Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Because I’m a convert


"And among His signs is this, that He has created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them; and He has put love and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect."



Converts face many challenges within the Muslim community, access to knowledge, freedom of thought and acceptance is just to name a few. Within the South African context however I don’t think much attention is given to converts finding love or a life partner. This could be because a large number of female converts have converted in order to marry a Muslim man, this is merely an assumption. However I can speak for myself in this case. My choice to embrace Islam was exactly that; my choice.

I look at my friends, the people I grew up with, the people I studied with and the people I’ve known over the years and the majority of them are either married or soon to be engaged. Then I look at myself and think, what about me? I pondered over the many reasons as to why I didn’t fall into their category and the more I thought the more one reason stuck out like a sore thumb, is it because I am a convert? When people usually hear that I am a convert abundant praises are sung and questions are asked but will I ever be good enough for one of their sons, will they allow their daughter to marry a male convert? Islamically the answers to these questions are logical and this discussion may seem petty to some but in reality I have experienced firsthand what the answer usually is.

I too thought I had found the partner my creator put out for me. I was ready to fulfil half my duties as a Muslim. I was excited about being a wife and a mother one day. I was even excited to become a daughter-in-law. But little did I know the receiving end wasn’t as happy as I was. The typical requirements of an Indian mother-in-law are simple; be able cook, be able to clean, be “decent” and be obedient. I proudly met those standards above and beyond. Yet there was still something that wasn’t good enough. I was a convert. I was told that because I maintained ties with my Hindu family it makes me less of a Muslim thus not leading my life correctly. I was also told I would be only be accepted as a daughter-in-law when all my Hindu family died.

This could have been a rare situation and it could be that the majority of born-Muslim families are accepting of letting a convert enter their homes. I am yet to experience this. Maybe this stereotype towards converts are more predominant in the Indian community or maybe not. Is it ignorance or pride? I have a long journey ahead of me, that’s for sure. However I know that there is someone out there for me, and I am sure he will be worth the wait. I know he will treasure me, I know he will love me, I know he will respect me, I know he will admire me.... Because I am a convert!

"Marry those among you who are single, or the virtuous ones among yourselves, male or female: if they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace: for Allah encompasseth all, and he knoweth all things"

8 comments:

  1. from discussions ive had with people, the one worry about marrying a convert from any faith, is whether they will ever revert back. im speaking as well for other religions. For example if a christian guy married a reverted christian, would that person stay christian, and for how long and under what circumstances? It would be tragic for someone to marry a girl, who has converted before meeting, get married, have kids, then ten years later she changes back. Would that not confuse the kids? Would perhaps the mother in this case not wish to persuade her kids to follow her views? What about interactions with cousins or relatives of different faiths? Would the families, kids, cousins be able to handle all the difficult questions posed?

    Im not saying these are reasons not to consent to a marriage to a convert, but I can imagine any family being worried when making such decisions. Generally , id assume religious people from all backgrounds are conservative, so is it really so hard to imagine? Does it pose too many questions, and risks?

    Each would have to assess it on their own, and make their own decision.

    Interestingly, I believe essentialy all faiths, if practiced correctly should lead you to God. Hinduism is one of the most tolerant religions, and I for one am more in favour of people that tolerates others, and doesnt view any as better than the next

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  2. @Anonymous:

    I am a revert to Islam. I have never heard this "concern" before. On the contrary, I feel that someone who has chosen Islam will stick to it far more fervently than someone who was born into it. The value here is in the Choice. Converting to Islam is no joke - of all the major religions it is the one that requires the most dedication, education, and work. Born Muslims stray from the Path every day as they probably have less appreciation for what it means to be Muslim than a revert would.

    Leaving the fold of Islam is no small matter either. It entails the outright rejection of the core of Islam. Denial of God, denial of the Prophet Muhammad (saws). Anyone who is educated in the Deen will for various reasons agree that rejecting Islam isn't the most sensible course of action (because Islam is a logical religion and makes far more sense than other religions - from a purely objective perspective).

