Now’s the Time

It becomes increasingly clear the role that converts need to play in Islam in America. For far too long, those who have chosen to be Muslim have taken a back seat to those who’ve hailed from Muslim lands. This “at the back of the bus” mentality can be blamed on no one other than ourselves and we all — so-called converts and non-converts alike — suffer the consequences for it. On today’s edition of The Takeaway (heard here locally on 90.1FM WHYY), the host engaged three groups in a “spiritual conversation”, of “Muslim, Jewish, and Christian millennials who are keeping, losing or reinterpreting their faith”. The Jewish counterparts talked about how, even if they held somewhat non-traditional views on Judaism, still strove to have a Jewish identity rooted in principle and practice. The Muslims, on the other hand, who were interviewed openly opposed base tenets of Islam, such as abstaining from eating pork, drinking alcohol and extra-marital sex. One would ask these “Muslims” and oneself, what is it that actually makes you Muslim? The host and the writers of the show have gone for the okie-doke of Islam by ethnic proxy: Afghani, South-Asian and Iranian. Once again, the media has completely ignored Blackamerican Muslims (who are both born-Muslims and converts, who make up a significant percentage of Muslims in America) as well as those groups (whites, Latinos, Chinese-Americans, Jews, etc.) who choose Islam as their faith and way of life. In a twist of irony, most of the Muslims who would constitute the above group complain of hegemonic domination, leading to their ostracization from the Muslim community. And yet they employ similar tactics to speak authoritatively on Islam for no other reason than their ethic backgrounds, squelching out the narratives of those who’ve chosen Islam willingly and all the strictures therein, to the best of their abilities. Simply put, Blackamerican, Whiteamerican and other non-Arab/-Persian/-South-Asians do not constitute bona fide Muslims and are off of the radar of the media and their interviewees.

In my opinion, the only way to break this monopoly is for “converts” to speak out and speak out loudly. Not only to the media but to our own communities, who to be frank, often adopt us as mascots (or as I have said to Imam Suhaib Webb: avatars) to root and cheer for “their religion”, while many of us continue to live isolated, frustrated and disenfranchised lives. But, as Charlie Parker – one of America’s greatest artists once said: now’s the time. Now is the time for converts to, like our predecessors in that First Community which was comprised entirely of converts, take the reigns, and spearhead a change in the narrative of what is Islam in America: namely that it is American, and that it’s not solely tied to some foreign-born, alien, and even hostile, enterprise. This charge should not be done to the exclusion of those who came from abroad; many of their efforts are why folks like myself even heard of Islam. But it is high-time that we — and I believe we are the only ones who can do this (partly because we already possess the social- and cultural-capital to do so). To fail in doing so is to have those who are opposed to the religion of what Muhammad taught صلى الله عليه وسلم continue to speak for us in the public sphere. For I believe that is what the guests on today’s show are.

And God knows best.

10 Comments Now’s the Time

  1. nkhaliqx81@gmail.com'HumorMe

    Are you kidding? Why would they invite reverts to come speak on social media? People that have reverted to islam are impressively informed on the Islamic way of life; they are individuals who are self-aware and conscientious of the issues surrounding them and their communities. Social media targets people who are insecure and want to fit in. Unfortunately, majority of the people who’ve migrated from abroad already are aware of the stigma the west has attached to Islam, and in trying to ‘fit in’ they just go with the flow. A lot of them start overlooking what’s actually acceptable under the tenets of Islam in their effort to show their non-Muslim friends, ‘Hey, I’m just like you.’ Big mistake! In the wake of 9/11, some shows have popped up on cable TV with Muslim families showing they’re just ‘like the rest’. So you can see the drive here is to ‘fit in’ and it seems desperate to me.

    Now IS the time for reverts to speak out and as loudly as they can. They are the only hope for Muslims in America. Every human, regardless of their ethnicity or religious background, has the same needs, concerns, and desires. We, as people, can build bridges based on these commonalities without having to compromise our principles.

    To Muslims migrating here, I just want to say, please, stop being apologizers for who you are! Start reflecting and take pride in who you are–the American culture values individualism.

  2. Marc

    “The American culture values individualism.”

    Mmm… Very good point. Muslims should ponder this more.

    On the “fitting in” part, I believe muslims should strive to fit in so long as whatever space that ends up being is carved out by our hands and not simply allotted to us by the dominant culture.

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  4. mustafahoward@yahoo.com'Mustafa Howard

    Assalaamu ‘alaikum Brother Marc.

    My name is Mustafa Howard. Alhamdulillah, I entered Islam in 1987. With a group of other converts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we’ve developed an organized “safety net” project for converts in our area. You can look up The Medina Network and DFW Muslim Converts on Facebook.

    Another project I’ve initiated is the beginnings of a National Forum for native-born/convert Muslims. The basic idea is to have a central online warehouse for Best Practice suggestions from community leaders and workers throughout the U.S. Also, to have a communication network through which leaders can coordinate nation-wide campaigns to help bring convert needs and significance to the forefront of the greater community. My strategy is to write up a 2-page petition to be circulated for sign-off and commitment among our Western leaders. If all agree it’s a good and viable project, I think it has obvious potential. Just having good communication and a focal point for Western Muslims could provide a sense of belonging and courage for so many of us.

