Change is in the Air: Giving up the Kafir (a) in the Female Muslim Convert

Few days ago while talking to a fellow convert I realized that we, converts, tend to speak in terms of a “before” and an “after.” My friend kept talking as I identified the pieces and bits that called for a past life and the need to hide, dismiss or change previous actions.

In my community, many female converts have a Christian past. They attended church, dated Christian boys, wore miniskirts and drank wine once in a while. Of course this is a rough generalization because not all converts are the same and we do not necessarily share the same experiences or background. Yet, when we speak of ourselves is as if we had a past life and a present one.

When one converts to Islam, and arguably to any religion, one seems to also accept the idea that things have to change. Sometimes this change is not internally driven and does not aim for a “better” life. Instead, it has as a purpose to get rid of the kafir(a) in us.

Yes, we actively choose it and the community, often times, is there to make sure that it happens.  For many of us pressure also comes from home… some Muslim converts married or engaged to Muslim men are expected to give up their past “wilderness” (or hide it) on order to become appropriate Muslim wives.

The point is that whatever we bring to the table seems to be inherently bad. There is little discussion even among the converts that I know on whether their “past life” has proved beneficial to their current situation. Some converts, in their rush to become “good Muslims,” are quick to judge that their past is something that needs to be hidden, and many of us even fail to acknowledge that if it was not for our past we would, perhaps, not be Muslims now.

Although this is a very personal situation that changes from convert to convert, the fact is that often times the Muslim men and women we associate with reinforce the fact that once we pronounce shahada or marry them we need to “change our ways” to fit “their ways.” Is it the case that we cannot reconcile what we where, what we are and what we want to be in a single life?

The constant pressure (either internal or external) to change and to become someone else is a challenge. This is because we are not encouraged to transform and build on what we already have… instead we are called to be someone else. Few fellow converts have been told to “fix” themselves and become virgins once again. They are advised to hide or get rid of past pictures or memories. Others have been told that without hijab they will never be “real” Muslims. Many of us would not even dare to mention that we have tried alcohol before, even when perhaps we could help the community to deal and understand alcohol consumption among Muslims.

We are so concerned trying to take out the kafir(a) in us, that we forget about feeding our faith and moving forward with the “baggage” we bring with us.  Yes, hiding and dismissing our pasts may make us “look like Muslims;” but is it so? Can’t we be Muslims while being ourselves?