamic population. Women who are being abused by male relatives are being abused by men, not God. Much of the practices and laws in “Islamic” countries have deviated from (or are totally unrelated) to the origins of Islam. Instead practices are based on cultural or traditional (and yes, male-orientated) customs that have been injected into these societies. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive by law. This rule is an invention of the Saudi monarchy, our government’s close ally in the arms and oil trade. The fight for women’s rights must sadly adjust to our own government’s needs.

Of course as with most religions, Islam has patriarchial roots which seep into most of the practices, ideas and mindsets that Muslims have regarding how Muslim women should look, behave, speak and carry herself. Those who do not conform to these idea’s are often touted to be “modernist” or pitied as being “misguided” and in need of a huge guiding nudge in the right direction. Too often these assumptions are a result of having perceptions at a grandoise level regarding to how “knowledgable” they are – and of course these patrons are often men who’s duty it is to “save their sisters”.

Lauren as part of addressing the negativity surrounding her conversion comments on how emotionally dead non-Muslims now seem to her:

How hard and callous non-Muslim friends and colleagues began to seem. Why can’t we cry in public, hug one another more, say “I love you” to a new friend, without facing suspicion or ridicule? I would watch emotions being shared in households along with trays of honeyed sweets and wondered, if Allah’s law is simply based on fear why did the friends I loved and respected not turn their backs on their practices and start to drink, to have real “fun” as we in the west do? And we do, don’t we? Don’t we?

I couldnt help but think the lack of love-sharing in some households is not solely a non-Muslim issue – it involves factors beyond and above this; about family, character and personality dynamics and less about faith and religiousity. And the concept of personal space is a very British one – we don’t particularly like people sitting or standing too close to us if we can help it (especially the times when using public transport) be they strangers or even close loved ones. In certain cultures touching is more common, so people will greet one another with a kiss, say some words of affection and be very vocal about their feelings. Some of us want nothing more than a handshake. These are cultural not religious differences.

You can read the rest of Lauren’s article here