Sir Winston Churchill, who led Britain to victory in World War II, seems to have had a fascination with Islamic culture.  So much so that many of his family believed he was considering converting to Islam.  In an effort to discourage him, his family begged him not to convert to Islam in a series of letters written to Churchill.  The family urged him to “fight against” the desire to convert to Islam according to a newly discovered letter.

In a letter dated August 1907 Churchill’s soon to be sister-in-law wrote to him: “Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise, Pasha-like tendencies, I really have.

“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.”

The letter, discovered by a history research fellow at Cambridge University, Warren Dockter, was written by Lady Gwendoline Bertie who married Churchill’s brother Jack.

“Churchill never seriously considered converting,” Dr Dockter told The Independent. “He was more or less an atheist by this time anyway. He did however have a fascination with Islamic culture which was common among Victorians.”

Churchhill observed the the culture when he served as an officer of the British Army in Sudan.  In a letter to Lady Lytton in 1907, he wrote that he “wished he were” a Pasha, which as a rank of distinction in the former Ottoman Empire.  He even shared an enthusiasm for Arab clothes and often dressed in the clothing in private much like his friend the poet Wilfrid S. Blunt.

Dr Dockter thinks Churchill’s family need never have worried about his interest in Islam.  While he was vocal in his admiration for Islam, Churchill was not uncritical. “The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men,” he wrote in his 1899 account of Sudan, The River War.

“Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralizes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.”