I converted to Islam in the early ’80’s, and it’s complicated.

Voices of people like me are seldom heard–I mean, really “heard.” Sure, you see a few (usually white) celebrity converts being paraded in the media and at conferences put on by conservative Muslim groups in North America and the UK.  But I hardly ever hear stories like mine, and of the other converts I know who had many of the same experiences that I did.

If I were to sum it all up in a sentence or two, I’d say that it is an odd mixture of some serious problems and community dysfunction, as well as a good amount of unintentional ridiculousness. We did take ourselves oh so seriously. Good grief.

A lot of what I do encounter about converts is frankly simplistic: They’re crazy. They’re better Muslims than born Muslims. They only became Muslim (especially if they’re female) because they don’t know how horrible Islam really is. They know more about Islam than born Muslims. They must have converted in order to marry a Muslim. They are a sign that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world today–yay team! They are a security threat. They show that Islam is adaptable to a wide variety of cultures. They are brainwashed.  And so on.

There’s a tendency to blame or to praise, to paint with a broad brush, to highlight the bizarre or shocking–or to try to brush it under the carpet. Rarely do I see much written about converts that is nuanced, or does justice to convert experiences that I am most familiar with. And I hardly ever see anything on convert experiences that tries to put them in their historical and cultural contexts. Especially when these are white North American converts–somehow, unlike their African American counterparts, they are just random eccentrics who somehow magically appear. And it’s as if they have no relationship whatsoever to larger cultural shifts, which is a myth if ever there was one.

To put it bluntly, North American small town white women converting to Islam in the ’80’s is no weirder than those who got involved in various New Age or other New Religious Movements, or were drawn to right-wing Christian patriarchal groups. In fact, this is all part of the same picture.  Which is an important reason why I often discuss issues related to North American right-wing religious patriarchy in general.


  1. #1 by luckyfatima on May 30, 2012 - 12:04 am

    Have you caught the show about Amish leaving the order? It is eerie watching it. It is rather tactfully done although obviously it is a voyeuristic peak ‘under the veil’ of the Amish lifestyle. I am not going to link for fear my comment would go to spam and you would never see it, but if you copy-paste google: “Moses Gingerich is the star of a 10-episode series, “Amish: Out of Order,” on the National Geographic Channel” you can get more info if you haven’t seen the show. It’s really interesting to see where Moses is with his personal faith and his relationship to the Amish world as a person who ran away to the English world and now helps other Amish and ex-Amish who want out of the lifestyle.

    BTW glad to see you back to blogging. Hope you stick around.

    • #2 by xcwn on May 30, 2012 - 2:55 am

      No, I haven’t seen that show. Thanks for the heads up; it sounds interesting.
      Glad to hear from you again too. And won’t you too get back to blogging? I always enjoyed reading your posts.

  2. #3 by Grace Song on August 13, 2012 - 5:59 am

    Salam! I am a convert of nearly two decades and have experienced so much of the ugliness you have mentioned in your various posts. I am wondering if you have had the opportunity to read “The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books” by Khaled Abou El Fadl? If not, you owe it to yourself to do so. It explains so much of what goes on in North American Muslim communities today, and boldly, honestly and beautifully takes us back to what God intended for us in an intellectually and spiritually uplifting way. 🙂

    • #4 by xcwn on August 18, 2012 - 9:05 pm

      Grace Song—Thank you for your comment, and for drawing _The Search for Beauty in Islam_ to the attention of readers. Yes, I have read that book. I particularly appreciated his other book, _Speaking in God’s Name_.

  3. #5 by yet_another_apostate on August 19, 2012 - 2:05 am

    Hello all,

    I’ve been following this blog sort of sporadically. I was sort of caught up in a woman’s cult for a good ten years. My story is a bit complicated–I could never quite rid myself of the skepticism, so I didn’t fall hook, line and sinker. I’m also hyper-perceptive and I realized that many of the people were charlatans. While I towed the line when I was around them, when I was on my own, I did what I wanted.

    Anyway, when I came back to the U.S., I did a PhD in Islamic Studies. Of course, through my readings of the classical sources, I ended up disavowing many of my “beliefs”–I’m not sure I ever fully believed in the mission of Muhammad, etc.

    It’s been a long, odd path. At this point, I’ve reclaimed my identity in the Muslim community. I describe myself as a Muslim-deist–that is, I consider myself culturally Muslim after having practiced for years. In reality, I’m closer to an agnostic.

