Measuring “Muslimness”

Sometimes, commenters write posts for me… and Jenny has now done it.

Jenny’s comment is written in response to a recent drive-by commenter, who wanted to know “if I am Muslim.” Jenny writes:

to this Mak person, who asked similar questions about CharmedShiva being Muslim or not–just in case he missed my response to his horrible post on her blog, here it is:

Bismillah ArRahman ArRaheem

First of all, your sentence structure strongly suggests that English is not your first language–in fact, it speaks of a certain grammar closely associated with Islam…(just sayin’). I sense a “born-Muslim” here, shocked that one of their beloved Sisters has seen the inside of the “Ummah” and Islam as it is interpreted within, and found it rotten. I’m sorry if you feel all naked and yucky and exposed (how dare she show the world our warts!) The author’s writing here is 100% spot on. I am a Muslim, and will remain so IN SPITE of Muslims like you. I suspect, mak, that YOU are one of these “born Muslims” , who get all warm and fuzzy listening to dawa videos on youtube…you know you are a Real Muslim (which TODAY is nothing more than an ugly reflection of the worst parts of your native-cultures). The author doesn’t malign Islam…It’s the FAKE, hollow Muslim apologists, and dawa workers who cover up the truth of life within the “Ummah” who do that.


Its kinda like selling a resort to prospective tourists–you want them to come, so you tell them how wonderful it is to stay there, the sparkling pool, tip-top staff, gourmet food, and etc.–only that was when you first opened, say thirty years ago. When the guests actually arrive, of course, lets just say from the other side of the world, exhausted, disoriented, ready to collapse into the nice, pillow-topped bed featured in the resort’s photo-gallery they are met with an unwelcome surprise. The resort is NOTHING like what they have been told. Sadly (or happily, depending on if you believe in this kind of dawa or not), our hapless tourists only discover the true nature of things once they are already INSIDE the property. It’s crumbling, old, dirty, dangerous–the elevators don’t work, the staff is surly and unhelpful, the food is filled with bacteria…Now our tourists are truly stuck–alone in a strange land, without family or friends, all their money stuck in your non-refundable package. See, you hooked ‘em. You convinced them that things were nice in your resort. Maybe it’s not honest business, but hey, you gotta’ bring ‘em in.

It’s the same thing with dawa. To claim the “pluses” of Islam (women’s rights, brotherhood (and sisterhood), honest dealing, and etc.) in order to attract or keep followers, when you really cannot offer them in real-life, is nothing more than a classic bait-and-switch SCAM.

Perhaps if people were less interested in coming up with clever wording to sell Islam in spite of reality, they might actually look INWARD–it’s easy. Just ask yourself, mak (and those of your ilk)…”Does our community, masjid, whatever–really reflect what we SAY it does to outsiders? ” Does it? Why not ask a convert whose been around for a few years (say 10+, they are rare, but they do exist)(hint-if they call themselves reverts, they probably haven’t). Really, mak, there’s a good chance they will tell you the truth (in spite of tremendous risk–it’s not like people like you are actually safe to talk to honestly-after all, you might call them a “fake Muslim” if their answer doesn’t stroke your ego).

I’m sure you will never understand any of this this, mak. But on the off chance, I thought I’d give it a go. I’d also like to impart (as a convert of 20 years) my very personal opinion of your post: It is because of people like you that many people leave Islam. If you truly love your religion, you may want to ponder…

And Allah knows best…(that goes for you, too, bro.)

these types of people are so blind–they don’t know the damage they do. One day God will show them the evil of their ways.

Yes, well. The “are you Muslim” questions say much more about the state of mind of the asker than about anything on this blog. The tab labeled “Respecting this space” pretty much says it all, but anyway, why would or should some random stranger even care? Surely his/her faith is enough, that they don’t need it to be bolstered by the faith of others?

