columnBy Bala Muhammad
As we begin the countdown to the end of the blessed month of Ramadan (having crossed the halfway mark back on Wednesday), we today celebrate 'celebrities' who are fasting with us, and we with them. 'Celebrities' may be a Western term, strange to Islam, but many of the people we shall discuss were 'famous' before they became Muslim - in fact, many of us do not even know they are Muslims.
We open with a report prepared at the request of the German Interior Ministry which revealed that "5,000 Germans converted to Islam between July 2004 and June 2005, a figure that is four times higher than that of the previous year. The researchers say... many university graduates and high-wage earners are joining Prophet Mohammad's religion. According to Berlin Imam Mohammed Herzog - a former protestant priest who converted to Islam - the Germans are choosing Islam 'as they respect its clear values and decrees'."
And another report, from no other source than the Jerusalem Post: "As many as 100,000 French and British citizens have converted to Islam over the last decade," according to a new book The Third Islamic Invasion of Europe written by an Israeli historian Prof. Raphael Israeli of Hebrew University.
Let us, then, celebrate a few 'celebrity' converts who are today fasting with us, some for several decades:
ACADEMIC: Prof. S. Abdallah Schleifer (b. Marc Schleifer 1935), American Professor Emeritus of TV journalism at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Veteran journalist who has covered the Middle East for more than 40 years, he was Senior Fellow and founding director of the Kamal Adham Center for Journalism Training and Research at AUC, where he served for two decades, as well as a Distinguished Lecturer in Mass Communication (and had taught this Columnist while the latter was a student at the AUC two decades ago). Schleifer became Muslim many decades ago.
JOURNALIST: Yvonne Ridley (b. 23 April 1958), British journalist best known for her capture by the Taliban and subsequent conversion to Islam after release, her outspoken opposition to Zionism and her criticism of Western media portrayals of the War on Terror. Ridley came to prominence on 28 September 2001 when she was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan whilst working for the Sunday Express. She was accused of being a spy. During her captivity she was invited to Islam by one of her captors; she refused, but promised to read the Qur'an after her release. Once freed, she kept this promise and read the Quran... She converted to Islam in the summer of 2003.
ARISTOCRAT: Charles Pelham, 8th Earl of Yarborough (Charles 'Abd al-Mateen' John Pelham, b. 5 November 1963), styled Lord Worsley between 1963 and 1966, British peer and landowner. Yarborough is the son of John Pelham, 7th Earl of Yarborough and was educated at Eton College. He succeeded his father to the title and a 28,000 acre (113 square kilometre) Lincolnshire estate in 1991 and is said to be worth £70 million. He is a convert to Islam, Master of the Brocklesby Hunt, and President of Brocklesby Park Cricket Club.
REVOLUTIONARY: Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (b. October 12, 1949), known as Carlos the Jackal, Venezuelan revolutionary currently serving a life sentence in France for the 1975 assassination of French counter-intelligence agents. For many years among the most wanted international fugitives. He was dubbed "The Jackal" by The Guardian after Frederick Forsyth's 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal. During his trial in France in 1997, he denied the 1975 killings, saying they were orchestrated by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, and condemning Israel as a terrorist nation, adding, "We never killed anyone for money, but for a cause--the liberation of Palestine." He converted to Islam in 2001. In June 2003 Carlos published a collection of writings titled Revolutionary Islam in which he seeks to explain and defend violence in terms of class conflict.
ACTIVIST: Lauren Booth (b. Sarah Jane Booth 22 July 1967 in London, half-sister of Cherie Blair, wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair) is an English broadcaster, journalist and pro-Palestinian activist. Works for Iran's state-owned 24-hour English language news channel, Press TV. Her mother is Pamela Smith, who was Jewish, although Lauren was not raised in the faith. Booth appeared at the Islam Channel's Global Peace and Unity event on 23 October 2010, dressed in loose clothing and with a hijab, declaring: "My name is Lauren Booth, and I am a Muslim".
WRITER: Sarah Joseph, CEO and Editor of Muslim lifestyle magazine emel and commentator on British Muslims. She is a writer and a broadcaster and lectures on Islam both within the UK and internationally. Sarah converted to Islam in her teens after being brought up as a Catholic. Awarded an OBE in 2004 for services to "interfaith dialogue and the promotion of women's rights", she says: "When I was about 13 my brother embraced Islam. I was very angry with him because Islam was so alien. I decided to find out more about it...There were obvious pressures on women in Western society to look slim and beautiful, and that didn't have any relevance to me. The more I studied the Koran over several months, the more I realised that Islam held many truths which I found admirable... It took me several years to decide to convert, and I did face some prejudice. People seem frightened of the religion because they don't understand it."
DIPLOMAT: Murad Wilfried Hofmann (b. 1931 in Aschaffenburg, Germany), prominent German diplomat and author. He studied at Harvard University. He has authored several books on Islam, including Journey to Makkah and Islam: The Alternative. Many of his books and essays focus on Islam's place in the West. He is one of the signatories of A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter by Islamic scholars to Christian leaders, calling for peace and understanding. Hofmann converted to Islam in 1980. His conversion was met with some controversy due to his high profile in the German government. Hofmann was Director for Information at NATO in Brussels 1983-1987, and was Germany's Ambassador to Algeria 1987-1990 and to Morocco 1990-1994.
POLITICIAN: Keith Maurice Ellison (b. August 4, 1963) is Member of the US House of Representatives from Minnesota, serving since 2007. He is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. Ellison's youth was influenced by the involvement of his family in the civil rights movement. At age 19, while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, Ellison converted to Islam, later giving the following explanation: "... I had begun to really look around and ask myself about the social circumstances of the country, issues of justice, issues of change. When I looked at my spiritual life, and I looked at what might inform social change, justice in society... I found Islam."
MUSICIAN: Jermaine Jackson (b. December 11, 1954), American singer, bass guitarist, composer, brother of late Michael Jackson, raised Jehovah's Witness by his devout mother, converted to Islam in 1989 after a trip to Bahrain, and almost straight away went on the Hajj pilgrimage to perform one of the pillars of Islam. His faith was credited on numerous occasions to be the catalyst for his calm and collected philosophy.
SPORTSMAN: Nicolas Anelka (b. 14 March 1979), French international footballer who played for Chelsea FC, among many famous clubs. After conversion to Islam, Anelka changed his name to Abdul-Salam Bilal. Anelka first broke through into the scene with Arsenal, who signed him from Paris St Germain. Anelka and another famous French footballer Frank Ribery (of Bayern Munich, Germany) recently performed Hajj.
They, and many other 'celebrities', fast with us. A sha ruwa lafiya.