Almost 100 people from 17 western countries have formally converted to Islam at East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque over the past two years, according to mosque imam Sheikh Ekrima Said Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem.
"Ninety-seven people of 17 western nationalities have announced their voluntary conversion to Islam by repeating the Shahada [at the Al-Aqsa]," Sheikh Sabri said in a statement issued this week.
According to the tenets of Islam, would-be converts must recite the Shahada, or "testimony", repeating in Arabic: "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah; I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah."
According to the former grand mufti, most of the westerners to have recently converted at the mosque hailed from the U.S., France, Germany, Britain and Finland.
"Islam is the religion of justice and tolerance," Sheikh Sabri declared. "It is a comprehensive religion; the distillation of all previous divine messages."
He went on to stress that, according to the Quran, conversion had to be done on a strictly voluntary basis.
"As God Almighty says: ‘There shall be no compulsion in [the acceptance of] the faith," Sheikh Sabri, who is also head of Jerusalem’s Supreme Islamic Council, asserted, citing the holy book.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world visit the iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.