Islam Attracts Converts by the Thousands
by Jodi Wilgoren, The New York Times, 10/22/2001
...With some 6 million adherents in the United States, Islam is said to be the nation's fastest-growing religion, fueled by immigration, high birth rates and widespread conversion. One expert estimates that 25,000 people a year become Muslims in this country; some clerics say they have seen conversion rates quadruple since Sept. 11.
Experts say Islam is attractive because of its universal message - the faithful believe that everyone is born Muslim and thus call the transformation reversion, not conversion - and because its teachings incorporate other traditions, honoring Jesus Christ, the Jewish patriarch Abraham and other Biblical figures as prophets. Though missionary work is rare in Islam, spreading the message is demanded by the Koran. Conversion is as simple as reciting one sentence - "I bear witness that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger" - in front of witnesses, a ceremony known as Shahadah.
"There's no class," said Khalid Yahya Blankinship, chairman of the religion department at Temple University. "There isn't really a formalized requirement, you don't have to be tested." Mr. Blankinship, who converted to Islam in 1973 and has since witnessed 100 Shahadahs, added: "It's very important that Islam should spread. The idea is that one should want other souls to be saved..."
...Nine years ago, Jim Hacking was in training to be a Jesuit priest. Now, he is an admiralty lawyer in St. Louis who has spent much of the last month explaining Islam at interfaith gatherings. Mr. Hacking's search began in the 12-step program Overeaters Anonymous and intensified when he befriended an Egyptian-born woman, Amany Ragab, at the law review at St. Louis University. He made the Shahadah on June 6, 1998, and proposed marriage to her the next day. This summer, the couple traveled to Mecca.
"The thing I've always latched to is that there's one God, he doesn't have equals, he doesn't need a son to come do his work," Mr. Hacking, 31, said...
...To help with the social transition, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., pairs converts with mentors. Other mosques offer seminars in the basics of Arabic prayer. Web sites like jews-for-allah.org and understandingislam.tripod.com provide glossaries to common Muslim expressions, step-by-step guides to ritual washing, interactive games to teach Arabic, and profiles of fellow converts, organized alphabetically, by county of origin and by former religion...
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