The Muslim community has an obsession with Muslim converts. This obsession manifests as either jubilation at the prospect of someone taking their shahada or a weird sort of jealousy towards convert Muslims. Those who are overjoyed sometimes act as if they are the ones taking their shahada. Tears, hugging, and shouts of “Takbir! Takbir!” usually follow a person’s conversion. I understand how seeing someone come to the faith can inspire a Muslim to renew their own connection with Allah but the amount of excitement can sometimes seem insincere. I say this because this joy and support rarely extends past the first few weeks of meeting this convert. Converts so often find ourselves alone, struggling to manage our new faith with the life we already established. And it’s important to note that we did, in fact, have a life before Islam. A life that we are going to have to alter to fit with Islam. Family and friends that we may have to hang around less either because of their dislike of Islam or activities they participate in being prohibited to us. This inconsistent support from Muslims makes our adjustment all the more difficult.
On the other end of this is the jealousy and sometimes downright hatred those born into Muslim families have for converts. Lately it would seem that people believe this jealousy or hatred is directed solely at white converts. It is not. I’ll admit that there are Muslims who feel threatened by the influx of white converts. Perhaps they are fearful that they will want to incorporate secular belief systems into the faith. Or some who are jealous of the pedestal many people place white Muslims on. A white Muslim is more likely to be given a speaking position in a lecture, ask to lead a khutab, or even be appointed Imam. All while Muslims of other races may be more qualified and have actually had time to develop their identities as Muslims and leaders. Muslims aren’t immune to the affects of colonization and some subconsciously seek out the approval of white westerners. They hold up white Muslims as the proof that Islam is not this backward, barbaric religion. It’s almost as if they are saying, “Look! If this white person gave up their western ways to embrace Islam that must mean that it’s correct.”
However, this hatred isn’t solely directed at white Muslims and acting as if it is will deter us from examining the real reason this sentiment arises. Muslim converts of all races, including myself, have experienced hatred. If we correct someone or are having a disagreement on an Islamic subject we are often ridiculed for being converts. Told that we don’t really know much and that our status eliminates us from any religious discussion. If we adopt a certain religious practice or viewpoint that other Muslims around us don’t have we are told that we are extremists. Our cultures are attacked and used as the reason why we cant really be Muslims. This isn’t brand new and it is most certainly not just directed at white Muslim converts. Right fighting and petty people tend to be that way to others regardless of their race.
Most of this vitriol comes from the fetishization of Muslim converts which are a result of stereotypes many have about us. Some Muslims seem to believe that we are, upon conversion, more spiritual and knowledgeable than other Muslims. That we are more zealous in our pursuit of ilm. They think that our imam is somehow stronger and less susceptible to tests of faith.
Some converts do have a stronger imam than those born into Islam. Some of us have done extensive research before converting and afterwards expanded our knowledge in the pursuit of Islamic scholarship. However, for every convert that is excited to practice their deen there is another convert struggling not to become an apostate. For every student of knowledge is one who did not even finish the Quran before converting and are now struggling to reconcile their former beliefs with what they are discovering. There are those of us who feel isolated. That are too poor to afford to buy an abaya or take an Islamic course. Some of us who may even miss who we were before and feel like converting was a mistake.
These stereotypes help no one. It shames converts who are struggling because we feel as if we should be more spiritual than those who have had their entire lives to learn and practice the faith. We are less likely to talk about these feelings because we are pressured to be perfect. These stereotypes don’t do anything in the way of promoting unity between converts and born Muslims either. Imagine spending your entire life as a Muslim, having to navigate this world as one, only to have someone tell that a new convert is better than you.
The most unfortunate thing that can come from this obsession is that it stunts the development of new Muslims. We are either pressured to take on too much at a time in order to prove to ourselves and other Muslims that we are Muslim enough. Which leads to burn out and for many of us eventually apostatizing. Or we feel disliked and devalued for being converts. As if we are are a nuisance or a toddler incapable of having our own opinions. If we are already experiencing hatred from the rest of the world the last place we need to see it is in the community that is supposed to welcome us.
Just let us be. Allow us to develop as new Muslims. Allow us to be flawed and wrong. Don’t insult us to win an argument or expect us to be your motivation to practice more. We’re people and we deserve better than to be someone’s spiritual guru or a person’s projection of their own insecurities. Stop obsessing over us, it’s creepy.