Peace be upon you
I am currently reading Ziauddin Sardar's Desperately Seeking Paradise, so I thought I'd offer my two-penneth...
Although I'd heard of the title, I'd not thought to buy it until I was recently looking on Amazon (a favourite haunt of mine) for a new book and happened to notice that Zia grew up in Hackney (as did I). With this in mind, I thought I'd have a read of it and see what reflections he had to offer on my place of origin...
Though I'm still reading it, I've been struck by a number of things... Firstly, Zia comes across as a very inquisitive person (which is a good thing). It also reads well; I can tell that a real person, with real emotions has written this book. With some books, this is not so clear. Here, there seems to be little pretentiousness and a lively sense of humour. Needless to say, I'm generally enjoying the work. I'll be able to offer a more considered opinion once I've finished it.
His comments regarding a number of contemporary Muslim groups also seem to hit the spot (more or less), though, to be fair, my own knowledge of some is poor. I've knocked around the Muslim 'scene', so to speak, for a while now and have encountered similar ideas and views myself.
As a convert (though I am undoubtedly no one special), I have encountered a wide range of reactions from other Muslims. Some have expressed admiration for my acceptance of Islam. Whilst this may be nice in the short-term, in the sense that it is nice to have one's ego stroked, upon reflection I find this faintly worrying. After all...who I am that people should look up to me? I am aware of my faults and sins (of which, unfortunately, there are many - astaghfirullah - may Allah forgive me) and am aware of some of my hidden motivations (no matter how dimly).
I have also encountered hostility, occasionally outright, as if I have no right to 'our' religion! Fortunately, there have been few such occasions. On reflection though, this seems to be the flipside of the above. Once the convert's halo slips (as it invariably does), I suppose it is then easy to demonise.
My own view is that 'conversion' is an experience common to us all. Whatever our backgrounds, and the religious views of our parents, once we come of age we all have to ask and answer the great questions ourselves. That is, we all have to decide what we think about God, life, the Universe and everything. Once we decide to follow Islam, we become converts and thus have to work out what this means ourselves; we have to come to our own conclusions about this crazy world!
Anyway, that's enough ranting for now.