A 1907 letter discovered by a University of Cambridge researcher suggests that Winston Churchill — who served in the army in India in the late 1890s — may have considered converting to Islam after being exposed to the religion during his military service.
The letter was written by Lady Gwendoline Bertie, Churchill’s sister-in-law, who urged him to rein in his enthusiasm for Islam. The letter was discovered by researcher Warren Dockter, while working on his forthcoming book, “Winston Churchill and the Islamic World”.
The Sunday Telegraph quotes Lady Gwendoline’s letter to Churchill as stating, “Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise [fascination with the Orient and Islam], Pasha-like tendencies, I really have.”
She adds, “If you come into contact with Islam your conversion might be effected with greater ease than you might have supposed, call of the blood, don’t you know what I mean, do fight against it.”
Dockter told the newspaper, “Churchill had fought in Sudan and on the North West frontier of India so had much experience on being in ‘Islamic areas’”.
According to Dockter, not only did Churchill appear to regard Islam and Christianity as equals, he also admired the military prowess and history of expansion of the Ottoman Empire. The newspaper noted that in October 1940, Churchill approved plans to build a mosque in central London and set aside £100,000 for the project, which became the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park.
Dockter says a closer examination of Churchill’s attitude to the wider Muslim world reveals it to be “in stark contrast to the purely imperialistic and orientalist perspective of many of his contemporaries”.
Churchill’s fascination for Islam was “largely predicated on Victorian notions, which heavily romanticised the nomadic lifestyle and honour culture of the Bedouin tribes”, he says, adding that he had the good sense to ask in the 1920s what was the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims.