Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Sharing Group Discussion: Why Do Muslims Love Listening to Conversion Stories?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Sister San Yee posted this question on The Sharing Group, on the 08th August, 2015: “Why do Muslims love listening to conversion stories?”

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I think it is mostly conversion pornography, a vicarious pleasure that validates their worldview since the Muslim community has nothing else of note to boast about.  I hate the way most conversion stories are set about.  They are exploitative, immature and insulting to the previous religion, and even the community of the convert.  Can we imagine if the Christians did it as much as we did?  If some former Muslim went on video and stated he found Christianity because Islam was a lie and the theology did not make sense?  The self-righteous elements of the ummah would apoplectic.  This is hypocrisy.

Sister Steph Ferraro: Also, it has the attitude that once you convert, your journey ends.  No one wants to hear about how hard it was learning the Qur’an; they just want to hear about how you took your shahadah.  Moreover, it has an air of separation.  These are the converts, and these are the born-Muslims, and converts are always converts.  I think at a certain point, converts stop being converts and are just as knowledgeable and capable as born-Muslims, but the convert stories seem to separate more than they should.

Sister Sabine: And how happy and liberated you feel with hijab.

Brother Reza Harith: Most of the conversion stories I have heard relate to the person’s evolution in their spiritual journey; I have hardly met a convert who had anything disparaging to say about their previous religions or belief system.  For them, as they put it, they gravitated towards Islam for what the tenets and their permutations mean to them as they evolve spiritually.  And I am always humbled and inspired by these stories of their journey because it reminds me to be mindful of where I stand and intend to proceed in my own journey.  I used to feel like Islam was ‘forced’ onto me because I was born into a Muslim family.  And to be perfectly honest, I catch myself feeling that way on some days, so it is refreshing to hear of how other people find their way to the faith and way of life.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: To be honest, after 16 years, I am sick and tired of people asking me how I converted.  That was a long time ago, and I am not that person anymore.

Brother Gary Dargan: Having seen some ‘show’ conversions at talks given by international speakers, it takes a real story to get me interested.  Many of the stories really are just so stories lacking the real nitty-gritty of the conversion experience.  They remind me so much of the flocks of people high on preaching who used to come forward from the audience at the Billy Graham Crusades.

Brother Adam Kishanov: Really?  We are complaining about how excited fellow Muslims are when someone converts?  I love to hear each and every story, al-Hamdulillah.  I am very happy when someone converts and in case anyone here forgot, we are supposed to spread the word of Allah (s.w.t.), down to the way we wear our clothes and our facial hair so people can know we are Muslims.  And the way we act and treat others is our first step to showing our fellow humans what Islam is all about.  It is not being self-righteous.

Brother Terence, if you are so tired about hearing about it then why have this group?  And why title every paper your write ‘A Muslim Convert Once More’?  This is the saddest post I have read on the group so far.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Brother Adam, that is the name of the blog, not the posts.  The reason why my blog is named thus is explained on the blog itself in the very first post, Brother Adam Kishanov.  You could look it up there.

I am personally not interested in most conversion stories.  They are masturbatory self-glorification, a form of religious pornography.  Most stories do not even address the struggles of converts.  They are nothing more than what I would call ‘masha’Allah click bait’.  Muslims exclaim ‘Masha’Allah’, click ‘like’ and they feel good about themselves because another soul was ‘saved’.  And the type Muslims especially like, is the testimony that affirms their way of thinking whilst simultaneously disparaging the prior faith or the ‘kuffar’ culture.  So basically, many Muslims can only feel good when Christians, Jews and whatever are put down.  This is as if by magically saying the shahadah, everything is good, the skies open and angels with Stratocasters sing slow rock songs.  All this, is nothing more than an exercise to validate prejudice and bias, as if this would somehow address a collective emasculation of the ummah through corruption, stagnation and self-satisfaction.  The Muslims have lost their self-esteem and this is a drug for temporary reprieve.  It is contemptible and we should be ashamed.

Sister Shahbano Aliani: It certainly seems like it is an affirmation of those who are already Muslim, a moment of pride.  I can imagine it gets tiring to recount over and over again.  However, my own experience is a little different.  I was born into a Muslim family and country and grew up looking up to my very secular father, whom I never saw pray.  He was a young man of the sixties, very progressive, open minded and a great person all around, but not at all religious.  Though I think just before he died, he had started to wake up for fajr and would say his swalah while the rest of the house slept.  Anyway, I was, like many young people from that background and of my age in the eighties, totally enamoured by the US and turned off by the ‘Islamisation’ brought in by the military dictator of the time.  I thought religion was little more than superstition, and patriarchal on top of it.

