Cornelia Filter, My God is Now Allah and I Gladly Follow His Laws: A Report on Converts in Germany (in German only: Mein Gott ist jetzt Allah und ich befolge seine Gesetze gern: Eine Reportage über Konvertiten in Deutschland), Piper Verlag: Munich 2008, 253 pages; 18,00 € (hardback edition)
Cornelia Filter studied German literature and history. She worked for various newspapers and magazines, such as Die Zeit, Frankfurter Rundschau, Brigitte, and above all Emma. Today, she is a public relations consultant for SOLWODI, an organization that is active on behalf of foreign-born girls in Germany, who have fallen victim to forced prostitution, arranged marriages and domestic violence.
The cover text on the book outlines the subject so:
“There are thousands of them each year in Germany, and no one knows anything about them. They were lukewarm or believing Christians, convinced leftists or extreme conservatives, successful academics or workers, atheists, or people simply searching for the meaning of life: the women and men who every year convert to Islam.” In the first report about a distinctive minority Filter seeks after the motivation of the converts and the consequences for the society. According to the cover text “the reality of the Muslim converts in Germany is more complex, more exciting, and more interesting than everything we have known about it up to now.”
There is up to now no reliable statistic about converts in Germany. The FAZ gives a figure of between 20,000 and 100,000 converts (p. 12). The Islamische Zeitung speaks of ca. 20,000 conversions between 2001 and 2006 (an average of ca. 3330 per year). The Zeit author Julia Gerlach pointed out in October, 2007, that the “strict schools of thought” in Islam “oriented on the exact wording of the Koran” are the most popular among young converts (p. 64).
The book is well written and worth reading. I found it, as well as the honesty with which the author deals with her own prejudices, and the way she changed her opinion in several points, to be humanely likeable. Cornelia Filter, as a good listener and observer, describes the life stories of the converts and their reasons for their turn to Islam. The book contains essentially reports about, and interviews with, nine converts and with friends from their milieu who also have converted. Filter speaks with, among others, three converted female students at the University of Mainz, with the Sufi master Hassan Peter Dyck, founder of the “Ottoman Hostel” in Sötenich near Kall in the North Eifel region and with the former professional boxer from Bochum Pierre Vogel, also known as Abu Hamza, as well as with other converts from his environment who advocate a Salafite Islam with its especially strict rules.
In the summary of her observations, Filter points out the manifold motives for conversion: the thirst for adventure, the fascinating phenomenon of the Orient, the longing for religiousness and for spirituality in a secular and materialist world, the longing for concrete rules and clear structures in a chaotic world, the desire for justice in a ruthless world, anti-capitalism, the beauty of the Koran, security in a faith community, and the protection against sexism provided by the veil. Encounters with trustworthy Muslims frequently played a significant role. She points out, too, that for many the turn toward Islam often was connected with negative experiences with the church. However, it can be doubted whether all the converts are sufficiently aware of the fact that it is, to be sure, easy to convert to Islam, but that it is not permitted, and even can be dangerous, to leave it.
Cornelia Filter also cites the sociologist of religion and culture Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (p. 254), who wrote her post-doctoral thesis on the subject of Conversion to Islam in Germany and the USA. According to Prof. Wohlrab-Sahr, the reasons for conversion are, above all, social-psychological. With their change to Islam, the converts intend to establish “the greatest possible distance” to their own social context. These statements coincide essentially with the observations made by Dr. Kate Zebiri from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London in regard to British converts to Islam (2008). She points out that a not inconsiderable percentage of converts do this out of disappointment with Western society or as a means of social protest.1
Kate Zebiri, British Muslim Converts: Choosing Alternative Lives (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008). ↩