The number of Britons choosing to become Muslims has nearly doubled in the past decade, according to a study published by the Independent newspaper on Tuesday.
The report said the figures were surprising in light of the fact that British Muslims have faced more scrutiny and criticism than any other religious community following the global spread of violent Islamism.
The Independent said estimating the number of converts living in Britain has always been difficult because census data does not differentiate between whether a religious person has adopted a new faith or was born into it. Previous estimates have placed the number of Muslim converts in the UK at between 14,000 and 25,000, according to the British daily.
However, the report said, a new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests the real figure could be as high as 100,000, with as many as 5,000 new conversions nationwide each year.
By using data from the Scottish 2001 census, researchers estimated that there were 60,699 converts living in Britain in 2001.
'Most shrug their shoulders'
With no new census planned until next year, the report said, researchers polled mosques in London to try to calculate how many conversions take place a year. The results gave a figure of 1,400 conversions in the capital in the past 12 months which, when extrapolated nationwide, would mean approximately 5,200 people adopting Islam every year.
"This report is the best intellectual 'guestimate' using census numbers, local authority data and polling from mosques," said Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters. "Either way few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years."
Asked by the Independent why people were converting in such large numbers, Mughal said, "I think there is definitely a relationship between conversions being on the increase and the prominence of Islam in the public domain. People are interested in finding out what Islam is all about and when they do that they go in different directions. Most shrug their shoulders and return to their lives but some will inevitably end up liking what they discover and will convert."
Batool al-Toma, an Irish born convert to Islam of 25 years who works at the Islamic Foundation and runs the New Muslims Project, one of the earliest groups set up specifically to help converts, told the Independent she believed the new figures were "a little on the high side."
"My guess would be the real figure is somewhere in between previous estimates, which were too low, and this latest one," she said. "I definitely think there has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as the converts themselves."
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