I’m a Christian author and a social activist who spends a great deal of time talking about why someone with a Christian upbringing and a westernized background might choose to follow the path of Islam – even though I’m not a Muslim myself.
Sounds surprising? I know, but if you knew my family history you’d understand.
There are conversion stories in my own family. My great grandfather, Robert Reschid Stanley, was an esteemed local figure, both amongst his peers in regional politics in the North West of England and his brothers and sisters in the fledgling convert community of Liverpool in the late 19th century.
My brother, also in regional politics, accepted Islam two decades ago. It’s becoming something of a family tradition.
In my daily life and conversations, I find people are in desperate need of a story that provides a fairer and more honest explanation of the Muslim way of life, than those which we often see in the media.
Lauren Booth’s account of her spiritual journey, detailed in her memoir, ’Finding Peace in The Holy Land’ is exactly that.
For many, this book will be the closest that they ever come to truly understanding why a western woman, steeped in the consumerist values of ‘Luvvie-London’ living amidst the glamour and giddy hedonism of life in the celebrity spotlight, might choose to turn to Islam.
Lauren (born ‘Sarah’) paints a fascinating portrait of her early life. Especially vivid is the character of her father, the charming, charismatic and all too-often penniless Liverpudlian actor, Tony Booth.
Many will be expecting, perhaps even hoping, this memoir focuses on her relationship to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, her brother in law. She has received much criticism from the media for her criticism of his policies in the Middle East and at home.
Much of the flak she has received related to how a woman in her position is ‘supposed’ to behave. This book gives us the chance to hear a different version of Lauren Booth. Her writing is witty, powerful, and moving.
Similar to my ancestors experience, Lauren describes her interest in Islam as being piqued when it begins to dawn on her what is (and isn’t) happening, in terms of international action and social obligations. Both were unwilling to accept the way in which Muslims are treated and perceived by western power.
Booth tells how – at the same time as she embraced motherhood – her already left-wing mettle began to strengthen, that something stirred inside her as she was drawn towards the plight of the Palestinians.
Eventually, she spent time in Gaza. It was there, that the emptiness of a life of over-excess was brought into sharp relief as she faced the humble gratitude and hospitality of Muslim families in Palestine.
Today, there are wonderfully patronizing platitudes which women who choose to accept Islam are faced with by our society.
Usually, these involve being mentally or emotionally needy, being exposed to brainwashing cultish groups, doing it as an act of rebellion, or falling in love with a man.
Lauren’s narrative isn’t focused on knocking down these tropes, yet she deftly manages to do just that throughout. Sometimes using direct humor and at other times through her vivid and detailed writing, as she illustrates that none of the stereotypes we are sold as reasons for conversion to Islam were her motivation. Rather – and more simply – she experienced a profound and deep spiritual awakening.
This is a story about a woman who exudes a sense of mission from the day she was born; even if she didn’t realize it until much later on in life.
A woman of purpose, who demonstrates that liberation can be achieved at a personal level from the troubles of life. She shows that to experience the suffering of others – so it can be challenged for the good of human-kind – is one of the highest ambitions any of us can strive for.