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A response to ‘The problem with white converts’

with 4 comments

Famous converts to Islam

Last night I came across an article about white, converts to Islam because it had caused some controversy with a, erm, white, convert to Islam.

She missed the entire point of the article and proceeded to rant away on the racism that converts to Islam suffer from ‘born-Muslims’. Which is fair enough (it happens) but when you use the word ‘Paki’ you really don’t get to complain about racism. She defended her right to say the word because in Latin America it’s ‘perfectly acceptable’, though strangely enough she has since deleted those tweets. Hmm!

Anyhow. The article in question, by Michael Muhammad Knight, explores briefly this notion that somehow the convert to a different religion is “imagined as coming from a place outside culture, becomes privileged as the owner of truth and authenticity.”

I could not agree more.  I have lost count of the times that I have heard Muslims saying things such as “Converts/reverts make the best Muslims”, “InshaAllah I will marry a convert wife they are better than our own women.”

There is a misguided notion that white converts don’t bring culture to religion, as if they, not being born-Muslims, (I don’t believe that anyone is ‘born a Muslim’ but that is a separate topic) read the religious text in a pure, unadulterated form.

Firstly, it is patronising, as it suggests that white people, or anyone who is not brown,  don’t have any culture – everyone subscribes to some form of culture.  Secondly, it places an enormous burden on coverts, who are expected to be living, talking, breathing versions of Islam personified.

Knight hits the nail on the head when he writes: “When people assume that ‘religion’ and ‘culture exist’ as two separate categories culture is then seen as an obstacle to knowing religion.”

Exactly. One cannot divorce culture from religion and vice-versa, the two can shape each other. Islam came out of Arabia, hence the reason why the Qur’an addresses, or tries to, the needs of the people in Arabia at the particular time, e.g. polygamy. This is what has led to some to question, what aspects of Islam are “truly Muslim” and what aspects of Islam are shaped by “Arab culture or tradition”?

It is too complex to go into in such a short amount of time, but I believe that it is misguided for Muslims to say that we should “go back to a pure form of Islam” because it simply does not exist. It is not just the Salafis and Wahhabis who are hell-bent on trying to recreate this seventh-century Mecca as a panacea for numerous ills in today’s Muslim world (thank you Edward Said).

Even the moderate of Muslims allude to such views. The reason, I suspect, why some born-Muslim men are looking for convert wives is because they are disillusioned with their parents’ culture, hence why they seek a convert wife so that they don’t have to put up with that culture anymore (and don’t get me started on those women who forego their own identity and adopt their husband’s), and can solely identify as Muslims only – because to be a ‘proper Muslim’ one apparently has to remove all cultural baggage when approaching the scriptures.

But guess what – it just does not work like that.


4 Responses

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  1. polygyny is allowed in Islam if the man can keep her wives happy and if he can treat all his wives equally ,physically ,mentally and by wealth… 4 marriages are allowed for man..
    and culture of place and culture of religion is 2 diff. things… islam is not the culture of arab… … if the culture becomes an obstacle to knowing your religion… then leave that culture.. example- in Assam,India , people eat pork or in Nagalang,India they eat boiled dog and drink wine and it is there culture.. but pork,dog,alchohol etc is forbidden in Islam… Qur’An was not only for the arabs but for all the muslims .. .. polygyny was not a need of arabs … but it is Allowed in islam.. eating goat was not there need but it allowed in islam,wearing hijab was not arabs need but it was a need of every women…because of hijab and a strict Islamic rule against rapist and other criminals the Saudi arabia has the lowest rank in crime… so Qur’an is not only arab’s need but a need for all human kind… and yes everyone is Born a muslim..but his/her practice change him/her.. but if u are a born muslim doesn’t mean that you can do wrong thing because you are a born muslim… after being a muslim you should become a gud human being and learn islam ..the pure form of islam exist .. in Qur’an …. and in real Hadith. ,.. just read them, in the light of science.. because it will proof all the things given in Qur’an..Qur’an is an encyclopedia … all the things in Qur’an are proved correct by the help of science… .. dont read the books of other researchers of islam but do research yourself to know it better…. and in reply to your last line “because to be a ‘proper Muslim’ one apparently has to remove all cultural baggage when approaching the scriptures.But guess what – it just does not work like that.” .. we should make it work like that because… take my example: i live in haryana,india… and it is a culture here in which if anyone got pregnant ,all her relatives go to her house and dance,in which they make each others boobs bounce… ! It is a culture!.. but we should not follow these type of culture…


    March 14, 2013 at 3:06 pm

  2. Peace, white convert myself here. Interesting points. I’ve spoken to Nasreen Amina a bit on twitter, she does seem to have a bunch of straight up racist opinions about south Asian people and culture, and a weird obsession with “born muslims” being all dogmatic and crazy. Which is a massive shame because she’s got a particularly unique voice to talk about a whole bunch of important issues around gender and culture in Islam. Oh well.

    I think for a lot of white converts (almost certainly myself included when I was younger) it is actually a semi-conscious attempt to try to step “outside culture”. These kids (and it’s usually teenagers, let’s face it) sense that there is something pretty wrong with western, white culture but just end up running to an exoticised and utopian version of another culture, which they then take to be “true Islam”. You see white kids learning Islam from their arab or iranian or pakistani friends or communities, and at a certain point becoming this awful “mighty whitey” figure of acting like they are better at their culture or religion than those born into it, because they are apparently some kind of objective authority. It’s ugly. And yeah of course everyone brings their own baggage to Islam. That’s kinda the point to me, like the Qur’an says about being made different so you might know each other. Not just culturally, individually we’ve all been through different shit which will influence the way we see the Book and the traditions and the world in general. Enforced homogeny kills the spirit.

    Ali Scott

    March 15, 2013 at 1:41 am

    • That’s the point I was trying to make – no one approaches a text with a clean slate.
      Thank you for taking the time to read it

      Iram Ramzan

      March 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

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