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Don’t call me a “convert”/”revert”

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An explanation of why I reject the construct:

My opposition to the use of the word convert to describe someone like myself (Muslim over a decade) is linked to the exclusive and thus exclusionary dimension of the term ‘convert’.
It both identifies those of non-muslim heritage as different to the rest of the community, in some cases, particularly white converts, as somehow superior and more enlightened, worthy of adulation and praise for having left behind the (implied superior) dominant culture to adopt the (implied lesser) subaltern culture, and on the other hand, serves to deligitimise those same voices when necessary by putting into question the ‘true’ islamic nature of their identity.
This process of adulation and deligitimisation contributes to the identification of (usually white) converts as somehow separate to the rest of the community – black and Asian converts are assumed to blend into the Muslim body more seamlessly since their ethnicity means they are already assumed to come from within the (implied lesser) sub-culture – this leads to a hierarchy of converts, whereby white, female converts are typically prized over all others and paraded as evidence of Islam’s superiority. This itself betrays racist assumptions about white supremacy.

When people describe me as a ‘convert’ they typically do this for 3 principle reasons:

1) the convert is deemed to represent an uncritical approval of “Islam” (who’s Islam is unclear), as if somehow the new adherent is a validation of the world view of all Muslims, when in fact, many of these are mutually contradictory (not at the core, but anywhere beyond) and the individual may have a much more complex interaction with the paradigm “Islam”

2) they want to undermine my position by pointing to the ‘new’ dimension of my faith, despite in some cases, it being far older than their own practice of the faith,

3) it serves as a code word for reactionary, eccentric, strange and possibly a bit deranged. In other words, it serves to deligitimise my position by claiming that my adherence to a faith presumed to be regressive in nature necessarily implies my person-hood and views are questionable. It is code word for, she used to be normal, but lost the plot, so beware. It is intended to cast suspicion and doubt over your integrity and respectability. And as such it functions as a process of exclusion from both the dominant body (non-muslim society) and the Muslim community (not quite one of them either). It is also entirely irrelevant to my position 99.9% of the time.

For that reason I advocate Muslims stop using the construction, stop validating it and put an end to the cult of the “convert”. I convertED 11 year ago. Today? I’m just Muslim thanks.

Written by Myriam Francois

June 15, 2013 at 14:10

Posted in all, musings

Tagged with , , , ,

22 Responses

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  1. Fantastic. We should all stop saying “converts”.

    Zakariyya Osmani

    June 15, 2014 at 14:59

  2. The three principal reasons given are by no means generally applicable, but bases on specific assumptions of what is implied with the term. For (1) quite the opposite could be argued: that it is a very conscious decision and informed choice based on critical examination; a similar argument can be made for (2); (3) is based on instances of polemical use of the term to undermine the credibility of the convert or genuineness of conversion. The issue of ‘trophy converts’ applies not only to whites, cf. Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X.

    To my mind the terms conversion and convert are legitimately used in the study of religion, and other fields of academic inquiry too, to describe the phenomenon of taking up a conviction or adopt a position previously not held.

    caroolkersten

    June 15, 2014 at 15:02

    • I don’t really understand your first riposte – I’m not saying what you think I’m saying. I’m referring to internal (to the community) perception of converts. As for 2) I respectfully disagree – even prominent theologian converts are still often dismissed on the basis of their conversion, though it may also play a part in their appeal
      As for trophy converts, it is a broader phenomenon, for sure, but it still contains an internal racial hierarchy.
      I prefer the term “heritage Muslim” or non-heritage as its opposite, though I’d prefer a term which wasn’t defined in opposition.

      myriamcerrah

      June 15, 2014 at 21:11

      • Sorry,we are all (as muslims)so much proud of people like you.

        Mohammed

        October 14, 2014 at 21:03

  3. As an Arabic Muslim, “convert” gives this kind of difference between Muslims, it means that Muslims are 2 types, the original one and the reverted one !!!

    Malik

    June 15, 2014 at 15:10

  4. Very well argued, you are either a practicing Muslim or not. Most Muslims born in Muslim families came to a point in life when they decided take their faith seriously so this distinction is kinda useless. Thank you for the article.

    shuaibkadri

    June 15, 2014 at 15:39

  5. yes you are a Muslim as i am…no other sects..just Muslim.

