A Convert’s Big Dilemma: Between Accepting and Questioning Islam [Part 1].


     My experiences meeting converts (or “reverts”) to Islam varies greatly. Excluding those who convert for the sake of a marriage, conversion has different causes and effects on different women. Many of us leave other traditions where our questions were never answered just to find that Muslim communities encourage us to accept every piece of Islam without questioning it. Thus, converts are often left in an awkward position between seeking answers and accepting the things that are bothering within Muslim communities.

     I have met a number of “enthusiastic” converts who are very much about the “big picture.” They accept Islam without digging too much into the troubling sides of Islamic interpretation, practice and ideologies. What these new Muslims often have in common is that they see Islam as one. Islam is a one big unity where minor questions should never affect the rest. For many of these girls, finding a place in the community and comfort in mosques and the institutional part of Islam is somehow easier.  

On the other hand, there are those converts who are somehow more “pessimistic” about what Islam brings into their lives. Yes, Islam is one big unity and it makes them happy, but that unity has many pieces that often do not come together. These Muslims often bring the small details into the bigger picture just to realize that the parts do not make the whole…

     Although there are many experiences in the middle, some of us have difficulty reconciling a number of things in Islam. It does not take too much before female converts to Islam are presented with the question of polygamy, for example. The eternal issue of the veil and the niqab also chase us around and the problem of family violence is also present in our lives. While at first glance we could just reject it all by saying “this is not Islam” the truth is that all these things have a place in Muslim communities. What is even more challenging: these things are justified in religious terms often by different schools of thought. Therefore, the idea of “read Qur’an and choose the school that better suits you “ is not always an option for us.

     As much as looking at the “bigger” picture is important. It is very challenging sometimes. The fact that Muslim communities often encourage us to accept every piece of Muslim realities does not necessarily reconcile with our ideal Islam for which many of us converted.

     As converts to Islam we bring a variety of ideas and experiences into our communities. However, it is here where we start playing with fire in cultural terms. Every so often the question of Westernization comes to life within Muslim communities, and we are often call to be “arabized,” as if being Arab was the ideal way to be Muslim. Westernization is also invoked against those voices who challenge things like gender segregation, violence against women and women’s reproductive choices. A call to reject Westernization is often a call to silence disagreeing voices.

     What is funny about that is that Islam was born as a religion where questions were answered and challenges were taken into account.  One of the things that possibly attracted a number of people to Islam during its earliest years was the possibility to get answers, to open discussions and to be heard, something that was also a right and a duty in the case of women. Today our communities are way more prescriptive on the way this should work and leave discussions only to those who are the “walking knowledge in Islam,” the scholars.

      In a time were Islam seems to be threatening and seems to be under threat, Muslim communities call for a unification of ideas, practices and experiences. Hence, diversity is often undermined and, in some cases, even rejected. Reconciling between the “big picture” Islam and the “small” details is not always easy… and the question of who is right? Often arises and challenges our communities and our experience as converts.

Coming next week: Top Issues in reconciling and accepting Islam from a convert’s perspective.

7 thoughts on “A Convert’s Big Dilemma: Between Accepting and Questioning Islam [Part 1].

  1. Eren Arruna Cervantes says:

    Thanks for your comment. I am unsure about the number of people who converts because of the scientific miracles of the Qur’an. Yet, I think it is something that many Muslims take pride on. In my perspective, the scientific miracles require faith first. ON the other hand, there are a couple of miracles in the Qur’an that are not explainable by science. Therefore, they are that… MIRACLES. I do not necessarily approach Qur’an scientific facts as a living proof of the veracity of the text. But this is a personal opinion. I on the other hand, think that through this accounts, Qur’an calls Muslims to knowledge…. to the discovery of God’s mysteries.