    I believe that the reason certain groups of South Africans (eg. Indian Muslims) are resistant to the idea of their children marrying reverts is not actually religiously-based. There is no support for this mindset in Islamic teaching. It's a cultural bias; an elitist, exclusionary mindset that should definitely not be associated with or misconstrued as Islam.

    Re your last paragraph - yes, it is of course better to have a conscious relationship with God, than not to. Given all the information (almost all non-Muslims know virtually nothing about Islam) Islam becomes a clear option. But I hear you, and I agree that an honest, God-conscious life is something worth mentioning.

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  3. @ Anonymous:

    I agree with Zuhayra - when someone converts, its a choice that have decided to make. Choosing a religion is not like choosing a car, you'll drive it for a few years and then want the latest one after a while. The core beliefs of a Islam doesn't change over time. You know exactly what you getting yourself into.

    I have never heard of any Muslim convert reverting to their first religion.

    However I also know that the fears you mentioned is occurring, I have experienced it. The family I was supposed to marry into also thought i would become Hindu again because I lived with my Hindu family. I think that was just narrow mindedness talking. I love my family regardless of their beliefs because they are good people. I will never marry someone who wont accept them or forces me to break ties with them.

    "id assume religious people from all backgrounds are conservative" - This is not true. I know I am Indian myself. But i have found majority of Indians to be the most conservative and narrow minded. Its definitely cultural influences.

    Thats why i wrote a post about Islamic culture vs Indian identity, many Indians allow for the latter to dominate their religion. This is where the problems start.

    Also regarding your last comment about Hinduism being tolerant, this is true. And Islam is also a very tolerant religion, non-Muslims don't see this because many Muslims don't practice it. Just like how many Hindu's don't practice tolerance i.e Hindu - Muslim Riots, Hindu - Sikh Riots etc.

    And no, I am not shooting down Hinduism. Because I will be the first to say that many Muslims are not tolerant. Also, never judge a religion by its followers.

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  4. When someone converts, as far as it makes sense to me, there is usually a lot of emotion that actually makes the decision. This is why what usually follows, is that the person will then try to find logical proof as to why they have made this choice.

    What are core beliefs? Who decided what the core was ? For muslims, it was just a bunch of men who got together and made interpretations and analogies, based on sources. But these differ, quite widely.

    Why should religion not change?Or rather why cant it? Surely the beauty in islam is that it accepts the good wherever it may be found?

    Thanks for agreeing about the peoples fears part. What is interesting , is that as referred to, it may just be for some, something to hide their real prejudices behind. However we cant speak for all, so surely there must be some that are just as I explained of what happens in the future in the event of a change. It has various challenges, and some people are not up for it. If Im not mistaken did the prophet not recommend taking the easier of two paths?

    What I meant with the religious people are conservative, is that any community, religion, culture, will generally stick to what is common, known, and tradional if you want. They/it/people are resistant to change and new ideas, even its for their betterment. It might even be due to physiological reasons that we so resistant to change. Also , this family person making the decision would have to weigh in the effects of the community on their family, eg would their family be slandered or ostracised? All these things lead up to my statement of conservatism, that given most difficult circumstances, or given the choice to stick to what is common and known, most people would stick to what they used to doing. In this case it would be marrying a certain girl.

    as far as it not being religiously based, i think abu hanifa has made a ruling that it is better to marry within your same social class. Again this wouldnt be binding on all, but it shows that some scholars will have reached such an opinion. these are the same scholars that have taught muslims most of their religion. So can we really choose that which we like and that which we dont? They surely studied alot before making their rulings.

    Do you really think Islam to be a tolerant religion? Why do you say that?

    You are correct in saying that its the followers and not the religion. Unfortunately there are many scholars who tear islam apart on the basis of its views towards non muslims. It is very difficult to make heads or tails of it, and I think the majority of people will try to find some way to defend it, as a mother would her son. But is it really the case?

