Documenting Conversion: Framings of Female Converts to Islam in British and Swiss documentaries

Lucy Spoliar, Nella van den Brandt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

In response to the phenomenon of women converting to Islam, a body of research has emerged, engaging with the question, ‘Why are Western women, raised in liberal contexts, converting to Islam?’ This line of enquiry is not limited to academic literature. In recent years, converts to Islam have faced intense scrutiny in mainstream media across Europe. This article contributes an analysis of documentaries to the study of representations of female converts to Islam, focusing particularly on the British documentary Make Me a Muslim (2014) and the Swiss documentary Les Converties d’Allah (2017). We suggest that comparing these two documentaries illuminates certain common narrative threads in media representations of female converts to Islam across different European contexts. In this article, we firstly situate this research within existing literature on gender and conversion to Islam and outline our approach to the study of documentaries on women’s conversion to Islam. Secondly, we analyse the two documentaries, focusing on their shared concerns, namely gender equality and women’s oppression, and the familial environment of the female convert. We argue that paying attention to how female converts are represented illuminates some of the ways in which European framings of the ‘in-betweenness’ of female converts to Islam create notions of female converts as ‘vulnerable-fanatics’ prone to ‘radicalisation’, and threatened by ‘oppressive’ Islam. We demonstrate how female converts participating in documentaries at times complicate and talk back to apprehensions regarding equality, oppression and radicalisation. Finally, we focus in a similar way on understandings of female converts as ‘troublemakers’ within their family environments. Throughout the analysis, we show how the figure of the female convert as vulnerable-fanatic and as family troublemaker is gendered and interlaced with concerns about essentialised cultural difference and radicalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-485
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Women's Studies
Volume28
Issue number4
Early online date4 May 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes

Funder

The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Keywords

  • conversion
  • documentaries
  • Europe
  • gender
  • Islam
  • representation

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