Revert or Convert?

294841945.jpg  In the early 1990s, I belonged a group of Muslim women, both ex-pats and Arabs, who gathered regularly to learn more about Islam and to socialize.  Several such groups existed, a few of which had been established formally in lovely villas for the express purpose of giving women a “public” place in which to meet other women, study Islam, and freely express themselves.  Once inside the high walls, women threw off their black wraps, exposed colorful clothing and bright make-up, chatted and laughed together, discovered new friendships and recipes, shared stories of adjustment and maladjustment, attended Arabic and Tafseer classes, and renewed their spirit for life in one of the most socially controlled environments in the world.

Kids ran and played, babies cried, voices rose up in babbles of conversation and cross- conversation, sometimes in mixed languages, though Enlgish was the most common language.  We looked forward to hearing speakers who would come from other countries specifically to meet us, make Hajj or Umra, and share news from abroad. Sometimes the speakers were well known throughout the Muslim world. I looked forward to meeting Aminah Assilmi, an American who had been raised Baptist, now president of the International Union of Muslim Women. The day she was to speak, I arrived early, so as to meet her personally.

I am thankful for women like Aminah, who are passionate and full of fire, able to ignite the spirits of those who fall under her sphere.  I don’t remember many details of Aminah’s lecture that day, but I’ll never forget a conversation we had before the crowd arrived.

She asked me how and when I came to Islam. I said, “I converted in 1988.”

She said, “REVERTED! You REverted!”

“Huh?” I hadn’t heard the term before, in the context of joining the Muslim fold. I’ve heard it a lot since then.

Aminah then explained that all humans are born in a natural state of Islam, that is, in a state of submssion to the will of God. Only by upbringing, and by no fault of their own, are children taught religions other than Islam. A person who leaves the religion of his/her birth and embraces Islam is said to have “reverted” to the natural state.

“Oh,” I said.

Obviously, all humans are born in a state of infantile dependency, ready to be molded into that which their parents and society try to mold them. I refrained from saying that I had been truly a Christian, and that becoming a Muslim was not at all an exercise in backtracking, but in expanding my consciousness, and learning to appreciate the depth, the complexity, the steadfast devotion, and ultimately the sincerity of the human search for transcendence. Accepting Islam opened my spirit in ways that Christianity never did, but I do not fault Christianity.  The Christian path expanded for me, not contracted, as I studied Islam and learned how to pray and read the Qur’an.

I am not a revert; I am a convert, and maybe not even that. I am a builder, a developer, and still a seeker.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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11 Responses to Revert or Convert?

  1. Ohh you’re making me homesick for Lebanon (my husband’s homeland but where i felt so happy). I loved those gatherings and the freedom to mix with just women and discuss all that we needed to know about Islam and such. As for the topic I understand the revert idea and definitly accept it but I rarily use it because other peopel haven’t heard it. it’s used more for american society and dealing with Christians who like the idea of rebirth and etc… I just say convert and know in my heart of course I’ve always been a Muslim and was born that way. But you’re right too that we can’t let that word define all we are. All of us Converts/Reverts are special people who are not afraid to acknowledge that something is not right and to change it even if that mean we have to change everything about ourselves and egin anew. That takes courage and to all my sisters out there I applaud you. We are the bearers of the next gereation where families are mixed more and have a broader appreciation for all people. GO US!

  2. Marahm says:

    Yes, you are right, the term “revert” is used mostly in America. Your point about the connection between “revert” and “reborn” is one I had not thought of.

    It certainly does take courage to change one’s religious direction, but more than courage, it takes a constant, consistent desire to dig deep into the mysteries of our creation. I have met Christians, Hindus, and Bhuddists who also exemplify that attitude, and I would never say that any one of them is wrong or misguided. As you might have guessed, I’m a pretty liberal Muslim, nearly a Unitarian Universalist, though for my own personal practice, I connect to Allah through Islam.

  3. Umm Ibrahim says:

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    I am really enjoying reading your blog – I onlu just discovered it!

    I understand everything people say about the term ‘revert’ but after being Muslim 16 years, I still prefer to say convert if there is the need to qualify my ‘Muslimness’ in any way. :mrgreen:

  4. Aafke says:

    I don’t think you have ”converted” or ”reverted” but: grown towards enlightenment.
    If we take the concept of ”God” as a all-encompassing force of good, then it is impossible that not everybody who strives to enlightenment, will not eventually reach it. Which ever way they choose which is most compatible to them.

  5. Marahm says:

    Umm Ibrahim, Thank you! I’ve started reading your blog, too. I’m so happy to be discovering so many lovely ladies with whom I can share this glorified email business called blogging!

    Aafke, Beautifully said! If more people in this world shifted their perspective from a restrictive understanding of religion to one of inclusion, we’d have fewer wars.

  6. Aysha says:

    I feel discomfort as well towards the convert/revert argument. Mainly, because I am not convinced of the quote nor the interpretation of it “every babe is born but upon fitra”
    I really like how you and Aafke analyzed the experience of a new faith.
    You have such a poetic language and way of receiving the world Marahm.

  7. Marahm says:

    Aysha, thank you for the reference to your blog entry of nearly a year ago, “upbringing-and-brainwashing-are-they.html.” I’ve just posted a response.

    Thank you for your complementary words. They mean a lot, because writing is one of my primary tools for interfacing with both body and soul. If my words reach another person, so much the better!

  8. Amina says:

    myself also gone through this discussion and at times it’s easier for me to say that I accepted or embranced Islam to aviod some issues. anyhow, I think result as such is more important than semantic itself.

  9. Marahm says:

    You are very wise, Amina. Thank you for bringing us to the essence of the matter. A Muslim is a Muslim, and let’s let it stand at that!

  10. peacefulmuslimah says:

    I so totally agree. I think that the notion of telling converts that they are “reverts” really is disrespectful to their commitment to whatever religion they observed before becoming Muslims. I am a CONvert.

    Salaam Alaikum.

  11. Marahm says:

    Thank you, Peaceful Muslimah. You said it beautifully. Many converts had been dedicated to God, and had sought knowledge of Him through one or several religions before finding their way to Islam.

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