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Muslim Momentum – Your weekly round up of UK and European news stories

An AfD member embraces Islam, insurance companies practicing discrimination, and more… Lauren Booth* gives her take on the weeks news. So who will accept Islam next?

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European Faith Exchange

A faith exchange is taking place on mainland Europe affecting refugees seeking asylum and politicians seeking to keep them out of nations like Austria, the Netherlands and Germany.

This week it came to light that Arthur Wagner, a leading member of the Alternative For Germany party (AfD) has converted to Islam. On January 11, the Deputy Secretary General of the eastern state of Brandenburg gave up his membership of the far-Right party whose stated aims include banning Muslims, mosques, & niqabs from Germany. 

“It is a private matter”, Wagner told Der Tagesspiegel when asked about his decision to quit the party, adding that it had been his decision to leave.

His conversion is not the first to send a shudder through the interlinked alt-right movement on mainland Europe. In 2013 Arnoud van Doorn, also accepted Islam. At the time he was a member of the Dutch nationalist Party for Freedom(PVV), led by white supremacist Geert Wilders.

Since the 2017 elections the PVV is now the second-largest party in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, instead of leading the drum beat of hatred and intolerance, Van Doorn is now President of the European Da’wah Foundation and has made the Hajj.

These are twin blows for groups with members whose policies and campaigns focus on the supposed ‘Islamisation’ of western nations in order to scare votes from their regional electorate.

But another story of changing faiths is emerging, which receives even less attention.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a rising pattern of Muslim refugees to Europe becoming Christians. In the first three months of 2016, the Austrian Catholic church logged 300 applications for adult baptism. The Austrian pastoral institute has estimated that 70% of those converting are refugees from Muslim nations.

Trinity church, in a Berlin suburb Pastor Gottfried Martens says his congregation has grown from 150 to almost 700, swollen by Muslim converts to Christianity. Similarly, churches in Berlin and Hamburg have reportedly having held mass conversions for asylum seekers at municipal swimming pools.

This is not surprising. Some refugees will doubtless be heartfelt in their new faith. There are also complex factors at play such as gratitude to Christian groups offering support during perilous escapes from war torn regions. Not to mention the expectation that conversion may aid asylum applications.

Conversions should not be seen as a threat but as a story of mutual seeking and sharing of understandings. As the story of religion in 21st Century Europe unfolds, perhaps this year we will see Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins to the peaceful fold of Islam.

Driving prejudice

It can seem as if Muslim women suffer the brunt of prejudice in western cities as we are so visible. After all a man with a beard could be a hipster but most of our hijab styles call us out as Muslims. As it is meant to.

The hijab allows us can recognise and help one another in the high street. It should encourage us to offer salaam to each other and to exhibit excellent behaviour and manners towards everyone whilst in public spaces. However it can also contribute to discrimination.

The House of Commons report, Employment Opportunities for Muslims in the UK (2016), recognised that Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in Britain for three reasons. We face employment bias on account of being female, if we are BME and when we are visibly, Muslim. 

Now evidence emerges about consumer bias affecting Muslim men and tied to their names. Reporters caught out car insurance firms charging higher rates for applicants called Mohammed as opposed to more English titles. 

“John Smith” wanting fully comprehensive insurance for a Ford Focus in Leicester was quoted online at £1,333. But for “Mohammed Ali” the coverage was £2,252. A massive £919 more for the same product.

Mohammed Butt, a victim of the scandal called it out.

 “It’s racism, pure and simple. They cannot say Mohammeds are worse drivers than Johns.  I received an email from my insurer Bell (a company named in the investigation).

‘This is 100% not the case and we do not, and have never, used this information to provide a price to our customers. I’m sorry if this story has caused you any concerns.’ 

The whole thing sounds like a social media joke on an EDL site:

 ‘What do you call a Muslim driver who wants car insurance?’ 

‘Overcharged’. 

Time to use the power of the green (Muslim) pound and to switch insurers.

Lauren Booth is a journalist and broadcaster who lectures on anti-muslim media bias and delivers executive level training on media management. She regularly deliver talks at conferences and faculties globally on social and political issues.

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