Several decades later, after having burnt myself out at the altar of human rights and leftist feminism, mostly working in the US, I gave up many of my ideas and beliefs out of sheer exhaustion, and felt myself drawn closer and closer to God.  At some point during that time, I started praying, not formal swalah, - in English - every night asking God for Guidance.  I was not a practicing Muslim, I did not perform my swalah or fast or give zakat.  I just believed in one God, that was all.  Soon thereafter, I met my Sufi teacher and took that as an answer to my prayers, from God.  I started following his teachings, but remained ambivalent towards the Diyn.

Then one day, someone posted a video of an Australian convert on Facebook.  It was supposed to be a funny, not a religious, clip.  I watched it and was fascinated by the young man’s account of his journey to Islam, to which the Qur’an had been central.  I had learnt how to recite the Qur’an in Arabic as a child but had never read it in translation.  That YouTube link led to other links and stories.  For weeks, I became obsessed with conversion stories, to all of which, the Qur’an seemed to be central.  At the time, I did not realize it, but it was my own ‘conversion’ to Islam.  I had been born into the Diyn but it had never been mine.  Now, all these Western people, with whom I identified more closely because of my education and views, were affirming a sacred text I had never really read or tried to understand.  The stories made me curious about the Qur’an.  And once I started to read it, specifically for Guidance, I was pulled faster and harder towards Allah (s.w.t.) and the Diyn.

I cannot speak for others, but for me, converts are the people who have brought me to the Diyn.  Not coincidentally, my shaykh is also a convert.  And many of my friends are too and I continue to benefit and learn from them, as I do from many in this group.  It is both humbling and beautiful.  In no way does it affirm to me my superiority or even the superiority of the Diyn.  I realise this is what is best for me and for many others who follow it.  But this does not make Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others wrong or misguided.  I have met beautiful people from all religions and learnt from them all.  They are Allah’s (s.w.t.) people and I have no doubt in my mind that He Loves them.  How can I judge those He has Created and those He Loves?

Brother Dawud Marsh: Salaam, Sister Shahbano Aliani, jazakallah for sharing your story.  Personally, I enjoy hearing other people’s stories of their journeys towards Allah (s.w.t.).

Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV: I am with Brother Adam Kishanov and Brother Dawud Marsh on this one.  I can see Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis being tired of them; for he hears, sees so much and deals with a lot of people on a daily basis.  I enjoy hearing them, I think some people though play the ‘holier than thou’ game and act like there such a good Muslim that they put down others for someone talking about it, or think they act better because they do not need to hear it.  Though after almost two years, I find myself even not wanting to talk about it as much, and I imagine there is a sense of self-promotion in some cases.  I has been months since I told anyone about it but if someone asks, I think it is a good thing to explain it to a non-Muslim why.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I deal with a lot of conversion cases, and a lot of apostasy cases.  There are quite a few conversion stories on my blog, from people I know and have personally interacted with, and they have left Islam.  Do people really realise what happens after the shahadah, the challenges some face?  And these challenges come mainly from the very people who said ‘Masha’Allah’ and clicked ‘like’ on some of these stories.  How people come to Islam is not as important as why they stay.  Nobody is really interested in that part because it is not glamorous.

Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV: I think also, Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis, and this is just speculation on my part but I feel in some cases Muslims put a lot of pressure on converts to be so perfect or do everything according to their view of how things should be done.  It is almost like they are expected to reinvent the wheel right at the opening gate.  I have spoken to a few former Muslims who were so discouraged because if they did not do everything by the book and in perfect order and form, they were in danger of Hellfire.  I think they have seen the hypocrisy of some in the Muslim community.  As you say, Islam is meant to be simple and as a cousin once told me before I converted, “Islam is about striving to be your best”, not perfection or to impress others.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I will not speak for other parts of the world since that would be overstepping the boundaries.  However, in our context, the Muslim community builds an image of what a ‘good’ convert should be.  As long as the convert fulfills that image, they are liked, they have friends within the community and they are sought after as examples to give little talks or testimonies.  This is nothing more than propaganda.

If, for whatever reason, a convert were to deviate from that image, then they are proscribed by the community.  You see, the Muslim community here does not really care about converts.  They care about the image.  What do they know?  Do they have a pulse on the ground?  Do they know how many people leave Islam officially or unofficially?  Do they know how many ‘converts’ no longer practice?  It is not as if these converts can walk into Darul Arqam Singapore and talk to someone and people would understand.

Consider, for example, the sort of ‘advice’ a convert receives should he or she were to confide a disquiet or a crisis of faith?  “Read the Qur’an”, or “Pray more”; or when all that fails: “You lack faith”.  Nobody is listening to the people who have lost their voices.

