Thursday, 18 February 2010

Islam, converts and Singapore’s Shariah courts

The line between insanity and genius is a fine one. The same is the case with love and hate. A conservative Swiss politician, Daniel Streich, recently crossed the line from hate to love.
Streich was a rabid anti-Islam politician until two years ago. He was a member of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) which recently successfully campaigned to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland. He is an elected representative of Bulle Municipality, a part of the Swiss Canton of Fribourg.
Streich is as Swiss as they come. A devout Christian, he attended church regularly. He is also an instructor in the Swiss Army. (Some Swiss politicians express concern about his military role, suggesting that a Swiss style 'Fort Hood incident' should not be discounted.)
Streich converted to Islam about two years ago, although he came 'out of the closet' only in November 2009. Apparently the campaigning by the SVP to ban the minaret got to him. "If the [ban on new minarets] initiative passes, it will be an absolute deep blow for me. I would have to ask myself, why I applied myself professionally and politically for over 30 years for this political system. It is not worthy of Switzerland to force Muslims to practice their faith in back alleys," said Streich.
Streich resigned from the SVP in November 2009. He has leaned towards the Conservative Democratic Party since leaving the SVP.
To be sure, Streich is not an international figure. In fact, he probably was not a well known domestic figure until news of his conversion broke. However, it is a shot in the arm for European Muslims tired of battling negative perceptions about their religion.
The conversion is more about Europe's uneasy relationship with Islam than about one individual's search for life's answers. Many Muslims have latched onto the news as if Christianity has been dealt a final death blow. The news is exaggerated with 'facts' about Streich's importance in Switzerland or his zeal to build a magnificent mosque.
The truth is far simpler and infinitely more believable. Events probably unfolded something like described below.
A sceptical man, in this instance Daniel Streich, held strong opinions about Islam. During the course of his debates he heard counterarguments to his anti-Islam positions. Like any reasonable person, he studied and explored. He understood the faith. Something clicked and he converted.

Streich is but one of the many converts who has accepted Islam after a deep intellectual process. Among others, the case of Marmaduke Pickthall is worth noting. Pickthall (1875-1936) was a highly regarded English literary figure of his time. He is most well known for his English translation of the Koran.
Pickthall's translation is considered true to the Arabic version such that several English language legal systems refer to the Piackthall translation by name in the text of their laws. (Singapore's Administration of Muslim Law Act includes the translation as a primary source for Koranic text.)
Despite what we may believe, religion is not about logic. It is about faith or Iman. Faith is not found in laws, turbans or beards. Often it is not found at all. To those who have found faith, Islam or otherwise, let us not begrudge them their logic.
"Islam offers me logical answers to important life questions, which, in the end, I never found in Christianity," says Streich.
PS – There seems to be some confusion about Daniel Streich's story, possibly because he has not said much on the matter himself. If readers are interested in reading more, I suggest the following sites:


  1. What do Singapore’s Shariah courts have to do with this?

  2. Hello,

    Good question - my intention was to contrast the rigid approach to conversion endorsed by Singapore's MUIS versus the simple, yet often as intellectually rigorous, process to conversion practised in many other geographies.

    Moreover, I believe that Singapore's Sharia courts will not recognize a Muslim convert - for good or bad - unless s/he has undergone the 'official' proscribed route (including testing) to embracing Islam.

    I hope that clarifies.

    Best regards,