I am the Number [X] Convert

After my last post describing my experience as a convert last Eid, I got a lot of feedback from fellow converts who agreed with my feelings on the holidays. Yet, it is not only Eid and Ramadan that have become lonely seasons.

We, as Muslim communities all over the world, take pride on being the fastest growing religion in the world. With 75% of Western converts being women, many Muslims adjudicate that to the “high status” (rarely people say “equal”) that Islam grants women.   Nonetheless, there is little inquiry about how, when and why women convert. In addition, there is virtually no concern about what happens to women after they convert to Islam. We are subject of study elsewhere, but rarely in our own communities.

When I performed my Shahada I contacted the local mosque, and I was told that I just had to show up on a Friday night. That night, two friends were there for me as witnesses. After the prayer the imam announced in the microphone that “a sister was taking a Shahada because she found the right path… the path of Allah, and decided to leave her past life behind.” The imam never talked to me or asked me why I had decided to convert. He knew nothing about me, and decided to fill in the speech with connotations of the “right” vs. the “wrong” path.

Images often used to show that North American women find Islam appealing.- Via Muslim Academy.

After my Shahada, I was showered with greetings because my conversion “proved,” according to the imam and many people in the mosque, that Islam was better than any other religion. It also seemed to counter common claims that Muslims mistreat women. No one ever wondered why I converted and no one bothered to ask whether I even knew what a Shahada was. It was all about quantity vs. quality.

Call me crazy, but being used to the catechism protocol in my very Catholic land, I thought that mosques practiced some kind of “quality” control. Growing up in Mexico, aspiring converts to Catholicism attend catechism every Sunday until they have completed the entire program and are deemed ready to receive the sacraments. One cannot become a Catholic without preparation. Converting to a religion (or deciding to remain within) can be a life-changing decision. As a woman converting to Islam one should have their story straight when it comes to sensitive issues like clothing, marriage, leadership, pre-marital sex, abortion, work, education, etc. We must know where we stand on the issues, especially as the “when will you start wearing hijab?” question approaches.

We also love the stories about famous women converting to Islam, like Lauren Booth.- Via The Guardian

A thoughtful and responsible decision requires knowledge and commitment.

Unlike other religious leaders who are very concerned with bringing along converts who have done research and know what Islam can be all about, the imam in my mosque did not show any interest or concern. He just gave his wife, who then passed along, a set of books on how to pray, a women’s code of conduct while in the mosque and a $50 gift certificate to purchase some hijabs at Sears.

I left the mosque feeling like a number… one more convert to sustain the 75% rate conversion in the Western world.

After talking to some convert friends, many of us are left to wonder if it is worth it? We are told that we converted for the sake of Allah so we should be happy just being Muslims. Nevertheless, the reality of things is that we leave our own communities seeking support (not lectures on etiquette or practice), friendship and a deeper connection with fellow believers. What do we get?  Little concern from born-Muslims, no support from institutional leaders and lonely mosques to pray (only if the men do not claim our spaces).

After 4 years of conversion, I know several converts who are disengaged. They are bothered by the fact that we are treated as ignorant; they are upset because people are trying to marry them off instead of treating them as independent beings; and they feel left out in mosques that endorse Middle Eastern/South Asian experiences and forget about their converts.

Our, sometimes, lousy “Revert potlucks” seem to be the time when we all get together to feel sorry for ourselves. And as much as we have attempted change in our communities, we are often brushed away with a “sister, do it for the sake of Allah” and some propaganda on the “most popular” religion among women: An Islam that only few seem to experience.

9 thoughts on “I am the Number [X] Convert

  1. Mina Noir Orel says:

    I want to share of the diverse types of discrimination , mistreatment or sexual advance’s and harassment we all experience as revert’s also because of our own personal view’s or choice’s .

  2. tasnim halawany says:

    As Salaamu Alaikum I am so sorry to hear about your plight. First your right about the after shahada situation it can be dismal but take care there are people who do care. You should get in touch with your Mosque to find out about Taleem meetings second you should try to find a Sunni Mosque there the sisters will be able to help and if not then feel free to inbox me. I know that one of the most important duties in islam is to help and love for you what i love for me so please let me know what i can do to help.

