Some will say that they are glad they found Islam before they ever really got to know many Muslims, suggesting that 'born' Muslims are somehow inferior than the convert in their understanding and application of Islam. And maybe some are, but I don't think that should make a general rule, just like there are converts who know very little about Islam and yet declare their views as if they were backed up by some authoritative scholarship. I would rather turn to a real scholar, one who has spent his entire life trying to be a better Muslim, and learn from him. I don't hold every single Muslim I meet to that same standard, but I also don't see the point in categorizing people as such. In fact, I think there might also be some people on the other side of the spectrum who think that a convert couldn't possibly know anything about Islam, and isn't nearly as good a Muslim as someone who is only nominally practicing but was at least born in the faith. But doesn't that sound more like some built-in prejudice anyway? (For the record, I don't know many Muslims with that opinion.)
Yet I know some converts who have taken it upon themselves to try to reform Islam and Muslims, as if Islam needed reforming, as if it were deficient without being seen through the eyes of a Westerner. Perhaps they see some Muslims of the past as being poor stewards of the deen, and it's up to them, now, who know better--having the perspective of their enlightened non-Muslim path--to fix all the ills. I'm being somewhat sarcastic here but even as I type it I bristle a little bit, since I'm afraid that some people really think this way. Wouldn't it be better to just join together as a single community, and establish for ourselves the same Islam which has been bequeathed to us by our noble Prophet saaws?
Sometimes with my friends, those who were born Muslim, we'll talk about the differences in our backgrounds. I know what happened to me without Islam--you don't, you reading this blog. You don't know how much I wish I had found Islam years, even months sooner than I did, or why. I look at them as being blessed to grow up with Shari'ah to sort of protect them, at least having it even if they didn't understand it. And then they think I have some greater appreciation for Islam just because I had to embrace it from something else.
In some ways the idea of differences between converted and born Muslims reminds me of the distinctions between the Ansar and the Muhajireen. They had differences but overall they were united as Muslims. When I first embraced Islam, I really felt like a convert. In everything I did I felt like I was somehow outside the rest of the Muslims. I was just "different." I don't feel like that anymore. I no longer identify myself as being a "convert" or somehow outside of the general Muslim community, and I certainly haven't been excluded by the Muslims as being inferior or unworthy. I am a convert, of course, but I don't feel like I'm some sort of special anomalous Muslim because of it. I feel like I have pretty much the same problems that any other Muslim might have, trying to live a life that is righteous before God, while balancing my concerns of this world. And hey, maybe I'm just complaining about nothing.
Alhamdulillah, Allah did choose me to be a Muslim, and He SWT guided me to Islam. No doubt about that. But how can a person be a Muslim, a Mu'min, unless Allah SWT is guiding them as well? There's no way for me to know, as Allah SWT alone knows what is in the hearts.
The wandering Arabs say: We believe. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Ye believe not, but rather say "We submit," for the faith hath not yet entered into your hearts. Yet, if ye obey Allah and His messenger, He will not withhold from you aught of (the reward of) your deeds. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (49:14)So, I mean to say that guidance is not unique to converts--sure, they have a different experience than those who were raised on the foundation of Islam, but we're all going to the same place. And we all ask Allah SWT for guidance--17 times a day in fact. Iman is not reserved for those who embraced Islam from something else. And Muslims the world around are not merely empty vessels devoid of spirituality. We are all Muslims, some at more advanced stages than others, but all of us striving for the pleasure of Allah SWT, hoping for His mercy and reward while fearing His punishment and wrath. None of us better than the other except in our piety or taqwa.
So I guess we should just all ask our Lord to increase us in understanding, and increase us in faith, and make us among the righteous believers. And this du'a from the Qur'an also comes to mind:
Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate after You have guided us and grant us from Yourself mercy. Indeed, You are the Bestower. (3:8)