I do recognize the mentality all too well, though. Back in the day when I was a hyper-conservative Muslim, I was conscious about being a small minority in the world—not only a minority in relation to the wider North American society, but also (I reluctantly realized) in relation to most of the world’s population of Muslims as well. It was an odd dynamic—while immigrant Muslims often looked down  on us North American converts for being somehow not truly Muslim enough no matter how conservative we were, we had no difficulty noticing numerous features of every Muslim culture we came across that diverged from what we had been taught is the “proper Islamic way” to do things.

We were insecure, so we looked for confirmation that we were right. Fortunately or unfortunately, certain “mainstream” conservative Sunni groups were more than happy to supply that, in the form of public presentations by converts (typically, white men, though sometimes white women). Written convert testimonials also circulated, through Islamic bookstores and at book tables in Muslim conference bazaars.

The mere fact of someone’s conversion buoyed our faltering confidence. But it was not enough. They had to practice conservatively, as we did, or we felt threatened. Women who converted and did not straightaway become hijabis were disturbing, even if they said that it was difficult for them and that their faith was not yet strong enough to take this step. When they finally caved in to the pressure and donned the hijab, we felt relief, though we didn’t know why this was so, exactly. Even better was the convert who went all out—not only did they practice “properly” and conservatively, but they sought to make hijra to a Muslim country, or at least to live in one for a time in order to study Islam. These were people who were willing to really sacrifice for the deen, we thought—and how much we wanted to be among them.

Even worse than someone converting but not practicing “properly” was someone who became interested in Islam, hung around Muslims, read about Islam and attended Muslim events, and then… decided that conversion wasn’t for them. Or, had the gall to then convert to another religion instead. That bothered us deeply, though we didn’t ask ourselves why.

And then there were those who had been fairly practicing, but then became less diligent. We found that disturbing too. After all, how could anyone see the truth, and then not throw themselves into it whole-heartedly? Why, indeed.

We were so unwilling to see anything that threatened to complicate our view of the world in those days. Which meant that this was a view of the world that in the end could not survive intact. It would collapse inwardly, and take our lives with it.

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  1. #1 by shepardmary57 on April 13, 2013 - 8:59 am

    I think the question, “are you Muslim?” was a provocative one. I recognized it as such, having had it asked of me many times in response to my raising issues. The implication was, “if you are a ‘real’ Muslim, you wouldn’t ask these questions or make these criticisms.” I’ve been admonished that whoever “taught” me didn’t do it right, or else I would accept all of what the questioner believes is “true Islam.” And, of course, since I don’t accept this traditional, one-size-fits-all Islam, I should not claim I am a Muslim.

    What I really had trouble with was the inability or unwillingness of even the shaykhs to answer my questions to my satisfaction. I was using critical thinking and this was my way of trying to understand, here in a Muslim country, my observations of how Muslims really live. It’s ironic that I would begin to doubt my faith while living among Muslims, after converting in the US and living several years as a Muslima without feeling any conflict. In the US, I was not living in a community where there were many Muslims, so I was not confronted with the conflicts I encountered here in Egypt – the misogyny, the mindless and robot-like obedience without question, the bigotry and the backwardness. Above all, the hypocrisy was what made me turn away. And the ignorance of thinking that Islam is the only legitimate way of life, the only way to success when it is just the opposite. Islamic belief keeps dictators in power (it is haram to criticize or overthrow your leader even if he is a tyrant), keeps the antiquated social class structure in place, and marginalizes non-Muslims. I was lied to, as a convert; I was told that Islam was perfect and that I would live my best life as a Muslim. Not true; a Muslim woman’s life sucks. That is where the hypocrisy goes the deepest. I’m told I’m a “precious jewel,” an object to be protected and cherished, but I am not a human being to be respected. If my marriage is a horror, I cannot get a divorce unless I leave only with the clothes on my back. I can’t go out without my husband’s permission. I have to have sex with him even if I don’t want to. And if he wants to marry up to three more women, and bring them home with him and keep us all under the same roof, there is nothing I can do about it. To top it off, he can beat me “lightly” and ignore me for days, to “punish” me if I complain. When he dies, I will receive only a small amount of his estate, and his brother has the right to marry me. This apparently is supposed to be Islam’s way of “providing for widows.” Pfffft. I cannot imagine a God so unfair and so cruel, so I reject this religion as it has been written by men.