My blog is called A Muslim Convert Once More because people leave and come back to Islam, whether convert or born into it, all the time.  And that is why the conversion stories I put there are not about how wonderful life is because somebody said the shahadah, but about how people encountered and overcame challenges.

Sister Crystal: I used to be all about sharing my conversion story.  Then it became a prideful thing, astaghfirullah.  Now, I do not like talking about it.  And I notice that some born-Muslims are unaccountably disappointed when the story is not shared, or when it is reduced to a few words, at which point the prodding starts.  It is my story to share, no one has a right to it.  Has Allah (s.w.t.) never done anything amazing in their own life?  Why this addictive yearning to partake in everyone else’s experiences with the Almighty?  I do not mind sharing my story occasionally, but I get tired of hearing it.  Thank God that a year and a half in, most people do not ask anymore.  Not because I have told them all, but because I am not fresh anymore.  My conversion is stale to them.

Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV: Yes, I too, do not talk about it as much but when asked, I gladly share.  I think some people though whether they be too sick to hear of conversion stories or the ones who think converts should be so like them, have problems.  I am not speaking of anyone in particular but just some who seem to view themselves as all ‘it’.  I mean, what if someone who is new to Islam views this post and reads this post and some comments that had been made.  They are going to think we are a bunch of kill-joys, and I agree with Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis and Sister Crystal that there is a fatigue factor after a while and there is more to conversion than the initial stages; but to totally discourage others from telling their story or to share is not particularly healthy either.

Brother Marquis Dawkins: This is a good thread and that is coming from one who always shares his story.  And I love Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis saying that the convert has to fulfill a certain image the Muslim community has set forth, and if they deviate from that image, they are proscribed.  I always say that is why I, or brothers like Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV do not have our own show on Peace TV yet with a million dollar Saudi oil contract, because we do not go around yapping off about how Jesus (a.s.) was just a guy, ‘only to correct the Jews’, or how Christianity is corrupted and only Islam is the truth and everyone is kuffar like some high profile converts.  And there is also a racial element involved as well which is shameful, though I am glad to say I somewhat avoided that in person at least, but not online.

Brother Sulayman Bates: Every time I keep getting asked this same question: When and how I found Islam?  It has gotten to be so annoying and I have to retell the same story over and over again to where I am getting to the point that I might as well glue it to my forehead.  I rarely share anymore.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Do what I do: write it down.  And when people ask, send them the link: A Muslim Convert Once More: Crossing the Styx.  It saves time.
Sister Natasha Najid: Well, I like to listen to conversion stories because at one point, being a born-Muslim, I had very little inspiration to be drawn from my religion, not because of the religion itself but how the people around me carry themselves and the feel about the religion.  For all my life, the atmosphere of utmost fear for Allah (s.w.t.) and that no one can ever be like our Rasulullah (s.a.w.) because he is the best human being in the world, so we can all give up.  I have been encouraged.  Every single wrong that I do will be met with threats of Hellfire and the torments of afterlife.  This is also true in the masajid and religious classes.  So listening to conversion stories helps rekindle the magic in the faith.  It helps remind many of us the Mercy of our Creator and how His Hidayah is available to all mankind, not only the Malays or the Arabs.  And especially for me, it introduces the beauty of how Allah’s (s.w.t.) Hand in our lives is ever present and He is not an all seeing eye in the sky.

Sister San Yee: Thank you for sharing, Sister Natasha Najid.

Brother Gary Dargan: For once, I agree with Brother Terence.  I used to get excited when someone converted; now I get concerned.  Most people around converts seem to treat them like another scalp on their belt.  It is ‘Mash’Allah’ and on to the next one.  Converts need real support and careful handling.  I have been one for nearly 30 years and my journey to conversion was almost as long.  It was a struggle getting there and it is still a daily struggle, firstly with myself and sadly with other Muslims who do not understand why I converted or why I may not share their views and judge me accordingly.  Among other things, I have been accused of being a kuffar because I choose to question and use my reason, two of the things which bought me to Islam and which keep me there.

Sister Jan Ahmed: I understand, Brother Terence.  Christians do the same thing.  I am surprised at how religious conversion stories seem to have many similarities  As a person who enjoys getting to know humans, I am always interested in their stories  Yet, I admit to being skeptical as well and want people to reflect and dig much deeper than they seem to do.  I think that conversion stories are interesting to analyse.