    For that project, please look up : https://www.facebook.com/groups/178060255731092/ National Convert Standards Forum

    This project is in its infancy. Our next step is to the write-up and start banging on the doors of the honchos out there. I hope you’ll take an interest and lend us your guidance and passion.

    Jazakum Allahu Khair,

    Mustafa

  5. yo4244@gmail.com'Yusuf O.

    I certainly agree that spread and widespread practice of Islam in America can only be done through the efforts of native Muslims who has chosen this religion with their free will. This includes a person born in a Muslim family and knowingly preferred Islam as his/her religion, not merely because parents said so.

    However, making it American Muslim is no different than making Turkish Muslim. Let’s try to take the word “Muslim” as the person that submits, not as a word defining an ethnic identity or a group of people fanatically supporting a team. I met Jews that are disbelievers of God or scripture, yet prefer to stay as a Jew. I even met a Jewish middle school religion teacher trying to keep children as Jews saying “Even if you don’t believe in God, you can still be a Jew”. If our motive for building Islam in America, or in any country, would have a similar flavor of nationalism, including “Muslim” nationalism where this is a noun for ethnicity, not for a person that submits, I believe the verses of Qur’an that addresses Jews will very well fit us.

    Being from Turkey, I’m getting sick of how much nationalism we hide under our Muslim identity as Turks, I fear for the same for Islam in America.

  6. lwrumsey@yahoo.com'LW Rumsey

    @ Yusuf O. and the other brothers: As-salamu alaykum. Yes – It is important to see ourselves as Muslims first, and as belonging to a particular political, nation-state as something after that. However, we (Br. Marc, Br. Mustafa, myself and others) are speaking about the situation for convert, non-immigrant Muslims in the U.S. who have been marginalized or tokenized for the past 50-some years by many in the immigrant, non-convert Muslim community in the U.S. (and elsewhere). Every convert I have ever met has had the experience of being welcomed by non-converts as a kind of exotic oddity. We are generally NOT striving to create an identity which is at odds with the non-convert community – we simply want to be taken seriously.

    Let me bore you with a personal example: In my community in North Dallas, I was asked by a local, progressive masjid with many excellent programs for Muslim youth to begin a halaqa for the convert community. When I presented to them a year-long syllabus, I was told that I must have a recognized, “knowledgeable”, non-convert Muslim with us so that he could answer religious questions. I was taken aback – but so not surprised. May Allah bless them! They approached me to do the halaqa because of my excellent qualifications. That was a wonderful gesture, and an excellent opportunity for convert Muslims, so what was their rationale for this condition? In my opinion (because they would not provide a straight forward answer to my question as to why this condition was necessary), it was simply because I am an American (perhaps also because I am a woman), and somehow that just doesn’t make me ‘good enough’ to conduct a halaqa on my own. The knowledgeable sheikh attended our halaqa twice, took up most of the allotted time to explain to us basics that most of us already knew, and alienated several participants who’d come to the halaqa to benefit from the departure from the normal “talking head” kind of halaqa, to the kind of mutual respect and interactional halaqa that I’d announced it would be. The esteemed sheikh has not attended our halaqa since that second time – and the halaqa group continues to be a successful learning forum for converts and even the few brave non-converts who attend (and who are welcomed), alhamdu Lillah. And this is all due to the Grace and Mercy of Allah, the Almighty.

    I apologize for the lengthy response. I provided only one (recent) example, but I could have provided several more from my personal experience, and the experiences of others. All we, as Muslim Americans – converts and second-generation converts – are saying is, “Don’t think of us as second-class Muslims just because we don’t have blood ties to the Middle East, Asia, or Africa.” And also, don’t put us up on a pedestal either. We struggle with many issues, just like non-converts.
    Fee amanillah,

    LW Rumsey

  7. Marc

    @Mustafa – wa ‘alaykum salaam, brother. Thanks for the positive feedback. I tried the link to the Facebook page but it didn’t seem to work. Perhaps you can invite me directly from Facebook?

  8. yo4244@gmail.com'Yusuf O.

    @LW Rumsey: JazakAllah for your response. I certainly agree with your position. I became alienated from my own overseas born community for exactly the same reason that you mentioned in your example. For exactly the same reason you mentioned, I even stopped having halaqas with people who has the mind set of this shaikh that you mentioned.

    The only point I am trying to make is to watch out for nationalistic tendencies in our da’wah related acts, whether it is a nationalism of followers of this or that shaykh, or nationalism of people from a certain area etc. (‘asabiyyah al-jahiliyyah was nationalism of families, tribes, clans etc, it was not only Arab nationalism).

    I agree with you that converts (or in general native Muslims of America, excluding first generation immigrants) need to speak out and take the lead. My concern was to be careful, not to make another very much culturally flavored version of Islam in America, in which people pay much attention to national/cultural aspects of this cultural religion more than the divine and theological aspect of the Islam that establishes the connection with the God. In short, when you build up Islam in this country, don’t do what you don’t like other people did to/with Islam. Sorry for long response. I apologize if I sound like I’m arguing against what you say here. I am trying to share my honest concerns for what might come next based on what I observe deeply overseas. No intention of judging/criticizing anyone.

    Salaams,

  9. Marc

    @Yusuf O. It is no problem at all. I’m glad to have the dialog and to hear, as well as share, stories. Yes, we will have to be mindful of not making our efforts exclusionary. We simply want to insure that indigenous Muslims’ needs are being addressed and met. The benefit will be for all Muslims in America, not just for converts.

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