Dilemmas over wearing the hijab, pressures to marry, abuse from BNP family members and trans-sexuality are just some of the experiences of female Muslim converts in Britain explored in a groundbreaking new study.
Women interviewed for the project co-ordinated by Cambridge University and The New Muslims Project spoke candidly about feeling like "trophy converts" as white British followers of Islam, the negative portrayal of Islam by the media and their struggle for acceptance and understanding from society, friends and families.
Around 50 women, from across the age and racial spectrum, participated in the study from the University's Centre of Islamic Studies. Project leader Yasir Suleiman said women repeatedly expressed concern over the "overwhelmingly negative portrayal" of Muslims and Islam in the UK media.
"Conversion is a complex phenomenon. It is often full of joy and pain for the convert and her family and friends, regardless of the faith to which she converts, but no more so than when the faith is a maligned Islam and its followers," explained Suleiman. In the report, women said they faced persistent questions as to why a "liberated/free Western woman embrace a backward faith that oppresses her?". Professor Suleiman said that the question implied that there "must be something 'wrong' with, or 'perverse' about, the female convert to want to do this 'wrong/perverse' thing."
The study addressed the pressures Muslim women converts faced both in finding acceptance in their own community, and in wider society, especially if they decide to wear the hijab.
"A white convert is seen as a trophy and she is figuratively given pride of place on the mantle-piece of the Muslim household. This, it is reported, is not the case with non-White converts to Islam," the report said.
"The silent conversions of African-Caribbean female converts do, as a result, go unnoticed and they are made to remain invisible as if they were socially unworthy."
Most said it was common to be introduced to the religion by a "boyfriend, fiancée or husband" but none portrayed their Muslim spouses as being "pressurising".
The 49 participants included many from previous faith backgrounds: Church of England and Catholic as well as Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, and agnostic and atheist converts.
Surprisingly, many women from religious families said their families found it easier to accept their conversion, but a majority from atheist families expressed extremely angry reactions, ridicule, offensive remarks and attempts to belittle, diminish and undermine them.
One participant described how her father, unable to accept that his daughter had converted to a "barbaric and uncivilised" faith, threw her out of the house.
The brother responded by joining the British National Party to prevent the further 'Islamification' of Britain, starting with his sister, and the family told neighbours that their daughter had died.
When the participant travelled abroad to engage in humanitarian work, her family informed the security services of the country concerned that their daughter was a terrorist.
The teenage convert
Anisa Atkinson, from Scunthorpe, converted to Islam 15 years ago at the age of 17. She is divorced with two children.
"I was 17, studying in college, raised a devout Catholic. I went to Catholic school, but I had some Jewish ancestry and was fascinated with it, and considering going to Israel. I took a job in a restaurant and the proprietor's nephew was a born-again Muslim who handed me a pamphlet one day, about Islam.
"I said I'd read it, I had no intention of doing so, but on my break I was pretty bored so decided to flick through it. And a few pages in I realised this was what I had been searching for, it was a lightbulb moment.
"So I read more, and studied the religion, and a few months later I become a Muslim. My mother was devastated. At 17 I was not good at articulating my reasons and real feelings, I announced it at an Easter meal in front of all my family that they were all going to hell. I upset my mum a lot, and I got upset.
"I started to wear a headscarf and religious clothing and dressing more modestly and that embarrassed my mum, she was a teacher at a public school, and it looked bad for her. My mother and grandmother thought it was a teenage rebellion, that I'd been brainwashed by a dangerous cult.
"There was pressure for me to get married, certainly, I was introduced to brothers, cousins, relations from Lebanon and Pakistan. But I resisted all help, and ended up making a mistake with who I married. Born Muslims have a lot of help from their families, vetting their spouses, and converts don't have that support.
"Converts are never portrayed in the media as middle class girls, doing it for intellectual reasons. We aren't mentioned or discussed."