Why did we do it? (I)

Ayasmom commented recently:

I read your blog regularly and identify with it in many ways although my experience has not been quite so horrible as yours. After reading this post I am left considering what is it about us that we actively participate in this type of personal transformation? What is it about our mental and emotional selves that allows us to search so diligently for an answer to all of life’s most difficult questions, find it in Islam, be so strong to adopt this very other cultural and religious identity, and then take it too far, so far that we inflict more self harm than we possibly faced before conversion? It’s like we leave the religion of our pasts because of the dogma we find unsuitable, but then inadvertently swap it for another. Sure we can all commiserate about the horrible patriarchal system that is perpetuated by traditional Islam, but being converts, we were ever really traditional to begin with? I think the patriarchy of religion is universal, not novel to Islam. I’m thankful for spaces like this where we can hash out all these experiences, thoughts, feelings and ideas. Thank you for sharing.

Good questions. Why did we put ourselves through this? Why (1) convert to an “alien” religion, and (2) take our conversions so very seriously that what we had been taught (or read) is “Islam” started dictating every single tiny detail of our lives? And as if that wasn’t enough, then some of us get involved in Muslim cults or cult-like groups?

What is it the drives the desire to convert, first of all? What was with all the interest in religious matters??


I guess it’s complicated. I do know that I have pretty much always been fascinated with answers to life’s most challenging questions, even when I was a kid. I don’t know why. If anything, it should have been the opposite—my parents had absolutely zero interest in religion when I was growing up, never ever took us to church or made any effort to inculcate any religious beliefs or identities. I was the only one of all of my siblings who was ever interested in religion.

I read everything I could get my hands on about it, from Aztec myths to the tracts handed out by our very religious Baptist neighbors. Stories, rituals, symbols linking the everyday to unseen realms, powerful and holy beings who could protect you… and that gave purpose and meaning to this world. As someone who had always felt that I didn’t fit in anywhere (and was regularly being told that I didn’t by others), questions of purpose and meaning were especially acute. What was life about? What was the point? What if anything lay beyond it? Who and what is God?

Other factors: Things like suffering, cruelty, injustice deeply disturbed me, and I would brood about them. I was very idealistic, and wanted to align myself with an approach to life that wasn’t implicated in the many injustices that I saw around me or read about.  I wanted existence to make sense, and believed that it must—it was just a question of finding the answers that I was sure were out there somewhere.

I have no idea how common this sort of thing is—this idealism combined with alienation, that ends up paving the way for conversion. But I have met other Muslim converts who have similar stories, of being powerfully drawn to religion (although it wasn’t really encouraged in their family), and feeling as though they didn’t fit in anywhere growing up. There seem to be so many reasons why people feel that way—chronic health problems, family dysfunction, gayness, gender identity issues, being socially awkward, moving a lot as a kid, having been neglected or abused, learning disabilities, mental health issues, being gifted, having been bullied… and some people seek transcendent answers.


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  1. #1 by threekidsandi on February 2, 2014 - 3:25 am

    I think you are right. Alienation and idealism. Add a certain desperation, and all you need is some manipulation to turn out a zealous convert.

    • #2 by xcwn on February 2, 2014 - 2:47 pm

      Yes, alienation and idealism plus desperation and manipulation can make for an explosive combination. (No, not that kind of explosive….)

  2. #3 by Astrid on February 2, 2014 - 9:45 pm

    I can relate to some of what you describe. I am a Christian convert, was raised atheist,and I cn definitely see how the search fo rsomething bigger than ourselves, the search for belonging, leads people to organized religion. Then there is the fact htat religions use this yearning fo rbelonging to gradually introduce us to their oppressive beliefs. I for one am not subscribing to oppressive Christianity, but I can see how I could fall into its trap. I don’t know anything about conversion to Islam so I can’t speak to that. I can see however, that I could’ve become more conservative/oppressive if the people influencing my religious beliefs were more so.

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