Sister Sara Gilani: I love hearing the stories as well as reading about them just feels nice.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: Yes, it does feel nice, that feeling of seeing someone who all has his sins Erase, which in turn, prompts me to polish myself harder still.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I did not think I was a sinner before I converted.  It is not as if I led a life of sin, decadence and substance abuse and then found God.  I used to go to Mass every single day, sometimes twice a day and was a devout Catholic.  It was only after long theological studies that I considered Islam.  It was certainly not Muslims that brought me to Islam.  In fact, some of the Muslims I knew were downright horrible people.  One of them even mocked me about my ‘so-called’ conversion.  It is not as if I suddenly felt kinship to the wider ummah after my conversion.  Most of the Muslims I met were far too busy telling me what Islam is instead of showing it.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: If you had no sins before and you converted than you have been Blessed twice, Brother Terence.  A sinful person like myself sees good in this and is humbled.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That was not what I meant, brother.  No one is sinless.  What I meant was that this trope that all converts were in lives of decadence until they found Islam is not true.  I am not saying this to refer to myself, by the way, but the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “The best of you in Jahiliyyah will be the best of you in Islam.”

Sister Sumayya Betty Williamson: They want to stop listening when I tell them I had no life altering episode to lead me to Islam; it was Harlequin Romance novels at 16.  And that is the truth.  And Islam did not change my perception of a good time; I have always been modest in my dressing, no smoking, drugs, and always thanked God, and never believed ‘Isa (a.s.) was a god.  And I did not change my thoughts on equality of religions, and my opposition to religion in state owned schools.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: I have said it many times and I will again, what I really like about you converts is that you do not carry the baggage we do.  This allows you to be the Muslim you want to be.

Sister Sumayya Betty Williamson: I do find, at times, the most aggressive haram police are converts though, especially the sisters.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I agree, Sister Sumayya Betty Williamson.

Sister Nimali Rodrigo: Sister Sumayya Betty Williamson’s comment reminds me of this old article: Convertitis - or the Case of the Insta-Scholar.

Sister Lorraine Branson: I like listening to conversion stories, even as a convert of 29 years.  I think it inspires born-Muslims.

Brother Amin Teo: The convert haram police likely brainwashed by the Wahhabis.  al-Hamdulillah, I was Protected from them.

Brother Colin Turner: My conversion story involves reaching belief in God through the works of C S Lewis and Mawlana ar-Rumi (q.s.).  Mention those names and most people lose interest, thankfully.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: If I recall correctly, based on his writings, C. S. Lewis was very much a theologian of the Augustinian mould.

Brother Colin Turner: C S Lewis’s work of theodicy, ‘The Problem of Pain’, helped me come to terms with the existence of apparent evil in the world.  This was before I could read Arabic and Persian and thus have access to Muslim theologies, and there was very little authentic material in English at that time.  We are talking forty years ago, after all.

Right, Brother Terence, he was.  Theology was, and has remained, my first love, thanks in part to lay pastoral theologians such as Lewis.

Sister Mahshid Turner: Brother Colin, that is what I call a first influence not conversion.  Your questioning of belief in a God started at school from what I remember, and you have not stopped to ‘convert’ since then.

Brother Colin Turner: Agreed. I do not think that conversion every stops: it is always a work in progress, for born-Muslim or convert.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: Perhaps conversion never stops because:

سُوۡرَةُ الرَّحمٰن
... كُلَّ يَوۡمٍ هُوَ فِى شَأۡنٍ۬ (٢٩)

… every day in (new) Splendour doth He (Shine)! (Surah ar-Rahman:29)

Brother Colin Turner: Great point, Brother Hajj Ahmad, which means that ‘conversion’ is for all and not just for ‘converts’.

Sister Shahbano Aliani: Conversion is a work in progress because submission is a work in progress and the ‘abd goes to deeper and deeper levels of submission.  The submitting ‘abd witnesses, “….every day in (new) Splendour doth He (Shine)!” and ‘Allahu ‘Alim.  Brother Hajj Ahmad, Brother Colin Turner; well said, gentlemen.

Brother Terence, I think the problems you have mentioned that converts face in or with the Muslim communities are largely because for many Muslims, Islam is not conscious submission; it is largely habit or conditioning.  By definition, people are deeply, and blindly, identified with their conditioned selves.  Any deviation from their version and practice and belief system is probably experienced as threatening and offensive.  I can only imagine that Muslims who have undergone a fair amount of inner work that has exposed their conditioning would have the maturity to be receptive to the questions and concerns of converts, without feeling personally threatened.

Sister Shahbano Aliani: Brother Mingda, if one is to borrow a leaf from the Toltec tradition, another person’s conditioning is most useful to us if we use it as a mirror to expose our own.

Brother Mingda Sun: Many of us are conditioned in ways that harm others, myself included, and seeing people’s religious conditioning reminds me of how lucky I am.  I was never raised to be anything religious and thank God for that.  My own conditioning has been pretty awful and not a day goes by that I do not dwell on that: attitudes toward women and the poor and the less intelligent, there is a lot for me to work through.  But not much religious baggage except the nonsense I picked up from the Deobandi.

Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV: Great comments in the latter part of conversion by Sister Sumayya Williamson, Brother Nabeel Sadiq, Brother Colin Turner, Sister Shahbano Aliani, and Hajj Ahmad.  And Brother Mingda for his personal honesty along with few others who had contributed to this discussion.  This is a very good discussion.  I to have heard so many born-Muslims find inspiration from convert stories and I think also the stories of how converts and born-Muslims do in their daily walk and struggles is more than worth repeating for others to share.  I also am happy to know the many different ways converts have come into the fold.  Mine, like others, came from so far out of bounds and probably made those who knew us before scratch their heads and say ‘how in the world’.

For those like me, who do not live around a lot of Muslims, it is important to be the best of ambassadors for what true Islam is, to know the history so we can discuss how our dear Prophet (s.a.w.) really was, not just what the haters say.  And of course, how we are in our daily walk in treating others goes so far beyond importance it is above saying.  I so wish I can make people who I know who have either turned on me or disowned me, see the kind of conversations and people that are in this group.  They would totally realize how deep, knowledgeable, how so many filled with kindness for others, in showing what Allah (s.w.t.) has Done for us, in our lives.  Well some of them would anyway.

Sister Taking Meaning: Why do I love listening to conversion stories?  Just as I never tire of watching the miracle of a chubby green caterpillar who enshrouds itself in a fibrous sack, sleeps, then wakes as a delicate and beautiful winged creature; I never tire of stories of the miraculous ways Allah (s.w.t.) transforms us from our leaf-chomping life to the elegance of a life fluttering from one fragrant blossom to the next, insha’Allah.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The following posts are some of the conversion stories of people who are in the group, and those who were members.  Some of them are no longer Muslim.

This brother has left likely left Islam and is an agnostic: A Muslim Convert Once More: Finding the Simple Faith.  I will not name him.

This is Sister Jennifer Giove’s story: A Muslim Convert Once More: Jennifer's Bridge over Troubled Water.  She is not a fan of Nouman Ali Khan because she got to see his true colours.
This is the story of Brother David Rosser Owen: A Muslim Convert Once More: Shaykh David Rosser Owen: No Less a Christian.

This is the story of our dear brother, Marquis Dawkins: A Muslim Convert Once More: Write Us among the Believers: Ishaq Mohammed’s Conversion.

This is the story of Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV: A Muslim Convert Once More: Louis Shann: My Journey Within.

This story is from Brother Jhude Malecdan: A Muslim Convert Once More: Jude Malecdan's Conversion.

This is the story of Sister Amanda Grace: A Muslim Convert Once More: Farah Marium & Her Journey to Islam.

This is Sister Rebecca Quinn, who has since closed her Facebook account; I know her personally and she is a wonderful person: A Muslim Convert Once More: Rebecca Quinn: Beginning My Spiritual Journey.

This is Sister Colleen M Dunn, who took a break from Islam and then came back through Shaykh Etsko Schuitema: Colleen's Conversion Story.

This is Brother James Dunlap: A Muslim Convert Once More: ‘Umar James Dunlap: My Journey from Salafi to Sufism.  He is the brother behind original The Wahhabi Threat page.
This is Sister Debbie Khan, who converted by herself, alone: A Muslim Convert Once More: When Debbie Embraced Islam.

These are the stories of Brother Ricky Reed and his friend, Brother Robert Hinrichs: A Muslim Convert Once More: Ricky, Robert & the Accidental Conversion.  Robert did his shahadah via Skype at our Sharing Session.

This is the story of Sister Lorraine Branson: A Muslim Convert Once More: Lorraine Embraces Islam.

This is the story of one of our sisters who was stranded in Saudi Arabia, in an abusive relationship with a Wahhabi: A Muslim Convert Once More: An Orphan Found Islam.  It was through the efforts of Ustadz Adam Kelwick and the good people of Embrace Foundation that they managed to raise the money to bring her home,


This is the story of Sister Rachel Pan Yijun: A Muslim Convert Once More: Rachel’s Conversion.  It was at her request and initiative we have this group.  She left Islam a few months ago.

This is the story of Brother David Stelzer: A Muslim Convert Once More: Letter to Papa.  Brother Glenn Meyer, you might have seen this.

This is what many conversion stories really are about: people leaving Islam: A Muslim Convert Once More: Why Some Converts Have Left Islam.

And this is what we do to try and bring them back: A Muslim Convert Once More: Coming Back to the Fold.

And this is what many real conversion stories really are about: A Muslim Convert Once More: Kimdonesia has Left Islam.  A lot of converts leave, and many because they are chased away by the community.
Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV: Thanks, Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis. I look forward though to reading about the brothers and sisters I know and to learn some lessons from the other ones.  It is good to know, I feel, how others came on the straight way, to learn also the struggles others face.  In few weeks, will be two years for me.

