MUSLIM WORLD: Young European man explains why he converted to Islam
Why would a left-leaning young man from one of the world's most secular and liberal countries choose to become a pious Muslim?
The 34-year old Swedish music teacher from Stockholm, who asked that his last name not be published, attempted to explain his decision, describing it as the culmination of a long journey searching for faith and him solidifying his religious beliefs that he couldn’t always place.
“I have never doubted my faith," he told Babylon & Beyond while on a recent visit to Beirut. "It feels like I've had the same faith all the time but it feels so cleanly formulated in Islam."
For Malcolm, becoming a Muslim gave him a connection to others in a country where identity is not always clean-cut.
"I feel very comfortable as a Muslim.... We’re social creatures and we want to feel a sense of belonging," he said. "If it’s not a clan it’s a nation or a soccer team. For me it’s nice to have a belonging which is not a nation or a football team."
Growing up in predominantly Protestant Sweden, Malcolm's doubts about his faith lingered as he got older.
He started to study different religions and read philosophy texts. He felt drawn to Islam and fascinated by its teachings, especially to what he says is the religion's focus on seeking knowledge.
He used the Internet to learn about Islam and the Koran, dedicating many hours in front of his computer learning how to recite the Koran and memorizing its chapters.
Malcolm wasn't the only member of his family who embraced Islam. His brother, too, became a Muslim.
The day he "officially" became a Muslim some three years ago will be forever ingrained in his memory.
He had attended Friday prayer service in the grand mosque of Stockholm, when after the program an Imam reached for the microphone and called out in the loudspeakers before the jampacked crowd: “Now, we have a brother here who will say the Shahada,” the Muslim declaration of belief.
The room became quiet as the blond-haired, blue-eyed Swede got up from his seat and started to read out the text alongside the imam in Arabic. From a stand above in the women’s section, his Muslim wife was watching him.
“It felt big. When it was over everyone came up to hug and congratulate me ... one guy from Morocco gave me a kaftan as a gift," Malcolm said.
Since then, then 34-year old strictly observed the rules of Islam. There is no more pork on his dinner plate or drinking of alcohol, no gambling in casinos on the weekends. During the holy month of Ramadan, he fasts. Whenever he can, he attends Friday prayer service at a mosque.
His brother, he said, observered Islam even more strictly.
What's the appeal? In part, Malcolm said, Islam fits in well with his left-wing views. "In that sense, Islam fits me really well," he said. "I am completely against capitalism."
As a Muslim living in Europe, Malcolm is also concerned about what he and others see as the bashing of Islam in the region as acted out in French burka bans, a Swiss decree to ban the building of minarets and the rise of far-right political parties in several European nations.
In September, Sweden made international headlines when it voted the far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party into Parliament. Members of the party have called Islam “un-Swedish” and said that Muslims should be driven out of Sweden with a policy of “sticks and carrots.”
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Malcolm, a 34-year old Swedish music teacher, converted to Islam a couple of years ago. Credit: Nadia Jebril