Archive for May, 2013

“As my shaykh taught me…”

On the last post, Bebe g commented:

“…We were even taught by our pakistani sheik that all white people where naturally evil and would never convert to Islam because they naturally have dark hearts. But he was quick to marry a white woman 1st chance he had. Good thing I never believed him.. To many people who are donned leaders of the community and are followed by the ignorant non reading locals….”

Hoo boy, did that part of her comment trigger memories! Things that people’s shaykhs taught them. Or, things that people claimed that their shaykhs had taught them, anyhow. Things that people we looked up to as “scholars” and “shaykhs” taught us, and that we felt that we had to believe. Things that people claimed to know because they were following the Sufi path….

My earliest memory of that sort of thing falls into the latter category. We were visiting the family of a friend of my ex. This friend (and his family) were from the same ethnic background, but that was about where the similarities ended, because the friend (unlike my ex) was a devoted Sufi who followed a shaykh from back home. (My ex told me later that this shaykh was a charlatan who was well known for his shady financial dealings and lavish person lifestyle… but anyway.) While we were at my ex’s friend’s house, we met another of that shaykh’s murids. When the murid realized that I am a convert, he immediately wanted to know what my ethnic background was.

I replied that my mother’s side of the family is originally from X, and my father’s side from Y.

The murid loudly objected, telling me: “No, you are only what your father is, not what your mother is! Your essence can only come from your father.”

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Here comes everyone—yes, everyone

Nowadays, it seems that converts can’t stay out of the limelight.

The latest dust-up about Umar Lee’s video announcing that he has left Islam (and returned to Christianity) is unfolding along the usual lines: Some are questioning why, and mocking his stated reasons for leaving. Others are lamenting that Muslims drove him away “with our bad behavior” and urging that the problems he mentions be decisively addressed. Yet others complain that his criticisms are one-sided and that he doesn’t seem to have noticed all the positive changes that are happening in some Muslim communities in North America. Some claim that he can’t have been a real Muslim in the first place, or that he is being “paid” by “the enemies of Islam” to go through the theatrics of leaving Islam, or that he is really just doing it for money, or media attention. And of course, some are smugly pontificating that the problem is that Lee never really understood Islam “properly,” because he was a Salafi and not a neo-traditionalist (as though no neo-traditionalists have ever left Islam…  lol). And yet another claim: his “real problem” is that “he has issues.” That he is “unbalanced.”

In other words, it’s the same tired old lines that are trotted out every time something like this happens.

I didn’t read much of what he wrote, back when he was blogging. And most of what I read, I didn’t agree with. His misogyny and his attacks on people he didn’t agree with were certainly disturbing to me—not because he was too far outside of “the norm” of conservative, Salafi-ish discourse that I was used to, but because he seemed to reflect its most disturbing aspects far too well.

I didn’t know him. I didn’t have any dealings with him. So, I can’t speak to “what really happened.” And my focus here is not to try to diagnose Umar Lee, but to look at these tired claims that are made whenever anyone leaves Islam (or seems to be about to leave Islam, in the view of some Muslims). Especially, the claim that the person “has issues” or is “unbalanced.”

But if people “have issues” or are “unbalanced,” so what??

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More on converts and downward spirals

In the last post, I discussed the downward spirals the female converts can get into, and the ideas found in some conservative Muslim discourses about women’s roles that can promote this.

Are there any solutions? I can already hear the puritanical “do it by the book” types pontificating about this: As we’ve been saying, all sisters, including convert sisters must have a wali in order to get married! Or: Sisters should know that it is their Islamic right to be financially supported by their husbands, and if they allow themselves to be cheated out of their Islamic right, then they only have themselves to blame!

Translation: she had problems because she was Doing It Wrong. She either didn’t know The True Islam (TM), or lacked enough taqwa to put it into practice.

That sort of claim is not really an answer, so much as a conversation-stopper. Nobody is supposed to be bold enough to ask how getting some man who might not really know much about her (like some overworked mosque imam), or even a man whose supposed concern for her welfare might not be disinterested (such as a reputedly pious brother married to her best friend, who is secretly on the lookout for a younger, more attractive second wife) to act as her wali would necessarily protect her from getting into a bad marriage.

Nobody is supposed to notice that many of the reasons that getting into bad marriages can be so destructive to female converts is due to the way the system itself is often set up, what with so much emphasis on women in particular getting and staying married, and such limited options for exiting bad or even abusive marriages. Instead of proposing that there needs to be less pressure on women to marry, and more access to family counseling and female-initiated divorce, the solution is supposed to be more patriarchal control of women by not allowing them to get married without a man’s permission.

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Converts… and downward spirals

Recently, Muslim converts—particularly, white, middle-class female converts from North America—are in the news again, thanks to the attack in Boston.  And not in a good way.

I’ve been too heartsick to blog about it.

The (white, female, North American) convert responses to this latest situation that I have so far been able to find online deal with two main issues: the stereotypical media portrayals that imply that there is a connection between putting on hijab and becoming radicalized, and media portrayals that imply that female converts who marry immigrant Muslims don’t have agency. In other words, these converts don’t want to be put in the same category as Katherine Russell. They don’t want people making assumptions about why they converted, or why they wear hijab (for those who do), or what their relationships with their husbands are like.

Well, that’s understandable. In the more than two decades in which I lived as a conservative, hijab-wearing Muslim, I had to put up with a lot of assumptions about why I converted, why I wore hijab… and I had to deal with patronizing dismissals of my agency. And not only from non-Muslims, I might add. The stereotypes about female converts—that we don’t really know anything about Islam, and/or that we were motivated to convert by emotion or a desire to please a Muslim man—were not uncommon among the immigrant Muslims that I dealt with. So, enough with the stereotypes already.

But. To my mind, rejecting such stereotypes shouldn’t be the end of the discussion. It should be the beginning. And now that we’ve done that, can the discussion move on to more important things than headscarves and alleged initial reasons for converting. Things like what resources there are that might be available to converts who find themselves getting in way over their heads.

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