    • Eren Arruna Cervantes says:

      Some orthodox scholars claim that things should not be questioned. But I would say that most Muslims agree that it is important to know the what, why and how of what we do. The things that you are quoting seem to be out of context. Islam and the Qur’an strongly encourage seeking knowledge, as many other religions do. There are lots of things that the Prophet had to answer that were uncomfortable, unnecessary or simply beyond the scope of his message. Yet, it is important to understand that Hadith cannot be used by itself as ultimate source of truth. There are a number of false hadiths around, and they increase every day. The science of hadith is something very specific and hadith, taken out of context, can mean completely different things.
      I do not question Qur’an and the revelation… but there is always room for interpretation. That’s why we have hadith and sunnah… that’s why there are four schools of thought and a number of independent scholars. That’s why we have ijtihad. And more importantly, that’s why we are called to use reason, common sense and our own experience to understand the revelation.

    • Eren Arruna Cervantes says:

      Qur’an in a miracle itself. The revelations received by our prophets are too. I think this is very straight forward. If you don’t believe you don’t believe and there is nothing I can do to make you believe… and my own religion calls me to respect your own judgement.

  2. R Double-Contact says:

    Assalamu alaykum sister !

    All praises to Allah Azza Wa Jal for having guided you (and kept you until now) a muslimah ! Allahu Akbar ! None can mislead anyone guided by Him and none can guide whom He doesn’t choose to guide.

    The issues you are raising are really important, I hope you continue your work and reflexions. May your own issues find clarification, and most of all, may you find peace of heart

    [QS- 2:256] « There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. »

    With so many clear signs between truth and falsehood, anyone struggling to keep on the right path finds that it’s usually due to either ignorance (lack of knowledge) or dominance of passions (= nafs), affecting rational judgement.

    It is normal for you as a new muslim to ask so many questions, because you don’t know all the true teachings but so do the majority of muslims! Too many muslims don’t behave like they should!

    The only way is to keep “iqra”. Right there, at the first revelation, ignorance is ordered to be chased away! It means that salvation is GUARANTEED with the humble pursuit of knowledge, insha Allah!

    Keep searching sacred knowledge and useful knowledge, make prayers to Allah Azza Wa Jal to bless you with knowledge, understanding, humility and ability to apply what you know. Keep glorifying The Most Knowledgeable and Most Merciful. Only good comes from Allah Azza Wa Jal.

    We are the lifestyle (= deen) that harmonizes reason and faith, with no contradiction whatsoever, unlike other religions who only need faith with no proof. It’s easy to conceive that once we acknowledge that this world has been created by A Perfect Creator, out of love He’s chosen to communicate to us, to reveal a perfect lifestyle as well to overcome our natural tendencies for inconsistency and contradictions. Objectively, this means that if Islam wasn’t the truth, another religion would combine this harmony of our gifts of reason and faith ; that would be the criteria of truth for the genuine truth seeker.

    That’s the methodology we use to validate any knowledge. We do need critical thinking because we’re not in front of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings be upon him. Don’t accept any religious ruling if it’s not in the Qur’an or hadith. For the sake of truth and unity, just ask anyone to bring the proof of any religious practice. We only act based on proof and understanding, not opinions or doubts or emotions.

    If you think about it, prophets, a breed no longer existing and thus we’re not truely familiar with, could not have acted based on any of those personal biases: They received very clear missions, their hearts were enlightened and maintained by The All-Sustainer. They acted based on “needs”, probably never on “wants”. The whole difference between those who received revelation-guidance and those who don’t is there. The finality of the Seal of The Prophets means that the last mission has been successful and definitive enough that no further role of that level will be needed till the end of time. I’m stressing all that to say that Islam is final, it’s up to us to keep digging the gap of understanding and time that seperates us from the wisdom available, for our own relevance.

    As long as your deen increases in quality (Qur’an reading, focus & posture in prayer, charity for the sake of Allah, regular solving of various problems, etc…), any problem of the muslim ummah will get the appropriate perspective. It’s like a marathon, if you keep looking right and left too much, you forget you’re also running and need to maintain your course with a certain level of (increasing) performance. A better you is already contributing to a better ummah, and even world, insha Allah. Performance and righteous knowledge need constant increase because challenges always increase as well.