    What I find interesting is that the people who are most antagonistic to me are white converts. It’s almost as if what I’ve done (a full 180, if you will) threatens them. I’m not sure what it is. Many of my born-Muslim friends are really accepting of my decisions (I divorced my Muslim husband and married outside of the community without looking back. Heck–why would I hang about a community in which anything outside of hetero-normativity is completely shunned. No thanks. I wasn’t a spinster when I divorced, so I desired to remarry. Sure, it probably would have been less complicated to marry a Muslim (given that I had children), but I knew my chances were slim to none.

    Anyway–this is just an introduction and I’d like to probe the whole white convert phenomenon.

  4. #6 by xcwn on August 19, 2012 - 4:00 am

    yet_another-apostate: Thanks for introducing yourself. It’s good to hear from someone who has succeeded in rebuilding their life after spending time in a Muslim cult.

  5. #7 by Keena on November 24, 2012 - 2:00 am

    Im pretty new to your blog and I appreciate the topics. But my only issue is when you keep on questioning everything where does that lead? I took my shahadah 7 years ago and then again a few times since then. Much of my debating and overthinking had left me “apostate” to islam and doing what I wanted, only to return again and again. At the end of the day you have to follow something even if you dont agree with others ways of interpretation.

    • #8 by xcwn on November 26, 2012 - 6:09 pm

      Keena—I don’t know where questioning leads, ultimately. But I think life is a journey, and trying to make myself believe that I could fit into molds that I couldn’t fit into didn’t work. After all, if God knows everything, then God knows when a person lies to themselves, so us questioning folk are presumably in trouble whatever we do.

      Your comment that equates being “apostate” and “doing what (you) wanted” seems to be gesturing towards a common stereotype of those who question or leave Islam—that “all they really wanted was to…. (party/sleep around/indulge their desires…)”. But that hasn’t been my experience. I don’t know anyone who stepped away from conservative Islam and then said, “wheeee… now I can do whatever the hell I want!” I certainly didn’t.

    • #9 by Katiba on December 3, 2014 - 8:16 pm

      one person’s cult is another person’s spiritual family. just sayin’

  6. #10 by deonnakellisayed on February 23, 2013 - 4:50 pm

    This is a great blog and a great perspective! Thanks for speaking about these things.

  7. #11 by MB on March 19, 2013 - 10:38 am

    Just found your blog yesterday. Wow! Thank you so much for writing this. I sometimes wish I could write about my unique experiences, good and bad, since I converted almost 17 years ago, but I’d rather do so anonymously. You write with so much depth, eloquence, and honesty. I can’t wait to read more of your previous entries. I know no one now that I can talk to about these issues, and am glad to know there are more people like myself out there with similar experiences.

  8. #12 by A on March 30, 2013 - 12:12 am

    I know I’ve said this as part of a comment or two in some if your posts but I can’t stop myself from saying it here, again. Your posts are incredibly real to my own experiences and perhaps by saying that I’m being selfish (your latest post) but I say it in acknowledgment and support of your writing that is so beautiful and powerful. Thank you and please consider writing that book.

  9. #13 by Orbala on April 15, 2014 - 11:22 pm

    I’m so infinitely grateful for this amazing and refreshing blog! Thank you so much. I look forward to reading your articles the same way I look forward to a break. I’m not a convert (“born-Muslim” here), but, yet, what you write is so real to me – and that might at least be because of the way you tell it. *e-hug*!

  10. #14 by rosalindawijks on July 8, 2014 - 12:43 pm

    I just stumbled upon this blog which I find very interesting and entertaining, and I think you’ll like it, too. It’ s called: muslimahwalkingaround.wordpress.com

  11. #15 by Anon on February 21, 2015 - 12:24 am

    I have read through most of your blog (and am still reading more) and I have to say thank you for doing this. Your writing is brilliant – eloquent, logical and extremely true. You describe exactly what the problems are behind patriarchal religions and you do it so well your posts are a pleasure to read. I myself came from a conservative Christian environment and grew up with modesty doctrine and found it so difficult to understand how I kept getting harassed and assaulted even though I followed all the rules. It made me question everything and then I realised it was the choice of people to harass/assault/rape. Not the victim’s fault. Modesty did not help me and slowly I began to question the other patriarchal aspects and now have recovered. I still choose to believe in God but I cannot accept the kind of oppression that goes along with these religions. It must be hard for you to voice these opinions as it may be triggering and also dealing with internet commentators who troll/insult you must be difficult. But you are doing a good job!

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