Brother Marquis Dawkins: Thank you for posting all these, Brother Terence.  I did not know Sister Rachel left Islam.  She and I were very similar.  And I noticed she unfriended me.

Brother Sulayman Bates: I am most sorry to hear that Brother Ishaq.  These are really sad times.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Do not take it personally, Brother Marquis Dawkins.  She unfriended most of the Muslims.

The question here now, and there have been several conversion stories on this thread, is after listening to these conversion stories, what happens next?  Is it to be consumed as a form of literature?

Sister Amanda Grace: I wonder if we could also start a further storyline of after our conversions.  The road we travelled on to get to where we are now.  It is quite interesting the path we all take in learning and growing.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Indeed, and make it an opportunity where we could distill actual learning points.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: It still bugs me when a Muslim friend of mine gave me his opinion about converts.  He said the problem with converts is that we can never trust them.  I could not think of a reply until I was ready to leave and asked him, “Was it not converts to Islam that Allah describes in the Qur’an as the best ummah?”

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: We have all sorts.  We even have people who have this strange idea that there is no unique conversion process since even born-Muslims can ‘convert’, or they conflate it with some sort of spiritual change and people ‘convert’ all the time.  That is arrogant presumption.

Sister Mahshid Turner: Why and how are the dynamics different?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Sister Mahshid Turner, we had this conversation on other threads, and if you did not get it then, you will not get it now.  I maintain that the convert experience of coming from another religion has no equivalent with a born-Muslim rediscovering faith.  And that is why the position of the mu’allafat qulubihim ‘alayhim is respected and exalted.  I would never claim, for example, to fully understand the dynamics of being born into a Muslim culture.  I do not believe for even a moment that a born-Muslim can do likewise for a convert.  And that is why the sharing of experience is vital.

Sister Mahshid Turner: Everyone’s experience is unique.  You cannot just lump people together.  For example a born-Muslim’s experience may have more similarities with a convert than another born-Muslim', as I have witnessed.  And some converts cannot stand other converts as they do not have much in common.  This is what happens when people are lumped into different groups, Brother Terence, causing sense of superiority and disunity.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Sister Mahshid Turner, coming to Islam has its challenges that are unique to converts.  That is why we have convert groups and convert organisations.  There is nothing you can say that can convince people otherwise.  This is not to say that we do not acknowledge that born-Muslims do not have their challenges, or that one group or another is superior by virtue of their position.  That is jingoism.  But in general, the new convert to Islam is in greater danger of leaving the religion than a born-Muslim because they do not have that cultural foothold.  Can you argue against that?  The Qur'an specially Mentioned the plight of the mu’allafat qulubihim ‘alayhim.  Can you show me a tafsir that is contrary to this view?  And no, a born-Muslim never falls under that category according to the scholars.

Let us acknowledge this for what it is: you opinion only.  And I see no reason why I should accept it.  And it is not an opinion shared by the majority of converts that I know.  We respect differences in opinions.  I think you should respect the opinions of converts who believe that the convert experience is unique.  I am a convert to Islam.  I know what I went through when I said the shahadah.  I have dealt with conversion and apostasy cases for a decade and a half.  It is not your place to tell us we are ‘all alike’.  We are all not alike.  That is precisely why the Qur'an Addresses us in groups, and the converts are one such group.

Sister Mahshid Turner: Brother Terence, I respect everyone's opinion, except those who are rude, but I am also entitled to have an opinion which does not match yours.  You are not actually getting what I am saying.  There is no way that I think 'we are all alike, as I have expressed that we are all unique and therefore have different experiences, and this is why people should not be lumped together and labelled.  I also appreciate your long experience in this field.  As a Muslim chaplain, I have also come across many so-called converts and born-Muslims’ with similar problems.  But the root of these problems has been mainly cultural, that is fitting into a new culture, which I acknowledge has its difficulties, and very little to do with Islam itself.  Muslims are all struggling in their unique way against their own nafs.  In the next world, we cannot blame anyone for our misguidance and heedlessness.  By the way, please do not make the assumption that this is just my opinion.  I know many Muslims, especially converts, who share this opinion.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Sister Mahshid, I have only ever heard it from you.  And it is a presumption.  A convert is different from a born-Muslim.  And any born-Muslim who thinks otherwise is either ignorant, naive, presumptuous or a combination of these factors.  People who have not swum in the ocean have no credibility telling me what the water is like.  This contention that we are all unique is merely a cop out.

