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.