    I would disagree that Islam is the most logical religion. I would rather say that since it is the newest, it has been better preserved, and the teachings perhaps clearer on certain things in comparison to other religions.

    I would also say that other religions, and perhaps the real islam, require a higher form of logic, intuition and understanding to reach, and since it is difficult to find true teachers, one settles in the war for stability to that which has the most structure, and people would say Islam has the most structure. But again, if one keeps on pecking away, even this falls down.

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  5. My post is too long so im breaking it into parts:


    - This is not entirely true, although I converted at a really young age and although my decision to convert was purely emotional, I read the Quran and had to find some sort of logic behind my decision. I doubt someone will enter a religion with no understanding of the given religion, that’s silly. Unless the reason for them converting was because of marriage etc. Besides, finding logic behind any religion is not like reaching a finish line. There is no end to it. Even born Muslims still go through life trying to find logic.

    - Core beliefs monotheism, belief in the bible and torah, belief in angels, belief that the Prophet Muhammed (saw) was the final prophet, 5 pillars of Islam, belief in the last day etc etc. These are the core beliefs as per the Quran which does not require interpretation for its clear as daylight and not hidden behind anything else. Yes you are right about the patriarchal influence behind the interpretation of the Quran, and yes they do differ. Luckily as we are moving forward we Islam is seeing more women being actively involved in a gender inclusive interpretation of the Quran. We also have “modernists” (and I use this term very lightly because this term has been coined in a negative way within the Islamic community) who have proposed methodological ways of interpreting the Quran, who argue that the Quranic verses should not be read in isolation and should not be taken literally. The Quran should be read holistically. One should take into consideration the time and context of society in which the verses were revealed i.e. Mecca or Medina verses, we should also look at the verses before and after. And although this approach is not favorable by the traditionalists, It is an approach that is on the increase.

    -As per above, the interpretations should change as per society but the core beliefs will never change. The good that Muslims accept has been found in Islam.

    -As long as these paths are within the limits of religion.

    -One should not confuse religion and culture. One cannot place their culture over religion. If you have a conservative culture that would look down upon you by marrying a convert and If your religion tells you that you can marry a convert, what will you do? Will you choose cultural acceptance over a religious one? Surely worrying about what people might think is for the narrow minded. Yes we all worry what society will say about the decisions we make but at the end of the day we answer to our creator and if we do not go against our Islamic teachings and if we are doing something that’s right, why should we worry about what people have to say? I for one will not take the opinions of narrow minded people to heart. Who have set these standards of what is common? Is has been society that have set these standards and once again people have chosen to favour societal norms rather than religious ones. There are many Sahih Hadith that state the requirements of a wife.

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  6. -Once again, we should not take this literally. We need to examine the context in which it was said, what was occurring in society at the time for this statement to be made and is it equal to the choice of marrying a convert. FYI – social status has nothing to do with being a convert or not (many converts have higher social statuses) – also depends what your definition of social status means
    There is Sahih Hadith encouraging men to marry women of different tribes and encouraging their sons to marry women of a third tribe.
    -If you study the Quran and Hadith you will see that there is no room for violence in Islam. For example look at Jihad – The Prophet (saw) said to his companions there are two types of Jihad – the greater Jihad and the lesser Jihad. The greater Jihad being the fight against one’s self i.e fighting your nafs, fighting against Shaytaan to purify yourself. Striving to make yourself a better person is the greater jihad. The lesser jihad is a holy war – which occurred in a time when the number of Muslims were too few and the fear of losing the Muslim ummah was great. People have misinterpreted these things and without a doubt the media has jumped on the bandwagon as well. The media has portrayed Islam to be a violent religion and although many Muslims are not tolerant, their actions are misguided and do not reflect a true Islamic spirit.
    -The Quran and Hadith also speak about tolerance towards non-Muslims (I have written a post about this too)
    - The idea that the Islam is intolerant towards non-Muslims is wrong. It is the followers who are intolerant.
    -The logic behind Islam is profound, the logic and science in the Quran that apply to everyday life and life has a whole has been proven. Islam is not a new religion, it brings forth the same message that was brought by all the other Prophets, however along the years that message has been distorted. The Prophet Muhammed (saw) came to perfect what had been distorted.
    -All religions are complex and therefore we should always seek knowledge. Seeking knowledge is something compulsory in Islam. We should consult with people more learned than us, for they have mastered the texts in its original form. But we should not just study from one scholar alone. I believe we should consult with various scholars from various schools of though. We should then study the topic ourselves, to the best of our ability and make the decisions from there.
    I think the main point I tried to make in my post has been lost somewhere. Marrying a convert is something allowed in Islam as per the Quran. Regardless of societal norms and cultural acceptances we cannot choose culture over religion. It might be difficult to accept that this person was not born Muslim, but shunning that person has no basis in Islam.

