“I want to ask you—and you should ask yourself this question: What is your goal with your family and your children? If your goal with your family and your children is to preserve and to perpetuate your ethnicity, and you have decided to immigrant to America, you may have just made the biggest mistake of your life.”
The following statement really caught my attention from a Japanese convert, “Mustafa”, in which he stated:
“When I converted, and as a Japanese citizen, Islam was a bit intimidating to me. I bought the Qur’an but I thought about giving up. But one day I went to the mosque, and I saw people with suits and ties, I felt reassured.”
There are numerous examples in the Prophetic period of the enormous role that culture had to play in making Islam “normalized”, a component often overlooked in conversion today where often conversion is rooted in protest, not against idolatry, but against authority.
In a 2009 article, Becoming Sinless: Converting to Islam in the Christian Solomon Islands, Debra McDougall investigates the nature of conversion to Islam in the Solomon Islands. Aside from merely being an interesting article to read, McDougall brings to light via citing Scott Flower, a query we here in America should stop and ask ourselves: are we, on an institutional level, a service-based community? Should we be?
In one of the few scholarly works on the topic (namely, Islam being inextricably linked with political violence and terrorism), Scott Flower (2008) argues that such speculations (on the part of the Melanesian government) are unfounded. He suggests that indigenous converts are drawn to the goods and services that Islamic organizations provide and are attracted to Islam because it resonates with indigenous cultural practices1 (parentheses and emphasis mine).
When I reflect back on my own conversion and admittance into the Muslim community, I would concur that I was indeed drawn to perceived goods and services in the Muslim community. For myself, this amounted mainly to socializing and fraternity. However, I clearly see that our community is having ever greater demands placed on it to provide all manner of services (for convert and non-convert alike) such as family counseling, mental health counseling to financial planning. But what I’m most curious about is McDougall’s last statement: Islam’s resonance “with indigenous cultural practices”. I wonder, is this the case? While attending a khutbah today, I heard a sermon whose theme centered around the notion of silah al-rahm, or the maintaining of kinship, taken from the hadith:
ليس الواصل بالمكافئ ولكن الواصل الذي إذا قَطَعت رحمُه وصلها
“The person who perfectly maintains the ties of kinship is not the one who does it because he gets recompensed by his relatives (for being kind and good to them), but the one who truly maintains the bonds of kinship is the one who persists in doing so even though the latter has severed the ties of kinship with him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 322)
The khatib delivered an excellent khutbah but when it came to referencing maintaining family ties, his only reference was to Muslims who need to work on maintaining ties with families overseas. The idea or notion of converts, who often have much more delicate and complicated familial relations, failed to come to mind. This is indicative of how our community thinks of converts: reverent yet remote. I say this not in condemnation of any personal khatib or speaker but to raise awareness of persistent and enduring issues in our community that sadly, continue to fall short of notions that draw people to Islam. What is illuminating here is that the services that one segment needs (i.e., converts), will often resonate and find need in its counterpart (i.e., non-converts). And while our community will never be a utopia, we can, God willing, take steps to make it better and come closer to delivering the goods.
1. McDougall, Debra. “American Anthropologist Volume 111 Index.” American Anthropologist 111.4 (2009): 480-91. Web. 27 June 2014.