A relatively small, but growing trend in Europe involves Christian converting to Islam. Despite the heated "clash of civilizations" rhetoric that 9/11 has provoked, many people are stepping across the Christian-Muslim divide. Peter Ford wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that "[a]lthough there are no precise figures, observers who monitor Europe’s Muslim population estimate that several thousand men and women convert each year."
In recent years, several I the ranks of these converts to Islam have come from the world of soccer. Most have come from France, the country with the largest Muslim population in Europe.
The two most well-known French converts to Islam are Bolton’s Nicolas Anelka and Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery. In 2004, Anelka spoke of his growing interest in Islam.
The Muslim religion interests me. When I’m in Trappes (the neighborhood where he grew up), I hang out with Muslims and we discuss it a lot. In the summer we’re outdoors until 4am, so we have the time to talk. I listen to them in order to understand and learn, just like Roberto Baggio on Buddhism. It opens your mind and the subject fascinates me, just like astronomy does.
Anelka did eventually convert, taking the name Abdul-Salam Bilal (though he is rarely referred to as such).
Anelka’s teammate on the national team Franck Ribery has made headlines this year due to his stellar play with new club Bayern Munich. The French winger, whose former clubs include Galatasaray and Olympique Marseille, is as gifted as he is shy. Though he rarely talks to the media, he did say in 2006 of his conversion, "[a]s a kid, I spent all my time with Muslims. It is my choice. No one told me to do it. I prefer to keep my reasons to myself."It is known that Ribery’s wife, who is French of Moroccan descent, played a role in his conversion to Islam. Since converting, Ribery has often displayed his piety on the field, as John Lichfield wrote in the Independent in 2006: "He raises his hands to Allah before every match: something that goes down fine in Istanbul or Marseilles but was less appreciated during his brief periods in Metz and Brest."
Anelka and Ribery are not alone. Graham Spiers wrote in The (Glasgow) Herald in 2005 that "Ribery joined a trend in young French society by converting to Islam. Jacques Faty and Julien Faubert, two other prominent young French footballers, have done the same.
Two French coaches have also become Muslims. Perhaps not surprisingly, they are men who have spent much of their careers traveling the world to ply their trade, including in mainly Muslim countries. Fabio-look alike Bruno Metsu rose to fame by leading Senegal to success at the 2002 World Cup. During his time coaching in West Africa, "Metsu had to convert to Islam to marry Rokhaya ‘Daba’ Ndiaye, and a fair part of the Senegalese press now calls him Abdul Karim."
Philippe Troussier is known by his nickname "The White Witch Doctor" due to his success managing several teams in Africa. After a stint coaching Japan at the 2002 World Cup, Troussier returned to Africa as manager of Morocco. He was fired from this job after only two months, but decided to remain in the country with his wife. In 2006, both Troussier and his wife converted to Islam, taking the new names Omar and Amina (hers had been Dominique). The currently unemployed manager recently spoke to a TV station about his conversion (they term it a reversion), but your French will have to be better than mine if you want to understand exactly what he had to say.