French converts to Islam pose growing challenge
The spacious and elegant modern building, in the heart of this middle-class suburb of Paris, is known as "the mosque of the converts".
Every year about 150 Muslim conversion ceremonies are performed in the snow-white structure of the Sahaba mosque in Creteil, with its intricate mosaics and a stunning 25-metre minaret, built in 2008 and a symbol of Islam's growing presence in France.
Among those who come here for Friday prayer are numerous young former Catholics, wearing the traditional Muslim prayer cap and long robe.
While the number of converts remains relatively small in France, yearly conversions to Islam have doubled in the past 25 years, experts say, presenting a growing challenge for France, where government and public attitudes toward Islam are awkward and sometimes hostile.
French anti-terrorism officials have been warning for years that converts represent a critical element of the terrorist threat in Europe, because they have Western passports and do not stand out.
In October, the French police conducted a series of antiterrorism raids across France, resulting in the arrests of 12 people, including at least three French citizens who had recently converted to Islam. Converts "often need to overdo it if they want to be accepted" as Muslims, and so veer into extremism more frequently than others, said Didier Leschi, who was in charge of religious issues at the Interior Ministry under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Many Muslims counter that they regularly face prejudice, and consider a 2010 law banning the full-face veil from public spaces and the growing concern with conversions as reflections of French intolerance.
Whatever the impact, there is little doubt conversions are growing more commonplace.
"The conversion phenomenon is significant and impressive, particularly since 2000," said Bernard Godard, who is in charge of religious issues at the Interior Ministry.
Posted by: tipper 2013-02-04