Posts Tagged Muslim cults

Malcolm X moment

It’s not as though convert voices, or convert stories are never heard in conservative North American Muslim communities. “Why I embraced Islam” talks have been a fixture of MSA-sponsored events since the ’80’s at least. A growing number of converts are becoming prominent community leaders and scholars. A very small number of these converts are even female.

But here’s the thing: The stories told by converts that get heard are usually what the immigrant Muslim establishment sees as “feel-good” stories. Stories about women (especially white, middle-class women) who convert, put on hijab, and say that for the first time in their lives they feel truly liberated were popular in many of the conservative Muslim circles I frequented. But what about the stories of female converts who didn’t find marriage to a Muslim the “sheltering peace” that they had been led to expect? What about those who sought knowledge, and then were horrified by what they found? What about those who were manipulated and spiritually abused by shaykhs they trusted? What about those who are still dealing with the after-effects of their involvement in Muslim cults, dysfunctional Muslim communities, abusive marriages… or all of the above?

Convert stories are often really complicated. And they should be heard in all their complexity. Even when they don’t tell born Muslims things that they want to hear.

We seldom heard their stories. And, when their stories did come to light, they were quickly swept under the rug, or dismissed in various ways: It is an exaggeration. It can’t be true. She never really believed in the first place. God was testing her, and she should have shown more patience.

When sisters were struggling, they tended to avoid contact with other conservative Muslims. Once they had left, or been forced out, they typically disappeared. We lost contact with them.

Recently, Aminah left the following comment about the abuse that some converts have had to deal with:

“We have tried to talk about this before. Its not just that the community, including progressive or liberal Muslims, distanced themselves. Remember the last spate of ex Muslimah blogs, which started to crack the silence about abuse in marriages, community, tariqas and institutions? And what followed was abuse, slander, death threats, harassment. Muslim women unconnected w the blogs were suspected of being anti-abuse bloggers and subjected to phone calls and emails and community ostracization. Several of those women were hung out to dry. For a lot of us who blogged or guest posted or just read for the sense of a community – finally, not alone! – it was triggering and disheartening, particularly because this little handful of bloggers quit. Or moved on, taking their blogs with them. Just when we started to understand we weren’t alone – and started breaking the taboo of “revealing your husband’s secrets,” getting over the fear of that “sin,” it was all over.

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“Islam” and my experiences

I am in the process of trying to disentangle “Islam” (the world religion with some 1400-odd years of history) and my particular experiences as a North American convert in the early ’80’s.

This is challenging to do for several reasons. First of all, because “Islam” was often used as the justification for everything and anything–by community leaders, and by individuals. It was the ultimate legitimating tool for almost any action.

Second, because I was involved in or associated with different Muslim circles at different times, and they understood or defined Islam differently. Yet, those differences were often rhetorically blurred for a number of reasons. All the differences were particularly confusing to converts in particular, and we often missed the nuances of debates about beliefs and practices–or failed to understand that there was a debate going on at all. We had little or no sense of the history behind different positions, and tended to take what people said at face value.

Third, because North American discourses on “Islam” were ever-evolving. “Islam” was and is a moving target–though few community leaders typically admit that.

Frankly, most internet discourses on “Islam” get inane pretty fast. Remarkably wide generalizations abound–made both by believers, as well as those who are not Muslim and have no connection to Islam whatsoever. People generalize all the time about “Muslim women”, “the status of women in Islam,” “converts to Islam”, and so forth, in ways that they probably wouldn’t do if they were talking about almost any other group.

It has taken me some time to realize that a fair amount of what I have experienced is actually not a reflection of most North American Muslim women’s lives. Although I (and often, my convert friends) were often told or otherwise given to understand that “X is Islamic” and that no “good Muslim woman” would even dare to question Y, looking back, I can see that in some cases we were frankly being manipulated. Things were seldom as simple as we were told that they were.

At present, I (and a number of other converts I know) are dealing with the following issues:

the aftermath of bad marriages, ranging from dysfunctional to frankly abusive
psychological trauma (the effects of which range from depression to PTSD)
disturbed and traumatized children
strained relationships with our birth families (with some relationships damaged beyond repair)
serious financial losses/problems
long-term damage to our earning power; obstacles to career advancement
worries about how we will survive once our health does not allow us to work
the aftereffects of social isolation and alienation from the wider society
a deep sense of betrayal and loss

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