In the early 1990s, I belonged a group of Muslim women, both ex-pats and Arabs, who gathered regularly to learn more about Islam and to socialize. Several such groups existed, a few of which had been established formally in lovely villas for the express purpose of giving women a “public” place in which to meet other women, study Islam, and freely express themselves. Once inside the high walls, women threw off their black wraps, exposed colorful clothing and bright make-up, chatted and laughed together, discovered new friendships and recipes, shared stories of adjustment and maladjustment, attended Arabic and Tafseer classes, and renewed their spirit for life in one of the most socially controlled environments in the world.
Kids ran and played, babies cried, voices rose up in babbles of conversation and cross- conversation, sometimes in mixed languages, though Enlgish was the most common language. We looked forward to hearing speakers who would come from other countries specifically to meet us, make Hajj or Umra, and share news from abroad. Sometimes the speakers were well known throughout the Muslim world. I looked forward to meeting Aminah Assilmi, an American who had been raised Baptist, now president of the International Union of Muslim Women. The day she was to speak, I arrived early, so as to meet her personally.
I am thankful for women like Aminah, who are passionate and full of fire, able to ignite the spirits of those who fall under her sphere. I don’t remember many details of Aminah’s lecture that day, but I’ll never forget a conversation we had before the crowd arrived.
She asked me how and when I came to Islam. I said, “I converted in 1988.”
She said, “REVERTED! You REverted!”
“Huh?” I hadn’t heard the term before, in the context of joining the Muslim fold. I’ve heard it a lot since then.
Aminah then explained that all humans are born in a natural state of Islam, that is, in a state of submssion to the will of God. Only by upbringing, and by no fault of their own, are children taught religions other than Islam. A person who leaves the religion of his/her birth and embraces Islam is said to have “reverted” to the natural state.
“Oh,” I said.
Obviously, all humans are born in a state of infantile dependency, ready to be molded into that which their parents and society try to mold them. I refrained from saying that I had been truly a Christian, and that becoming a Muslim was not at all an exercise in backtracking, but in expanding my consciousness, and learning to appreciate the depth, the complexity, the steadfast devotion, and ultimately the sincerity of the human search for transcendence. Accepting Islam opened my spirit in ways that Christianity never did, but I do not fault Christianity. The Christian path expanded for me, not contracted, as I studied Islam and learned how to pray and read the Qur’an.
I am not a revert; I am a convert, and maybe not even that. I am a builder, a developer, and still a seeker.