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  7. on your blog first part :

    what I meant is quite simple, sometimes one thing in a religion will really appeal to someone, eg a person who loves business ethics finding out about business ethics, might convert just on this, and thereafter whatever else comes his way, he will find a way to logic it out to himself, regardless if it makes sense to him or not. this is why often, many who get " pulled" into a religion, often take on the persons views/school of thought of that person.

    I feel the core can change, those things about angels etc. more importantly to me, I feel if you are good person, that is the core of islam.

    You right, religion over culture. If life were simple and peoples narrowmindedness makes them not see what you maybe can, then it would be easy. I dont think its the easiest thing to do, if you had to be ostracised for marrying someone. marriage is tough, you need you family and support, and if this is easier for you, im sure it would be recommeneded, as i mentioned. however if a particular family has no issue with it, why not then? I think its an individuals assessment.

    on blog part 2

    i just mentioned it , because I was trying to point out that when marriage is concerned, there are sometimes other issues other than religion that can get taken into account.

    as far as I know that small and big jihad hadith is weak, and sometimes cosidered false. I dont really know why you would use it, or anyone else, people really massacre arguments like this.

    You are right, I personally feel it would be best if one could study at an institution where all schools of thought are taught. I have seen how people get "influence" at different institutions. However, it is practically impossible to have an institution teaching all ways, and invariably a student will take a liking to one way/teacher.


    You are right, it is allowed. I would just reiterate what I said above. It will have challenges, perhaps slightly more than a born muslim would bring. Many factors would have to be considered, most importantly the relations of the families to each other and the people getting married. Marriage should try to work, and going in where people are already hostile is a difficult thing to make work.

    I would also say that we can get angry for a while about it, but ultimately we must accept that allah has made people of different constituions, abilities, backgrounds, intellects,etc, and some may unfortunately be not able to see the reality of the situation.

    Peace

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  8. I have a friend who is a convert having married into a Muslim family. It has been nothing but an uphill battle for her. Victimization and ill treatment.

    The sad part is that she seems more devout than her Muslim inlaws in following the ways of Islam after she came to know the teachings.

    I have known many Muslims from different parts of the world and the teachings of Islam are wonderful and good. Unfortunately the people mess it up.

    Here in Cape Town there are a lot of people who are born Muslim who conduct themselves fraudulently, unethically and can be down right nasty. They feel that because they are born Muslims and are involved in the religious activities it gives them the right to get away with doing bad things. Things they don't even realise they are doing. Womanising is just another example. This is controversial to say but its happening in Cape Town and its not a true reflection on Islam, its actually the intersection of Islam and the culture that pervades the communnity in Cape Town for generations, partly due to the legacy of Apartheid and the slave trade origins of the Cape Malays.

    Then come the converts who weren't born into this vicious Cape culture and they listen to and embrace the teachings of Allah better than the born Muslims who are too obsessed with wealth and status.

    The local community needs to seriously look at themselves and reform their way of thinking and their approach to their fellow human beings. Especially the attitude to converts, because many of the Muslims in South Africa must remember they too are descendants of converts.

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