Your contention that it is at its root a cultural issue shows how wrong you are.  The greatest challenge that converts face is rejection from their family, the failure of their social network and loneliness.  In many cases, we literally lose everything.  The fact most converts agree with me on this thread is already an indication that your misinformed opinion is, at best, in the minority.

I find your opinion personally offensive and dismissive.  I oppose it vehemently.  It is belittling of our challenges, challenges you have no idea about because you never walked that road.  And you will never walk that road unless you were a convert.  There is something unique about Islam in that no religion celebrates its converts and no people tear them down for non-conformance faster.

Sister Mahshid Turner: Also, I forgot to mention that there are a lot of born-Muslims who have left Islam or are in danger of leaving Islam, some giving up religion all together and others converting to other religions.  There is a lack of support for these people, as it is assumed that they are familiar with true Islam.  This is why our main duty is to learn about Islam together which does not pertain to any race or culture or nationality.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That is a different problem, Sister Mahshid.  Please do not conflate the issues.  The triggers are different, the circumstances are addressed accordingly.  That does not mean there are no converts or that the convert experience is shared by all Muslims.

Brother James Harris: I understand much less about the experiences of British Asians, for example, who leave Islam than I do about Christians coming into the religion, because my experience is entirely different from theirs.  That does not mean I value the people facing those problems any less.  I acknowledge that Muslims can be Turkish, Arab, Indonesian, American and so forth.  Acknowledging that difference does not mean I am judging anyone.

Sister Mahshid Turner: There is no sharing of experience.  Everyone’s experience is unique and should be respected as such.  Problems arise when culture is mixed with Islam.  Therefore, I acknowledge the fact that for example, a lady from UK married to an Indonesian Muslim, and has become Muslim herself may face many cultural difficulties and would therefore benefit from other sisters, especially those in her situation.  These are all cultural issues.  The reality is that all Muslims are on the path of painful submission, which includes detaching oneself from all comfort blankets such as race, nationality and culture, and uniting through belief.

Brother James Harris: That is all fine, but it does not mean that race, nationality and culture do not exist.  We do not put the words ‘Pakistani’ or ‘British’ in brackets when referring to an aspect of somebody’s identity, so I am not sure why we should do so if someone refers to themselves as a ‘convert’.

Sister Mahshid Turner: My nationality has nothing to do with Islam.  In the next world, I will not be asked about my nationality, but I will be asked about my deeds in this world.

Brother James Harris: Absolutely.  We should not mix up nationality with Islam.  I agree.  But also, I would not deny your nationality and tell you that it does not exist.  A convert is not some special category of Muslim.  It is just a specific experience.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Everybody's experience is unique, but there are still commonalities.  Race, culture, nationality and gender are some of them.  And one of them is the convert experience.  Even so, that still dos not give you the right to tell converts that there is no convert experience, Sister Mahshid Turner.  You have no right to do that.  I did not forget that it is your fault that some of those converts have left this group.  Your insistence on this fallacy chased them away.  If that is what you believe, then fine.  But you have no right to tell converts what they should or should not believe.

Do you remember this thread, Sister Mahshid Turner: A Muslim Convert Once More: The Sharing Group Discussion on Helping New Converts?  Do you know how many of those converts left the group because of you?
Sister Mahshid Turner: Yes, nationality, is similar to culture.  There is nothing wrong in retaining cultural values which do not clash with Islamic values.  But these concepts should not be mixed up with Islam.  The happy couple are the ones who do not cling to culture and nationality while on the road to submission, both admitting their state of impotence and seeking Guidance only from God.

Brother Terence, what I say is my opinion I have never told anyone what they should and should not do.  But I also thought that I was entitled to express an opinion which was different from yours.  Unlike many other people, I have never been rude or discourteous to anyone.  Also I have not said that there is no ‘convert experience’; what I have said is that the issues experienced are mainly due to culture being mixed up with religion.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: To be honest, man of us felt that you were a bit of a bully there, hounding others to agree with you.  I agree we are all entitled to share an opinion.  But we all, myself included, have to learn the balance to not force our opinions down on others.  If it was an issue of facts with dala’il, that is different.  This is nothing of that sort.

Sister Mahshid Turner: I have not used any words which could imply that I have forced my opinion.  I have merely given an opinion which you do not agree with.  And this is purely because I care about all my Muslim brothers and sisters and do not want disunity brought about by labelling.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Labelling does not lead to disunity, Sister Mahshid Turner.  Rather, this forced erasure of our identities is another form of oppression.  Unity is achieved by first recognising ourselves and recognising others.  That is impossible without labels.

Sister Mahshid Turner: I respect your opinion and I hope you respect mine.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Of course I do, sister.  I hope we can all learn from this.