    It’s about the “big picture” as much as the “little”. We do need to be concerned realistically but all of that is just wordly preoccupations and tests that shouldn’t affect our own spirit. Worship to the Most Righteous Power is all about connecting for a highly vitalized spirit. Never let anyone or anything break your spirit. We can die today and all those problems may remain, it’s how we exit this world that counts, how our deeds are counted. Constant purification of intention thus becomes primordial. Stress comes from taking too much worldly preoccupations filling our hearts (decrease of spirituality) and weighing our shoulders, because the little we know is overwhelmed by the level actually required and/or because specific needs and actions aren’t met. Surrender all those loads to Allah Azza wa Jal because we can’t take any of that.

    The state of the ummah is like the state of our personal materiality: there’s always improvements we can make for our house or belongings, but it’s the relationship with The Almighty and the people that counts. We’ve been given all those tests to learn knowledge and proper behavior (tolerance, patience, grace, mutual support, etc…). We need to keep that in mind. We already know we’ll be rewarded according to our efforts and nothing will be wasted (we’re the only ones who will win no matter what, as long as our intentions are purified) so we should actually be grateful. Again, the analogy is with sports: we play to win, so why complain of the presence of opponents? Not saying that you complain, but I hope you see my point.

    ==

    Islam is never threatened, as the truth is never threatened, and Allah The Most Merciful has promised for the truth to win. The son of Mary (peace be with them both) will return and the final victory of truth over falsehood will happen as announced. Our job is to side with the truth, wherever it might be. So our ego needs to detach from any “pride” related to that because it could affect our performance as a muslim. Pride should be related to actual merit, and we don’t have any achievement in that because we’re not The Source of truth.

    For Jonny Lebrun:

    There are etiquettes and methodologies in asking questions and seeking knowledge for muslims. For instance, if you quote partial knowledge and take conclusions based on partial knowledge, you’ll be misguided. I’m not a muslim scholar but I know of a hadith that says to not ask if The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) stays silent about it. It means that there are answers that you can’t take. Both Allah (A.W.J.) and his Messenger (p.b.u.h.) know more than us so we know that they delivered just about everything we need to know to solve everything we need to solve and the parts where a view is not expressed are a grace given to us. For instance, you’ll find plural interpretations of one thing and that tolerance of divergences is a mercy of The Almighty.

    — There is also a context: many communities before were putting themselves into too much trouble for asking too many questions. After receiving clear guidance, there’s no point in asking for more. If you truly believe, then you submit to guidance, if you don’t believe, then the guidance is not for you. Unless you want it. Most Exalted and Beneficient is Allah, and who better to trust and surrender to than He? Muslims should stick to what is certain (which is already a whole lot to learn about) and leave what is doubtful.

    — A sign of belief is indeed to NOT reject, once we are sure an order is coming from Our Creator. So the job of the believer is to investigate the authenticity of the source. But with knowledge comes responsability: can we take it? If you want knowledge and answers, what is your purpose for seeking it? Do you actually intend on applying and obey once The Creator has made it clear to you? He knows your heart and knows what you can and will take. Knowledge is priceless, but if we don’t act upon it, it’s wasted. Knowledge wasted and bad intentions will hit us on Judgement Day. We like to focus in what we already know and there is constant improvement possible.

    — Some questions asked to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) were indeed irrelevant and useless. Islamic jurisprudence is an ocean of knowledge and needs as much etiquette in dealing with it – there’s no point in being right while acting like a jerk, the muslim’s behavior should be equally as righteous and exemplary — attitude is how actually convinced many non-muslims to revert. So you can’t draw conclusions after reading a page or two. You need to consult with those who’ve dedicated their lives to examining every aspect of Islam and then acquiring enough intellectual authority to speak about a particular subject. That’s actually the honest intellectual approach to any knowledge: examine everything, then process individual parts in context with that everything.

    — What is the definition of people asking too many questions? Ignorants. Dumb people. Believe me, I know the type. Some parts of them just aren’t tuned to receiving knowledge and it’s a real calamity. The quality of a person is determined by the quality of her questions. Not all questions are the same.