    NAdeem

    June 15, 2014 at 16:23

  6. Well, I’ve never thought there was anything negative or untoward about the ‘convert’/’revert’ terms. All it’s meant to me is that the particular person adopted Islam having previously followed another religion or none. Throughout history people have left different religions, since the prophet’s wife Khadija, to convert to Islam. I’m quite sure very many wouldn’t be bothered at being referred to as ‘converts.’ However, I’ll make certain I don’t unnecessarily use the term.

    Asim

    June 15, 2014 at 16:34

  7. You seems in bad mood today🙂

    Being in Islam from decade or centuries, doesn’t matter. How much we know and follow the teachings what we are supposed to do, is really matter.
    And you are guiding the people with your in-depth knowledge. so the word “Converted” is useless.

    Shahzad Aamir

    June 15, 2014 at 16:37

  8. Nicely explain

    ubaidullah (@safeabz)

    June 15, 2014 at 16:49

  9. Muslims know in their hearts of hearts that they are “civilizational underdogs” in today’s modern world; they are politically, economically, and technologically among the most backward of societies. Therefore, they “need validation” at every turn, especially if it comes from the “white race,” Euro-America. It somehow legitimates them, and makes them “more acceptable” in the eyes of the rest of the world. A secularly educated, and articulate white person to boot, is like a god-sent injection of legitimacy to their course, in a world that has become so disenchanted with Islam and Muslims due to the intolerance and propensity for violence that they display globally.

    Hakim

    June 15, 2014 at 17:58

  10. Very clear, logical and respectable.

    Lakhssassi

    June 15, 2014 at 18:41

  11. Salaam Aleykoum, I converted to Islam just like yourself, and am aware of the points you made. Yes this is the down side, however I have used my label in a positive way. For Muslims to explain to them how unique Islam is and for non-Muslims I us this label as a door for Dawah or at least explain that we are not all terrorists. Yet another label we seem to be getting, which was arranged by a small group of our fast growing community who seem to be thinking that violence is the way to go. As human beings we tend to label and decipher each other so that we can make sense of the other person, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I keep hanging on to the idea that everything and everybody in this world was and is created by Allah Subhan wa Tallah. He gave us Islam, he gave us something with utmost beauty and we humans mess it up. Well, I am trying my best not to label my neighbour and I must admit it is a struggle. Insh Allah may Allah help us to let go of our narrow minded behaviour and with full awareness accept each other for who we are.

    Hagar

    June 15, 2014 at 21:11

  12. Well said, but I’d also add that I always get asked “Are you married?” (Yes) “oh, is he Muslim?” (Yes) “ooohhhh. I see.” my faith is instantly de-legitimized in their eyes. It makes me irritated.

    Then there’s the question of my ethnicity. My family have been in this country for many generations, I don’t even know how many. And most born Muslims can’t accept the fact that I’m simply American.

    Sarah Javed

    June 15, 2014 at 22:01

  13. Assalamu alaikum, Myriam here is what Dr. Pasha wrote few months back:

    Converts All of Us [Quote 536]

    “In a very important sense, we are all converts. Every Muslim man and woman worth our salt.

    That means we have all given our Islam some serious thought. And we have all — should I say “thereafter”? – then made a serious commitment to Allah.

    Without such a serious stage of analysis and reflection, and personal decision-making, there is really no Islam. Even though God Almighty’s door is open to all.

    And even though God Almighty never turns away anyone from his doorstep empty handed.”

    http://www.islamicsolutions.com
    http://www.islamicsolutions.com/the-converts-are-a-coming/
    http://www.islamicsolutions.com/british-muslim-converts-quote-498/

    Tahir Mahmood

    June 16, 2014 at 03:05

  14. Happy to read the article and comments. In my view converts are generally better than other Muslims. May God Bless You. Aameen

  15. Don’t worry about it. Not everyone fell for it.

    The journalist who chose to use that term to describe you in her article was only doing it so that she created a distraction. She completely ignored what you were saying about adopting “universal values”.
    She was so taken with your physical appearance and race going against the normal stereotypical portrayal of Muslim women that she failed to comprehend the rationality of your argument.