Brother Colin Turner: Respectfully, I think you should all end this thread here.  Tempers appear to have become frayed and the whole issue is best put to bed.  Please.

Sister San Yee: Brother Nabeel, what did your friend mean by not trusting converts?

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: Sister San Yee, that they could leave Islam but we born-Muslims supposedly do not.  The possibility of marrying a convert was what prompted his remark.

Sister San Yee: That is an interesting comment.  There is always that risk, I suppose, of not conforming to the norms of a particular community.  I think culture plays an important role here.  Even if one stops practicing Islam, culturally, for a born-Muslim, Islam is still ingrained into one’s culture.  So even if one were to not believe, culturally it will still bind you to the community and therefore still not rock the boat.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: A born-Muslim who told me he lost faith in Islam would still say the Basmallah when he got in his car.  I have a life time of such things I have witnessed and it has affected me, my faith and my thinking.  Maybe I have been unfortunate, but now, later in life, it has helped me come back to Islam and born-Muslims, good ones, have helped me but what inspired me the most is the converts and their stories.  My point is that born-Muslims in particular like myself at some time or another need to hear them.

Sister San Yee: If you do not mind me asking, Brother Nabeel, what was it that effected your faith and how has listening to a convert’s story help or not helped?

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: Sister San Yee, it is witnessing a miracle, hearing the story moves the heart since maybe we have come become accustomed to other miracles.  Maybe these other miracles no longer touch us, from a born-Muslim perspective.  But we have been inspired by converts willing to learn what we take for granted.  I could go on and on.  In short, it is like a wake up call from Allah (s.w.t.).

Sister Jennifer Giove: Brother Nabeel Sadiq, I have a born-Muslim friend who said similar things.  She said that as born-Muslims, they sometimes take for granted their Islam, while converts struggle to learn and are sometimes more knowledgeable because we are actively learning.  She says that when meeting and talking to converts, she is always amazed and humbled because we seem to appreciate Islam more.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq, Sister San Yee, I have always, as far as I can remember, believed in God with little knowledge of Islam so my faith was effected by listening to Muslims who did not make sense to my mind, coupled by their nationalism, which I found repulsive, so I just shut off everything that they told me.  They said because I am an Arab, I was better than others.  This felt uncomfortable considering I have an English mother who I thought was the best mother in the world.

Sister San Yee: Thank you for sharing, Brother Nabeel.  Now, I am inspired by your story.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: Thank you for asking.

Brother Mustafa Elfrink: Some conversion stories are pretty good.  Some are not so.  Some sound like they are trying too hard to make themselves seem edgy and hip.

Brother Mingda Sun: Some people like to listen to conversion stories to hear about the partying, drugs and sex.  Let us be honest: it is kind of like porn for some.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: Maybe some do, Brother Mingda.  I personally do not see the point.  If we read ‘Umar’s (r.a.) conversion, we see a clear miracle as he was set out to kill the Prophet (s.a.w.).  On his way to do so, he called in at his sister’s house because he had heard that she had converted to Islam.  Now, full of rage, he entered the house and found them reciting part of the Qur’an and there is the miracle.  Instead of wanting to kill the Prophet (s.a.w.), he went to the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) house and gave his shahadah.  The beauty in this is that Allah (s.w.t.) Chose them to be Muslim, so a person who looks like he is going to Hell to us, God Puts him in Heaven.  This is what listening to conversions are about.  I know Wahhabis and others like to use this as propaganda but it is still a miracle and a clear sign of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Intention.

Sister Juriah Din: They have the mechanism to fund this conversion stories.  The stories are true stories but the storytelling is staged for publicity.  Most convert out of interest in their partner’s religion and seek guidance from the local mosque, only for the interest to dissipate just as quickly.

Brother Adam Kishanov: ‘Most’ convert?  How do we know this ‘fact’?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: In Singapore, the majority of conversions, perhaps 60%, are through marriage.  This is how God Calls them.  In any case, it is not as important how they come as that they stay and grow.

Sister Juriah Din: Brother Adam Kishanov, the big mosque in Boston, run by a white imam wrote an article on what goes wrong with converts because not many sent their children for classes on Sunday at the mosque, and I read an article on a poll done regarding this matter.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Sister Amanda Grace, how would you go about the storyline of after conversion you proposed?

Sister Amanda Grace: Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis, it would be like our experiences after conversion, learning, communities, interactions, ups and downs, for example.  This may also help other converts if reading the stories and know that they are not the only ones who may have struggled with something; a learning and growing experience.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: After going through the thread whilst editing it for archiving, I have revised my position.  Perhaps I have been too cynical.  After listening to people like Sister Shahbano Aliani’s and Brother Nabeel Sadiq’s point, I concede that there is some merit in sharing conversion stories.


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