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Churchill's Family Begged Him Not to Convert to Islam, Letter Shows

Some have said Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime leader, was anti-Islam. A recently unearthed letter appears to show otherwise.

LONDON — British leader Winston Churchill was once begged to not convert to Islam, a recently unearthed family letter shows. The letter appears to disprove claims the iconic World War II leader was anti-Islam, according to the academic who found the correspondence.

"Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalism," wrote Lady Gwendeline Bertie in a letter dated Aug. 27, 1907, according to A. Warren Dockter, a research fellow at Cambridge University. "So if you come in contact with Islam, your conversion might be effected with greater ease than you might have supposed," added the woman who would become the future prime minister’s sister-in-law.

Dockter found the letter in the Churchill Archives Center in Cambridge and told NBC News that "most amateur histories and people with a political ax to grind" cite a Churchill quote about the dreadful nature of "Mohammedanism." But that quote was made in the context of a fundamentalist Islamic revolt in Sudan that was violently suppressed by the British and should not be interpreted as a reflection of Churchill's view on the entire religion, Dockter explained.

Churchill, who set up the Middle East Department in the Colonial Office of the British empire, had a lifelong interest in Islamic culture, according to Dockter, author of the upcoming book "Winston Churchill and the Islamic World: Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East." He added: "Churchill had Muslim friends, he liked Muslims, but did that mean he was always pro-Islam? Of course not."

— F. Brinley Bruton