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My opposition to the use of the word convert to describe someone like myself (Muslim over a decade) is linked to the
By: Myriam Francois-Cerrah
exclusive and thus exclusionary dimension of the term ‘convert’.
It both identifies those of non-Muslim heritage as different to the rest of the community, in some cases, particularly white converts, as somehow superior and more enlightened, worthy of adulation and praise for having left behind the (implied superior) dominant culture to adopt the (implied lesser) subaltern culture, and on the other hand, serves to deligitimise those same voices when necessary by putting into question the ‘true’ Islamic nature of their identity.
This process of adulation and deligitimisation contributes to the identification of (usually white) converts as somehow separate to the rest of the community – black and Asian converts are assumed to blend into the Muslim body more seamlessly since their ethnicity means they are already assumed to come from within the (implied lesser) sub-culture – this leads to a hierarchy of converts, whereby white, female converts are typically prized over all others and paraded as evidence of Islam’s superiority. This itself betrays racist assumptions about white supremacy.
When people describe me as a ‘convert’ they typically do this for 3 principle reasons:
1) the convert is deemed to represent an uncritical approval of “Islam” (who’s Islam is unclear), as if somehow the new adherent is a validation of the world view of all Muslims, when in fact, many of these are mutually contradictory (not at the core, but anywhere beyond) and the individual may have a much more complex interaction with the paradigm “Islam”
2) they want to undermine my position by pointing to the ‘new’ dimension of my faith, despite in some cases, it being far older than their own practice of the faith,
3) it serves as a code word for reactionary, eccentric, strange and possibly a bit deranged. In other words, it serves to deligitimise my position by claiming that my adherence to a faith presumed to be regressive in nature necessarily implies my person-hood and views are questionable. It is code word for, she used to be normal, but lost the plot, so beware. It is intended to cast suspicion and doubt over your integrity and respectability. And as such it functions as a process of exclusion from both the dominant body (non-Muslim society) and the Muslim community (not quite one of them either). It is also entirely irrelevant to my position 99.9% of the time.
For that reason I advocate Muslims stop using the construction, stop validating it and put an end to the cult of the “convert”. I converted 11 year ago. Today? I’m just Muslim thanks.