March 12, 2004
Jonathan Birt, the son of Lord Birt, and Emma Clark, the granddaughter of former liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, are only two of 14,000 mostly-elite white Britons having reverted to Islam, reports said.
According to the first authoritative study of the phenomenon, carried by the Sunday Times on February 22, some of the country's top landowners, celebrities and the offspring of senior Establishment figures have embraced Islam after being disillusioned with Western values.
The new study by Yahya (formerly Jonathan) Birt, son of Lord Birt, former director-general of the BBC, provides the first reliable data on the sensitive subject of Christians' reversion to Islam.
He uses a breakdown of the latest census figures to conclude that there are now 14,200 white converts in Britain.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his faith, Birt argued that an inspirational figure, similar to the American convert Malcolm X for Afro-Caribbeans, would first have to emerge if the next stage, a mass conversion among white Britons, were to happen.
"You need great transitional figures to translate something alien (like Islam) into the vernacular," Birt, whose doctorate at Oxford University is on young British Muslims, was quoted by the Times.
"The image of Islam projected by political Islamic movements is not very attractive," he said.
Initially, Birt said he had no coherent reasons for converting, but "in the longer term I think it was the overall profundity, balance and coherence and spirituality of the Muslim way of life which convinced me," he said.
Meanwhile, it emerged last weekend that Emma Clark, the great-granddaughter of a British prime minister has converted. She said: "We're all the rage, I hope it's not a passing fashion."
Clark, who helped design an Islamic garden for the Prince of Wales at Highgrove, his Gloucestershire home, is now helping create a similar garden for a mosque in Woking, Surrey, on the site of a car park, said the British newspaper.
Furthermore, fresh evidence came last weekend that Islam has received formal acceptance at the heart of the Establishment. The Queen has approved new arrangements to allow Muslim staff at Buckingham Palace time off to attend Friday prayers at a mosque. A member of staff in the finance department is the first to take advantage of it, said the British paper.
Many converts have been inspired by the writings of Charles Le Gai Eaton, a former Foreign Office diplomat, it added.
"I have received letters from people who are put off by the wishy-washy standards of contemporary Christianity and they are looking for a religion which does not compromise too much with the modern world," said Eaton, author of Islam and the Destiny of Man
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