Image Source: Urban Outfitters
Deciding to convert to Islam puts you in a ‘group’, there is no doubt. While none of us want to be ‘put in a box’ by others metaphorically, it seems that deciding to think outside of your birth-given ‘box’ can open up a whole can of worms. A ‘minority within a minority’ converts can often be viewed with fascination, curiosity and prejudice by non- Muslims and fellow Muslims.
I belong to this group – I converted to Islam back in 2003 when I was 22 years old. In that time – and it’s been some time now (no, this isn’t some ‘phase’ I’m going through) – I’ve had all manner of assumptions made about me as a white-skinned, British Muslim woman. So many times, people have jumped to conclusions about me, just the same as they do about born-Muslim women. As a fairly private person, I’ve always taken the stance that my life is no-one else’s business and those who wish to genuinely know me, will take the time to ask polite questions to find out about why I converted and who I am. Questions which I would happily answer. I also very much felt like anyone else, who wasn’t prepared to ask politely, could just get lost with their ill-thought judgements.
Maybe I am getting old, maybe I have become jaded – but I’ve now realised that thinking that way isn’t good enough. There are too many now who make assumptions and judgements with no knowledge of convert women (or indeed any Muslim women) at all. The people who want to take the time to ask politely, are too scared for fear of offending us – and in today’s climate I can understand that.
So what do we end up with?
A huge ‘omg–you-converted-to-Islam-and-I’m-wondering-why’- shaped elephant in the room. It’s all very British and not spoken about. Not exactly conducive to mutual understanding, respect and tolerance.
So here it is: some answers about why a (this) British, White women would make the decision to change her faith and way of life to what many see as an archaic, even backwards, religion. Yes the answers may be personal to me but I know there are other Muslim women out there just like me (there are others!) who are walking the same steps. So sisters, this one is for you.
First up, my marriage:
Ok, no. No I didn’t do it to get married to my husband. Please don’t assume that. Did you even ask me? Do you even know how or when we met? No he isn’t some oppressive, close-minded man who saw an opportunity to get himself a Western woman. No he didn’t need a visa! And NO he did not ‘make’ me do it – or even ask.
ACTUALLY – it was entirely my own decision. Actually, I embraced Islam before we married. And actually, he is Western born and bred too.
When you love someone, you love someone. And when you love something, you love something. I loved Islam and then I loved him. The two are not dependent on one another. Next time you are wondering about my marriage and my faith, politely ask and please don’t assume. You know what they say about assumptions…..
Second, my appearance:
Whilst we are on the subject of my husband (poor man, see he gets subjected to all this judgement too) he didn’t make me wear hijab. Again – it was my own choice. In fact, I didn’t wear it to begin with and then when I made the decision, it came solely from me. I wear hijab as a representation of who I am - so my inside, reflects my outside and so I may be known for who I am. Do you know how hard it is as a blonde, White woman to explain that you are Muslim? Oh my goodness, the mish-mash of stereotypes right there, the confused looks…enough already. Just as the ayat says “…..That will be better, that they should be known (as believing women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft‑Forgiving, Most Merciful” (33:59)
I also choose to wear it because I would rather be regarded for what I have to say then how I look – there’s enough pressure on women to dress a certain way or have that dictated by others, I am sure you can agree. The Muslim community can make its own judgements about a sister’s state of dress, but I know that the hijab I put on each day is based on MY belief and MY faith.
And anyway, if I didn’t choose to wear it – do you think that I would be rocking all these colours and cute hijab pins right now? Please.
Third, my state of mind:
No, I am not crazy. I didn’t lose my mind. I didn’t go off the rails. I wasn’t manipulated, there isn’t ‘something wrong with me.’ And I’m not vulnerable or stupid, thank you very much. The fact is this – I was born and raised in a non-Muslim country. I discovered Islam and I listened with an open mind and heart. I asked questions - a ton of questions actually (may Allah (swt) reward those who put up with those questions) – and I listened for the truth. I decided to live my life for me the way I wanted to live my life, not how I thought I should because of where I happened to be born. Being Muslim isn’t something you inherit in your DNA, piety is not hereditary. And I’m not saying I am pious, Allah (swt) knows I make mistakes like any other, but I understand Islam isn’t a culture, it is a faith and it is open to anyone. You only get one shot at life – make sure you live it how you truly want to. That’s not say I reject my culture either - I love my British Muslim way of life, I love being British – I just realise that I can be both British AND Muslim.
Finally, my piety:
Finally, whilst we are on the subject of mistakes, there is another common assumption about converts but this one aimed more at my fellow Muslim community. Converts (or reverts) are not perfect. We are not like some special unicorn type of Muslim. Please don’t get all starry-eyed when you meet us. I love it when you say you can see Noor on my face but really, that’s just my ghost-like tired skin in the harsh morning light. We make mistakes too and Allah (swt) knows there are a million born-Muslims who are better Muslims, some of the best Muslims. Yes, we don’t tend to mix our culture with our faith but we are still prone to the same temptations of this world which can deviate us and influence us, just like any other. Please don’t put us on a pedestal – the pressure can be too much for one who is new and who may be struggling or without support. We are just Muslim – just like any other.
Woo I feel better for getting that off my chest! You know why? Because I have a voice – Muslim women do talk! Whatever our background, whoever we are. Let’s stop with the judgements and assumptions – we are all different and yet all the same. Next time you meet a convert, don’t make assumptions – let’s just chat. I’ll be very British and bring tea and biscuits.
Louise E. Butt is a working, writing, Muslim mother, wife, sister and daughter with an amazing family. You can find more about her writing at www.louisebuttcopy.com