On August 25, the daily La Croix published a survey carried out by Pierre Schmidt on converts to Islam in France. “There have always been conversions to Islam, explained Didier Leschi, head of the bureau for religions at the Home Office. What is new today is the kind of movements the young converts are turning to.” “According to the information we receive from the Muslims in charge of associations, he specified, there may be some 10 conversions to Islam daily”. That makes an average 3,600 converts per year.
Today, the young discover Islam as it is lived in the suburbs and an increasing number among them choose a radical Islam, like Salafism, he added. “Youngsters who have broken away from their family, or who are having a generation clash with their parents, they do not have the “family” values that the large organizations advocate, and they are not so rigorous in their practice”.
Eric “Younès” Geoffroy, islamologist at the Marc-Bloch university in Strasbourg, converted in 1984. “Up until around 15 years ago, most conversions were similar to mine, and came about through a spiritual interest,” he declared. What is new are the conversions in the vicinity of the urban areas where young Europeans, not always of “French” origin, live side by side with Muslims. These conversions are simpler than mine. What is more, there are Salafist and even Djihadist conversions. This latter phenomenon cannot be denied, but it remains marginal.”
Loïc le Pape, who is preparing his Ph.D at the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences in Marseilles, when studying the cases of conversion to Islam in Strasbourg and Marseilles, distinguished 4 types of converts today: “One third are mystical converts, they convert at the end of a spiritual quest, one third convert because they are neighbors of Muslims, especially in the suburbs, and the last third convert by reason of marriage with a Muslim spouse”. “There remains a fourth type, which is radical, and concerns young people who at other times may have become involved in the Baader gangs”, he added.
Some conversions take place to please the in-laws or the spouse, specified Kamel Kabtane, rector of the great Mosque of Lyons. This does not necessarily lead to a true conversion. However, “young people who convert are in search of landmarks. They discover Islam around them, and Islam answers their questions about the family, about authority… By coming to the Mosque, young converts discover an environment, a community approach, they feel supported.”
“There is a lack of formation” among these young converts, observed Eric Geoffroy. This is why some mosques have initiated sessions in religious education. Imam Azzedine Aïnouche of Marseilles explained: “We offer to would-be converts, to those who want to marry a Muslim, and to those who live Muslim neighborhoods, the possibility of three or four religious education sessions”. To his amazement, “these converts know hardly anything about the religion they have come from…”