    She wanted to write her opinion piece and she completely took your words out of context in order to support the theme of her article. The theme being that once again British Muslims were misbehaving against what she defined as the traditional British way of life. And now they publically had the audacity to question “British values” and deem them somehow inferior to other values adopted in Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

    I’m not sure if she had listened to your entire interview or whether she simply wasn’t intelligent to get it (right wing journalists can be often afflicted with this) but you were clearly stating that the “British value” of tolerance was not something that Britain had a monopoly on and therefore we should not really be so arrogant to claim that it only inherently exists in the British culture. Rather because we are in an ever increasing globalised and multicultural/ethnic world (where our children’s classrooms and society reflect this) we should emphasise the value of tolerance as a “Universal value” and realise that many other cultures have it as well.

    I completely found it a very well presented and thought provoking perspective.

    I want my children to become not only “British” citizens but also “global” citizens. They should not feel superior over any of their classmates, just because they have the privilege of having had Anglo-Saxon ancestors whose countries of origin at this particular point in time are not involved in wars and promoting inhumane values.

    You never mentioned any of the baloney she said about choosing to embrace only certain values from certain countries. I think if you had been dressed in the typical western or whatever is the latest fashion for British women, it might have been easier for her to concentrate on what was being said than how the person saying it looked like.

    Most Muslims presented on TV always seem to be portrayed by the media as having a hidden agenda, and given the sensitive topic you talked about deals with children, she and a lot of non-Muslims can’t help but quickly assume that. Or maybe that is really what she believes. But anyways….

    But don’t let this get to you. It’s simply just that people aren’t used to seeing Muslim women engaging in intellectual and televised debate with men, particularly well known “white” British men and if I may so succeeding.

    Sirius Black

    June 16, 2014 at 11:14

  16. It depends on who is using the word ” convert” and in what context it is being used. I was born a Muslim. I inherited my faith unquestionably. I have a great deal of respect for Myriam who made a conscious decision to believe in a faith of her own choosing.

    Ajam Karim

    June 16, 2014 at 22:10

  17. lol, something my wife will get used to as well. 

    The community is all the more richer on account of your views.

    Imam Sheharyar Masjid Qurtubah – Canada

    shaikh313

    June 16, 2014 at 23:13

  18. Certainly something worth pondering.

    Alrizali

    June 18, 2014 at 04:37

  19. I don’t beleive in any of the reasons you brought up for using the word “convert” for new muslims.
    In my point of veiw if I use convert/revert word or when I hear the word convert I feel so proud of Islam. And how nice n hard was for these people to change their whatever faith, and come toward Islam apart from all the difficulties they suffer.
    I personally beleive in a convert/revert muslim much more than a born muslim as I know they came to Islam by their own research. So they are much more valued muslim.
    And also we muslim beleive that all human being is born in a good nature “fitrat” n they all beleive in Allah in the time of birth. It is the family n sociaty makes them to grow in different religion so when they find their way to Islam it means they are revert not convert!
    Thanks

    Parastoo

    June 21, 2014 at 00:34

  20. How does calling someone a revert/ convert take away from that person being a Muslim? This really baffles me. Being a revert opens many opportunities for non muslims to realize that, “hey! Islam can be for me too”. To do away with your convert status is to do away with the the dawah given to you by others when u weren’t a Muslim. How many converts transition was made easier by hearing the stories of other converts. Why do we need to deny our past journey to feel like we belong when it’s that past journey that brought us to the light of islam? I’m a convert and I’ll never change my name for a false sense of believing it will help me assimilate within the Muslim community. What’s going to help is my interaction with others and showing them who I am. I don’t see how a convert/revert status could be seen as something to overcome. if someone asks you if you are a convert and it offends you, you need to ask you self why do you feel inferior for being a convert and not blessed ?

    If we want to change the cult of the convert we can’t achieve change by abandoning it but we need to reinvent what the meaning of a convert is. Otherwise the views others have of converts will not change ever and those new muslims will only continue to relive our negative experiences as converts.

    Samantha

    August 16, 2014 at 20:46


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