  3. noha says:

    Assalaam alaikom..
    Im so sorry for all what you felt after your conversion. Im a woman like you & totally understand & support what you felt or what surrounding new community made you feel.
    But i want you not to misjudge Islam because of the misleading behaviors of some muslims.
    Im sorry i guess i live in a far place from where u live.. but i hope we can be friends . If you ever got a chance to visit dubai plz feel free to contact me.


  4. Temmy says:

    Well, everything that comes along with your conversion is challenges, i do hope you will be able to find other Muslims who also need friends to talk to. If possible, come visit Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, you might feel like home here 🙂

  5. Ambaa says:

    I know what you mean. I didn’t notice this so much in my worship community (as an American convert to Hinduism), but I see it online a lot. People arguing about which religion is better based on which has converts. A Hindu person converts to Islam and the Islam pages are thrilled and shouting all over about it. A Muslim person converts to Hinduism and the exact same thing happens in reverse. It’s all just numbers and statistics to be able to rub in each other’s faces. I wish there was more concern and emphasis on “Is this the right path for *this* person.”

  6. Muslimah in Edmonton says:

    I wasn’t sour before but after trying to seek information and advice from the same community as the one you are referring to here, I found that all they cared about was my conversion story. They don’t really want to help me to guide my children in Islamic ways, they don’t really care if I have difficulties and instead are wondering how much I will pay them to teach my children about Islam, as if Islam is a business or something!!! They seem to only care about converts to justify their own faith and or build their confidence against what they perceive is western negativity towards Islam. While I am a Muslim for Allah and whatever they do does not deter me from being Muslim, I only felt welcome the first while after I converted but they really don’t welcome us after that. Its totally frustrating.

  7. EMV says:

    Unfortunately, the one statistic that they do not mention at the mosques, or in our communities, is that up to 70% of new converts eventually leave Islam altogether (Ta’leef Collective). We might do better as a community to ask ourselves why so many converts leave, and participate in some introspection and meaningful conversation instead of the self-congratualtory one-sided dialogue that accompanies Shahadas. That so many people leave does not point to “lack of faith” or not being “cut out to be a real Muslim”, as many would rather believe, but rather to the myriad of cultural, religious and social issues and dysfunctions that exist in our community (as they do in many other religious communities), combined with a lack of practical resources and safe, supportive spaces for new (and old) converts. May Allah guide our communities and our leaders to see that conversion is a process, not an event.

  8. Yasmeen says:

    On the one hand I get what you are saying is the downside of this but the way I experienced it after my prior experiences was more positive. E.g. the ultra orthodox jewish conversion process, takes years, completely outcasts a person from the non jewish world, & even on compketion the converts are called gerim, strangers. But you go to islam & instead of having to fight to prove yourself & suffer & sacrifice years just to be called stranger, you be warmly welcomed, treated like family, like an equal, & called sister. The way in which people are quickly accepted on saying shahada & the leniency given to women to learn in their own time, is one of the major differences between islam & judaism. I view this as a positive because islam makes God & Godliness more accessible to people instead of closing them out & hoarding teachings & necessities of how to spiritually handle life for a select few & leaving the rest to drown. Judaism promotes its people as an ohr hagoyim, light unto the nations. Supposed to lead by example. Chosen for what? To lead by example. But instead people see chosen as superiority in their interpretation of chosen ones. The people leading by example & demonstrating sincerity in their religious practise, & setting an example for the masses, & opening the door to teach, to learn, to live, to love, is islam. Not the great hypocrite christianity that doesn’t practise what it preaches, not the elitist judaism that views most people as less human, not hinduism that worships everything yet still neglects the sacred, not buddhism with a public reputation for peace but behind the curtain just as violent as any other. Islam brings more logical true answers & care for people. Islam accepting the ignorant before they are wise is a beautiful leap of mutual faith for both the revert & the ones accepting them because the revert is taking a leap of faith in Allah & the community is taking a leap of faith in the revert. So the reversion of that person takes the belief in that individual of more than just themselves. It also means others believed in them. & that is just as important as the belief of the revert.

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