Posts Tagged newbie converts

Towards telling our stories

(continued from the October 5th post on the “White Widow”)

In her article on Samantha Lewthwaite, Khadija Magardie  begins by stating that it isn’t regarded as polite in the Muslim community to refer to converts as “converts”—instead, they are called “reverts,” because it is believed that everyone is born a Muslim, but many people regard themselves as belonging to other religions because their parents made them into something else. And, that Muslims see this notion that everyone is actually born Muslim as a positive thing, as proof that the community is open to everyone and anyone who wants to join it. And also, that a number of prominent people in the twentieth century converted to Islam, and in some cases, helped directly or indirectly to promote the myth of an open, embracing world-wide Muslim community that welcomes everyone, regardless of race, class or gender.

But. All too often, converts soon discover that this pretty picture bears, well…. little if any relationship to reality.

And what do converts do when they begin to realize that in fact, they will never really “fit in” to the Muslim communities that they are trying to join?

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Converts, wtf — Impossible predicaments

It’s hard to begin to get a handle on white converts. Even if I limit myself to North America—though I’m not sure that doing that would be entirely accurate. Even back in the stone age (aka pre-internet days), when communications were so painfully expensive/slow, our experiences as white converts were affected by whatever contacts we had with the experiences or ideas of white converts elsewhere (particularly in western Europe). It seems that ours is a transnational experience.

There really is no “white convert community” in the sense of a fixed entity. It’s more like a flowing river… or less poetically, a revolving door, with people entering and exiting all the time (and some still whirling around and around). The convert population is forever in flux. There don’t seem to be many statistics available, presumably in part because it must be hard to study such a small population that is geographically dispersed. One study in Illinois by a Muslim researcher in the late ’90’s found that about 75% of American converts (race not mentioned) leave Islam, but how applicable these numbers might to elsewhere in North America or to the situation now even in Illinois is unclear. But speaking from experience, the converts I knew were often highly mobile in more ways than one: Some left Islam. Some left conservative Islam for much more liberal interpretations (which for us at that time meant pretty much that they had left Islam… and we lost contact with them). Some moved across the continent… or to the other side of the world. Some moved repeatedly.

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Converts, wtf?? — Introduction

The recent news items involving converts and extremism continue to really bother me. I mean, wtf??? What on earth is going on here?

Part of the problem is (for lack of a better word) the horror. Who on earth would have thought that it could be in any way appropriate to hack anyone to death? Some things are just beyond belief.  Young men barely out of high school going somewhere half-way across the world to blow sh*t up and kill people they don’t know much if anything about, inspired by apparently little more than… propaganda videos with men in fatigues with Arabic slogans on their headbands and carrying guns while nasheeds play in the background??

There’s that type of horror, and then there is the quieter, yet somehow even more chilling horror. The stories of converts who get sucked into the role of enabler for extremists. Whether knowingly or unknowingly… or somewhere in-between. Extremists not only in the narrow sense that tends to dominate media coverage—those who use violence—but extremists in terms of social and/or political attitudes.

Part of the problem (again for lack of a better word) is the shame factor. In the public eye, these are my people.

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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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Rereading “Status of Woman in Islam” (VI)

And so, we have come to the end of the section on “the spiritual aspect” of “the status of woman in Islam.”

It is this section that is really the linch-pin of the argument that the booklet is trying to make.

Looking back at how I read this section of the booklet in the early ’80’s, and the impact that it and other similar pamphlets, books and talks had on my life (and also on the lives of other converts I knew), I am taken aback at all the word-games that were going on—and how we didn’t recognize this.

We did actually believe that “woman is completely equated with man in the sight of God in terms of her rights and responsibilities” because we read that this is what the Qur’an says—at least, according to this booklet. And once convinced of this “fact”, we read the rest of the booklet (and others like it), as well as the Qur’an and other Muslim literature, through that “equality” filter.

It was fairly easy to fall into doing this, because similar claims were commonly made in books and pamphlets written by conservative Muslims, and in talks on “women in Islam” given at events sponsored by the MSA and other Muslim groups… and also in conversations with average Muslims.

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How we were sold on patriarchal religion—reason #59

Because we knew it all. After having read a few pamphlets, and heard a few inspiring (and carefully vague) talks on “the status of woman in Islam” (as such talks were often entitled back in the early ’80’s).

Let me back up a bit here. Several weeks ago, I received a comment that weirded me out because it could have been written by me years ago.

It was a rather unnerving experience, but also an instructive one.

Hajar writes:

“I am a convert, who recently moved from Western Europe to Egypt. I hear all the time that women are oppressed here and controled by men. I however don’t see this in my daily life here. Women work, they are doctors, lawyers, scientists, pharmacists etc.
I also dont know any hadeeth that are demeaning to women, actually i know many that show that men should treat women well.
As always, one must differentiate between tradition and religion. The traditions are stuck to cultures, the religion is what the religious books (bible, quran) say. traditions can change as the people change, religion, like God is constant.
I am sure that every man who abuses a woman, inside himself he knows that what he is doing is wrong, he is just too selfish to stop. All persons (with a few exceptions) are born with the knowledge or intuition of what is right and wrong.
What are the parts of quran or the trusted hadeeth that are demeaning to women according to you all???”

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Of child-rearing formulas and angry teens—and missed opportunities

My kids are angry. They have lots of things to be angry about—growing up in (religiously-induced) poverty, growing up with a lot of religious restrictions that even some other Muslim kids they knew didn’t have, their father’s actions (especially, his cheating, justified as polygamy), my actions (especially, my conservative Muslim idealism that flew in the face of reality), our inability to live the idealized (and for us, quite unrealistic) vision of the “ideal Islamic marriage/family,” our divorce, the bone-headed judgmentalness of those conservative Muslims who couldn’t keep their opinions about our divorce and how the kids were likely going to be affected by my working and dehijabbing and leaving my marriage to themselves….

Is there a way of talking about teenage rebellion without getting into a blame game?(

Is there a way to get beyond simplistic, formulaic answers when talking about Muslim teenage rebellion?

Sometimes, they turn their anger inward, and become very moody. Sometimes, the younger kids express their anger by squabbling among themselves. Sometimes, by being rude to me. And sometimes, they rebel.

There’s teenage rebellion, and there’s teenage rebellion. Some of it is par for the course in the wider society—piercings, tattoos, skimpy or “gangster-ish” clothing—though not acceptable in the conservative community that they were raised in, where such signs of teenage rebellion are sources of stigma for parents (who clearly didn’t manage to “raise their kids properly”). But some types of rebellion can lead to trouble with the law.

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