Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Better Muslims?

I recently came across a forum made up largely of Muslim converts where a number of members have espoused their opinion that converts are better Muslims somehow than those born into Islam. I'm afraid that I might have shared that view at one point, although now I find such an opinion to be a little strange. Just because a person's path started outside of Islam, and now they are Muslim, does not make them any more guided than someone who started on the path of Islam and has consistently maintained it, right? Everyone has challenges to overcome.

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)

9 comments:

Jamilah said...

Alhamdulilah!

Amy you really bring up some excellent points. I've been thinking something very similar over the last few days.

I'm actually scared about the state of the Ummah in the U.S. right now... it seems that some want to Americanize Islam like we've Americanized everything else. Islam is perfect the way it is. There is no reason to change it. Of course there are things that are flexible, but not in need of an entire reinterpretation. When we start to question those who have dedicated their entire life to studying, we take some huge risks. Some of the scholars not only dedicated their life to study, but the sat with scholars that sat with scholars that sat with scholars....

I'm rambling on, but you've given me a lot to feel better about knowing that there are Muslims in this country like you. May Allah make it easy for you to follow the right path.

Amy said...

Salaam Jamilah,

That was really only a small part of what bothered me. There are both born and converted Muslims playing the 'reform' game and I don't really buy it.

What bothered me was just people thinking that because they converted they are a better Muslim than someone else and their perspective is inherently better. I don't accept that argument.

Jamilah said...

Salam Amy

I always envy born muslims because they grew up knowing the true path. When I first reverted (and didn't know any better) I thought that all Muslims were extremely devout and they all practiced the same. Duh. I was very wrong.

I do think sometimes reverts can have an advantage because they can learn everything from scratch, without any culture or family bias, but we also have to be careful about where we learn things from.

rahma said...

I'm one of those who thank God I found Islam before I met muslims. However, I don't say this because I think born muslims are inferior. Alhamdulilah, I've met many beautiful brothers and sisters born and raised in the deen.

But (and it's a big one), I've also run into a lot of problems in the muslim community that I think may have turned me off to Islam if I didn't know that their actions and viewpoints didn't represent Islam.

The first time I visited a masjid after I converted, I accidentally went in the men's entrence. A brother came charging at me, hands waving in the air, screaming at me to get out. That was increadibly disheartening for a new convert. I can't imagine coming to the masjid as a non muslim, looking for information, only to be made to feel like crud for walking through the front door of the building.

Jamilah said...

Rahma

Something similar happened to a sister of mine. Before she reverted she went to the Masjid looking for her son (who had reverted in prison and now is studying in KSA, Alhamdulilah). She was wearing capris and a tank top... one of the older brothers nearly had a heart attack when she walked in the front door screaming 'Chris!! Where are you!!!' The man did the similar hands waving in the air thing...

Amy said...

Salaam Rahma,

I was really pointing at myself, and some bad attitudes I had. I had a bad experience with Muslims the first time I went to a masjid. But sometimes converts also give people a bad impression of Islam. :-)

Amy said...

Salaam Jamilah,

You said:

I do think sometimes reverts can have an advantage because they can learn everything from scratch, without any culture or family bias, but we also have to be careful about where we learn things from.

But I disagree. In fact, we also have culture biases, perhaps family biases, and other kinds of prejudices which filter our understanding of Islam. Perhaps they have a different root, are of a different nature, but we have our own prejudices all the same.

rahma said...

Ah gotcha. Well, once someone converts, it is easy to become part of the problem rather than part of the solution :D


On the culture issue, urf (culture) has been a consideration for many when formulating sharia. Culture seems to be getting a bad rap these days, but rather than just throw the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps it's influence just need to be moderated instead of pitched out whole sale

Amy said...

Salaam,

Rahma. I think you're right, that maybe we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. In that case maybe I was a little too extreme--there are certainly positive aspects to many non-Muslim cultures, and things which aren't conflicting with Islam. :-) Jazakillahu khair!