I Did Not Revert

When I meet Muslim people for the first time, they invariably ask me, “When and how did you revert to Islam?”

I answer, “I did not revert. I converted many years ago while living in Saudi Arabia.”

I wish Muslims would stop using the word, “revert” in reference to someone who comes to Islam from a non-Islamic background. Oh, I get the idea…a baby is born in submission to Allah. The root word of Islam means, “submission” in Arabic, and therefore, new babies are born Muslim. Their parents intervene and put other religions into them until they grow up and “revert” to their original state of submission to Allah– Islam.

That’s like saying a lump of dough is a loaf of bread before it gets baked, but a  lump of dough is a lump of dough. It has the potential to become bread, rolls, cake, pie, cookies, or biscuits. If baked incorrectly, it can burn. If left alone, it will spoil. Babies are not Muslims. The logic is faulty and the linguistic sleight-of-hand is disrespectful to believers who follow religions other than Islam.

It’s an insult to their intelligence, and to the intelligence of those of us who convert to Islam after having been raised in other religions. I did not become Muslim because someone told me I was born “in submission to Allah” and therefore I was Muslim from the start, and now lucky enough to have discovered my true nature. That’s ridiculous. Any thinking person knows that babies are born through no will or effort of their own, therefore they’re born in response to the will of God (if you even believe in God). To imply that their parents divert them from the path to which they had been born is nothing but hubris on the part of Muslims who espouse the idea.


Revert or Convert?

294841945.jpg  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.