LONDON – The sister-in-law of Quartet envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair has reportedly converted to Islam after “a holy experience” while on a visit to Iran.
Anti-Israel activist and journalist Lauren Booth said she made the decision after visiting the Fatima al-Masumeh Shrine in Qom, the second most holy city in Iran after Mashhad, leading her to convert immediately on returning to the UK.
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“It was a Tuesday evening and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy,” she told The Mail on Sunday newspaper.
The 43-year-old activist, a presenter for the Iranian news channel Press TV who was given a Palestinian diplomatic status by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in 2008, said she now covers her head with a hijab when she leaves the house and prays five times daily. She also refused to rule out wearing a burka.
“Now I don’t eat pork and I read the Koran every day; I’m on page 60,” she claimed.
Booth also said she visits her local mosque when she can and has given up drinking.
“I also haven’t had a drink in 45 days, the longest period in 25 years. The strange thing is that since I decided to convert I haven’t wanted to touch alcohol, and I was someone who craved a glass of wine or two at the end of a day,” Booth told the Mail.
Booth also said that she had always been “sympathetic” to Islam.
“I was always impressed with the strength and comfort it gave,” she said.
The activist said she hoped her conversion would have an impact on Blair helping him to change his presumptions about Islam.
On a visit to Gaza in 2008, Booth compared Gaza to a “concentration camp” and a “humanitarian crisis on the scale of Darfur.”
Speaking on Press TV after her visit, Booth dismissed descriptions of Gaza as a prison.
“I want to say thank you for using the word ‘concentration camp’ because the word ‘prison’ has been applied in the last few years and that’s a lie. In a prison you get three meals a day, a nourishing diet, visits from outsiders and some hobbies and rehabilitation and a date for your release,” she said.
A few days before the interview, a picture of Booth shopping in a well-stocked grocery store in Gaza was published.
In August, Britain’s media regulator ruled a Press TV program on the May 31 Gaza flotilla raid presented by Booth breached broadcasting code rules on impartiality.
According to the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, known as Ofcom, the program began with a pro-Palestinian song and anti-Israel images, featured an array of recorded and live interviews with similar views and included descriptions of the incident such as “barbaric” and “massacre.”
Presenting a program titled Remember Palestine on the Iranian channel Booth said: “Israeli commandos committed a massacre of innocent civilians sailing aid ships to the besieged Gaza Strip... This was obviously a barbarous attack on civilians... As Turkey buries its murdered citizens...the brave men and women on the ships in one move have shifted world opinion against Israeli apartheid.”
Ofcom ruled that the program was one-sided and failed to offer alternative views.
In 2003, British journalist Yvonne Ridley converted to Islam following her kidnapping at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
Also an anti-Israel activist and Press TV presenter, the 51-yearold Respect Party member declared the party “Zionist free” in 2006 and described Israel as “that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East.”
“If there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists,” Ridley said.