    You are also right – I have gotten the very strong impression that those who are in religious authority know they have been put in the position of selling a bill of goods, of hiding what lies beneath the “outside” stuff. You will find this also among the very religious, who seem to be compensating by growing beards, wearing the niqab, putting on the costume, in effect, as a disguise. They repeat the BS to each other as reinforcement, that non-Muslims are speaking for the shaytan, we should not have them as friends, the only people you should listen to are the scholars, always the scholars who somehow have been able to decipher God’s hidden messages in the Quran that the rest of us are too stupid to find ourselves. What I always had a problem with was how the hadith were interpreted, and that they were even given so much importance, many times overriding the Quran.

    • #2 by xcwn on April 13, 2013 - 2:01 pm

      Mary—This is Jenny’s post for the most part, so it’s she who is “right” that “those who are in religious authority know they have been put in the position of selling a bill of goods.” But yeah, I do agree with her. Reluctantly, I might add. It was and is deeply disillusioning to realize this about them… anyway, that is another post.

      BTW, the idea that a deceased man’s brother has the “right” to marry his widow isn’t a legal ruling as far as I know. But, it is a tribal practice that is found in a number of communities, and Islamic laws governing child custody in certain madhhabs do promote widows “agreeing” that this would be for the best. After all, if a widow wants to remarry, she can’t keep her children unless she marries someone who is close kin to them. I suppose that in some cases, it provides a measure of security to widows, especially in parts of the world where there is no safety net. But ugh. To me, it’s too like the practice that the Qur’an forbids, of pagan Arabs inheriting their step-mothers.

  2. #3 by Quills & Bones on April 13, 2013 - 9:54 pm

    We are reminded, from the early days of Islam, of another possible answer to the mak ilk. Back in the day, many Arab tribes were given cash gifts to convert to Islam.

    So perhaps one way to answer, “Are you still a Muslim?” is “How much money are you willing to pay me to stay Muslim? $20,000 would be a good starting point! Don’t you think a Muslim is worth as much as a Hyundai?”

    • #4 by xcwn on April 13, 2013 - 10:25 pm

      Quills & Bones—lol. Yes, it might be an interesting exercise for such commenters to reflect on the historical source of their Muslimness: under what circumstances did their ancestors convert? In some cases it had little or nothing to do with faith. And what is it that keeps them Muslim? Habit? Having “Muslim” stamped on their identity card (in countries that put religion on identity documents)? The security of feeling that they are right and everyone who doesn’t agree with them is wrong?

  3. #5 by Fran on April 14, 2013 - 5:22 pm

    Thank you for being so poignantly articulate.

  4. #6 by Susan on April 16, 2013 - 4:19 am

    I’m entering into waters I may not know but I feel I need to comment. I reverted last Ramadan and Jenny is one of a small number of Muslims who is legit and real. I reverted because I believe in God, the Qur’an touched me and the Prophet inspires me. What I didn’t expect to revert into was the pettiness, shallowness and disrespect I have experienced. Particularly from brothers, who may quote ‘heaven lies at a mother’s feet’ at a Daw’ah table but not extend that respect to a sister who is old enough to be their mother.
    This is a brilliant, TRUTHFUL post and a Believer must always speak the Truth; even against oneself… Jenny and you are true believers; not people stuck in delusions. Thank you
    P.S. Jenny’s analogy of the tourist resort is spot on, accurate.

    • #7 by xcwn on April 16, 2013 - 1:04 pm

      Susan—Welcome aboard. I wish you all the best. Yes, Jenny’s analogy is unfortunately way too accurate. Most of what is promoted at da’wa tables doesn’t reflect reality–it’s just somebody’s fantasy of how things ought to be.

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