While Islam attracts an increasing number of Reverts in the West there is a correspondingly high attrition rate - that is, many Reverts give up on Islam and regret that they converted. This is because their experience of Islam was not a happy one. They enter the faith with enthusiasm but soon this wanes and they become disillusioned. Often they become completely disengaged or even hostile to Islam, so bad is their experience of Muslims and of Muslim life.
There are a number of common complaints from Reverts. These complaints provide a valuable critique of what is going wrong in contemporary Islam in the West.
The following are some of the most common complaints to be heard if one bothers to talk to Reverts:
Some reverts complain that taking a Muslim name alienates them from family and friends. One day they are "Mike" and the next day they are "Abdul". They are subject to ridicule; no one takes them seriously; their friends and family think they have joined a cult. Just because they revert to Islam does not mean they want to renounce their entire identity and social persona. Nor do they want to be cut off from their parents and family.
Reverts complain that Muslim attire can be alienating. They feel pressured to adopt Muslim clothing and a Muslim appearance. Men are made to feel they must grow beards. Women are made to feel they must wear hijab. Reverts usually want to wear standard Western clothing and are alienated by the idea of a "Muslim uniform".
Moreover, they find it off-putting to go to mosque and find all the "brothers" dressed in medieval Arabic attire - hennaed beards, leather socks, turbans. As one convert complained: "Just because I became a Muslim doesn't mean I want to look like a member of the Taliban!"
Reverts complain that they are often targets for zealots. These zealots pester them, ear-bash them, call at their homes, or their places of work, and want to convince the convert of some narrow view of Muslim orthodoxy. The convert becomes alienated.
Reverts complain that their submission to Islam is not necessarily a vote for various so-called 'Islamic causes'. They are joining a religion, not a political lobby group. They are pressured to go to protest rallies and fundraisers for a whole host of so-called 'Muslim causes'. Often they are not political people and have no desire to become activists. Often they have their own views on various world conflicts and such views may not align to the supposedly official "Muslim view".
Just because someone reverts to Islam does not mean they are vitally concerned about events in Sudan, or Palestine, or Iran, or Iraq, or anywhere else. Reverts resent being pressured into subscribing to Muslim political campaigns and causes.
Reverts are often flooded with Arabic jargon and so become alienated from Muslim discourse. Many Muslims pepper their sentences with "inshallah" and "al-hamdulilah" and "mashallah" every second word to the point that it is hard to follow the thread of their speech. Reverts feel pressured to adopt these artificial pieties every time they want to say something. They feel pressured to "speak the lingo." As well, large numbers of keywords are in Arabic. Muslims speak of "zuhr salat" instead of "noon prayer".
There is an unnecessarily profuse Islamo-jargon that Reverts must deal with.
Segregation of the Sexes
Reverts complain they find segregation of the sexes difficult to adjust to and often find it silly or counter-social. As Westerners they are quite accustomed to talking to members of the opposite sex - without any sexual temptations involved - but Islamic life (as it is enforced by externalists) assumes that men and women cannot mix without falling into sin and promiscuity.
There may be good reasons to segregate prayer, but social and family events - even weddings - are often segregated. 'Why can't I sit with my wife?' complains the convert. This alienates reverts.
Reverts often have family and friends who are Christians, Jews or members of other faiths. Upon converting to Islam they are told they must shun such people and fear being "polluted" by other religions.
As Westerners, they are quite capable of accepting people of other faiths without the danger of being "polluted" or of "straying." The idea that new Muslims must only mix with Muslims and must shun people of other faiths is alienating to reverts.
Reverts are very often subject to chauvanistic attitudes from lifelong Muslims who assume that reverts know nothing about Islam and never will; only those born and raised as Muslims have a valid opinion. The opinions of reverts are dismissed or belittled. They are constantly being told their mistakes, are patronized and treated as second-class Muslims.
As Westerners, reverts do not fit into any of the ethnic camps that tend to form in Western Islamic communities. As one convert said, "I went to the Turkish mosque, the Albanian mosque, the Iraqi mosque and the Indonesian mosque, and didn't feel at home in any of them!" Reverts regularly complain of isolation. They have no mentors, no contacts.
Large numbers of Western reverts come to Islam through Sufism and the Sufi tradition. When they join the Muslim community, however, they find Muslims are either ignorant of or hostile to Sufism and that mainstream Islam is dominated by shallow externalists who think the religion is about the enforcement of rules and regulations.
Such reverts begin by seeking the deep treasures of the Muslim faith but are soon alienated by externalist, legalist Islam. Often reverts have a better and broader sense of the treasures of classical Islam than born-and-bred Muslims. Before converting they read Rumi, Hafiz, Ibn Arabi. The externalists have never even heard these names.
These are all legitimate complaints and raise matters contemporary 'Western Islam' cannot address for reverts or even Muslims themselves. The problem is Islam is in crisis.
Islam is not like other religions - it is a deen, a social order and lifeway that is communal in nature.
Islam cannot prosper in the West unless it is accepted by the country and dominates power... otherwise Muslims will remain stranded and isolated within ethnic enclaves.
The tragedy of this would be the West needs Islam - men and women in the West are seeking solutions to their spiritual dilemmas. This is why the number of reverts is growing. But "Islam still fails them."
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