    — Islam is about knowledge in the brain, using material light to acquire + knowledge in the heart, using inner light (= inner nur) or spiritual light, specially given by God Almighty. If you wish to acquire it, ask for His guidance, it’s simple as that. Refutations can have no end, but our life will. It means that your rational approach is just enough to answer some of the supernatural, not all. The rational approach is there to help us deal with this finite world, so rationality has its limited purpose. Maybe you haven’t reflected on the fact that empirical approaches have mostly answered nothing about what’s beyond death. The supernatural answers (divinity of The Qur’an, news about Resurrection and Judgement Day, etc…) are there to equip us for afterlife, eternal life. You can always try to find a better system than Islam that answers your questions, if you can find more certainty in it. If the finger points to the sky, don’t focus on the finger. Most reverts have found satisfaction where the finger is pointing at: you are invited to look at the magnificence of Islam as a whole.

    Allah knows best.

    • R Double-Contact says:

      Excuse me for the mistakes, you can either replace the sentences above directly in my submitted comment, or add the following corrections:

      • Don’t accept any religious ruling if it’s not *based on* the Qur’an or hadith.

      • prophets, a breed no longer existing and thus we’re not *truly* familiar with

      • The whole difference between those who received revelation-guidance and those who don’t *,* is there

      • The state of the ummah is like the state of our personal materiality: there *are* always improvements

      • But with knowledge comes *responsibility*

      • attitude is *what* actually convinced many non-muslims to revert

      Thank you!

    • Eren Arruna Cervantes says:

      I think you make very important and great points. For me Islam is a source of knowledge and spirituality. Asking questions, studying, seeking diverse opinions and being open to different interpretations is important. At the end of the day we will be hold accountable for our own choices and I think that it is very important to be very firm in our beliefs. Questioning things make my faith stronger. There are things Muslims struggle with, but it is up to us to look at these events and seek knowledge through them.
      Thanks for you comment!

  3. R Double-Contact says:

    Dear Eren,

    you are not alone in dealing with double-alienation, which is the problem many reverts face as they don’t belong anymore with many non-believers, but are yet to be accepted by the muslims.

    The first comment was more focused on coaching, also for anyone reading your blog, now the second will give references insha Allah.

    The true religion is universal, therefore, it cannot be based on locality or limited geography. Our Creator has perfected Islam for this universal purpose. If other people are concerned with “Westernality”, or whatever they consider foreign to Islam, it’s their insecurity, let it not be yours. You are actually there to show them (too) that Islam is universal. With you comes answers to them too. We’re here to overcome narrow-mindedness, and narrow-heartedness.

    There is a sacred aspect related to the Arabic culture as the chosen language for The Final Testament. The unicity of the message is connecting all muslims, unlike Christians for example, who not only use different languages, but also different versions of The Bible. It could’ve been any other language, just as you could argue that Men could’ve been created with three nostrils and one leg. Here’s more analysis of why Arabic’s specificities were chosen, His Divine plan couldn’t be more perfect:

    — The Brilliance of The Book

    — The Divine Speech: Prologue 1

    We like to imitate the Prophet, upon him be Peace and Blessings, because everything about him was a blessing. We have to know that we may risk imitating someone else less blessed if we don’t. Propagandas in the saturated medias make sure there’s at least one lifestyle with one range of products and values we follow. But are those propagadas inspired by the truth? Culture is not universal, unlike Truth. Culture is interchangeable, context-dependent, disposable, unlike the timelessness of Islam.

    The extra-cultural aspects are endorsed because there is an extra respect and love for some particular attributes of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. They can be embraced without denying our identity, our personal heritage and our situation. Obviously, it’s the heart (not culture) that matters most in unifying us. Let’s remember that Jesus, alayhi salam, is also unifying us. He wasn’t an Arab, he was a Jew. The purpose of life, the substance of The Message, the nobility of The Prophets, peace be with them, are unifying us. That’s the bigger picture for all of us to aspire to.

    Prof. Tariq Ramadan addresses many contemporary issues regarding muslims. He may not be right about every point, but his approach is important in reaching for answers. We are all responsible for the advancement of the ummah, not just the scholars, as you can see in this brillant sample of clairvoyance:

    The Meaning of Radical Reform: Conclusion of Speech + Q&A

    In short, the challenges are there to unite us to work together. Let’s wake up 😀

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