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African-Caribbean Muslims in the spotlight

by Shirin Aguiar

JAMAICAN-BORN London terror suspect Lyndsay Jermain is one of a growing number of African-Caribbeans who have converted to Islam. Most follow peaceful mainstream Koran teachings, but a minority are sucked into extremism.

Lyndsay Jermain and partner Samantha Lewthwaite
Lyndsay Jermain and partner Samantha Lewthwaite

Jermain is the second terrorist of Jamaican origin to emerge in Britain.

Richard Reid, the shoe bomber who tried to blow up a flight to Miami in December 2001, is serving life in the United States.

Experts warned it was inevitable that the growing numbers of African-Caribbean converts to Islam would include a small number who stray off the true path.

Jermain, 19, was a bodybuilder who moved to Aylesbury from Huddersfield three years ago. He converted to Islam a year before that and changed his surname to Jamal, Arabic for ‘beautiful.’


A carpet-fitter and father-of-one, he had an English wife who also a convert to Islam and is expecting their second child.  Lyndsay blew himself up on the Piccadilly line near King&#39s Cross, killing at least 26 people, the single worst attack.

Actress Keira Knightly remembers London&#39s bomb victims yesterday
Actress Keira Knightly remembers London&#39s bomb victims yesterday

The Islamic Invitation Centre claims on its website that Islam is the fastest-growing religion among African-Caribbeans in the UK.

The vast majority do not fall into the hands of a radical fringe.

Peter Ratcliffe, director of UK Monitoring Centre for Racism & Xenophobia, said the fact that Jermain had a Jamaican background had no relevance to the crime he is suspected of because Islam is a world religion.

He said: “Islam takes precedence over national identity. The fact that he’s Jamaican is not relevant.  It’s unusual that we’ve got someone of Jamaican descent but it’s not as surprising as it appears.


Professor Ratcliffe said that people carried an “archetypal stereotype” image of likely terrorists but stressed Islam was a world religion and a “primary identity.”

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Muhammed Anwar, professor of Ethnic Relations at Warwick University, said a lot of conversions occurred in prisons. “In the US, a lot of Black people who are in prisons tend to convert to Islam. 

“They convert proportionately more when they are in prison than generally speaking. Even here, some Blacks who are in prison have converted to Islam while in prison.”


But Professor James Beckford, who is about to publish research comparing the experience of Muslims in prison in France and Britain, stresses numbers are low.

 - quote - Extremist tendencies are not something that grows naturally. It has to be cultivated.  - unquote -
Professor James Beckford

He said: “The research that I’ve done indicates that the level of radicalism among Muslim inmates is rather low.”

Beckford said violent radicals tended to be well-educated and have experienced discrimination.

“That kind of extremist tendency is not something that grows naturally. It has to be cultivated.

“They have to be people who are read, who enjoy books and immersing themselves in text and the interpretation of texts. They become immersed in discourses that are often very theological.

“They could have experienced serious racism where they felt discriminated. It drew them towards the more radical view of things.”

&#39nice quiet guy&#39

But while the naming of Jermain, and the inevitable comparisons with shoebomber Reid, will focus attention on African-Caribbean Muslims, experts believe the popularity of Islam means that a white Muslim is just as likely to carry out a terrorist attack as an African-Caribbean.

Reid was converted to Islam in Brixton prison but the governor John Podmore said blaming terrorists who were converted in prison was a “convenient way of saying it was not community responsibility.”

Meanwhile the Aylesbury community are baffled that they had a suicide bomber living among them. One young man said: “He was a nice quiet guy, a proper Muslim who didn&#39t drink or smoke.

“I&#39m really surprised they are saying this about him. I won&#39t believe it until I see his picture on the television.”


Jermain married Samantha Lewthwaite, 21, who had converted to Islam about a year before.  The couple met in Luton, while she was studying at university.  The town is well-known as a recruiting centre for extremist Islamist youths.

One man who knew them said:  “Samantha was very friendly with Muslim girls and, because of that friendship, wanted to convert to Islam. I think she met him through them, so you could say it was an arranged marriage.” His wife may have taken the name Sharima.

Neighbours described them as “a pleasant couple.”  At their local supermarket, a shop assistant said: “He was such a nice guy, polite, kind and very quiet. It&#39s just incredible he would do something like this.”

Hughie Rose, chairman of the UK Black Panthers Party, said Islam naturally draws Blacks because it offers them a lifeline. “Anytime that you have a people stripped of their language, religion, culture, name and history, there’s a void there.

“Islam comes to people that are dead and lightens up that void.  Islam has been able to do that for Black people and awaken the Black man. He’s seen as a dead man in the West with no hope for him.”


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