Friday, June 23, 2006

Conversion Stories: Part One

The number one question I get asked, even more then if I wear my hijab in the shower (really!), is phrased in two different ways :"So what made you convert to Islam? (this is how non-Muslims phrase it)and "What was it that made you decide to convert to Islam (Muslim phrasing).

Whenever I get asked this question, it is a massive struggle not to emit an outward groan to match my inward one. As I get asked this All. The. Time.

For Muslims, they are genuinely happy with me. For some there is also the political implication of a westerner rejecting that way of life. This is because they think Western life is all wine, orgies and wearing mini skirts. This is no more true then the idea that the Middle East is a haven of correct Islamic living.

From non-Muslims, the automatic assumption will be that I've converted because I married a Muslim, like there could be no other reason why anyone would want to "do that to herself" (that's what one of my Indian Christian colleagues demanded to know when she saw me in hijab). Then, I always get treated to the religious background of the person asking the question. Which I didn't actually ask them about, because I'm not interested. People's religious beliefs are their own business.

Which, for me is the crux of the matter. No one takes the decision to convert lightly, it is a heavy decision, with a massive impact both pre and post conversion. I won't tell people this, because often I don't know them well, yet this is the first question they've asked after "What is your name?"

This means, that people are often not satisfied when I've told them, saying there must be more to it then that. Well, I make no apologies if my story doesn't meet their dramatic high standards. I've told as much as I feel comfortable with.

For those who crave other people's drama, I have to disappoint you by saying most conversion stories often follow a similar pattern: Person meets Muslim in varous capacity (work, school e.t.c), talks to person about Islam, reads about Islam/meets other Muslims, is surprised that Islam is not what they thought it was, becomes convinced by Islam, converts.

So next time you meet a convert/revert, resist that overwhelming temptation to ask them why they converted. Remember that they get asked that question on an almost daily basis. Finding something interesting does not actually make it any of your business.

If they want you to know, they will tell you.


Alina said...

Safiya, why did you do that to yourself??? I am kidding, I can understand how stressful it can be to be questionned on your decisions daily! True, curiosity is a pain and anyway, there are more important questions (and more original) that people could ask. Like how do you feel now? Or do you see the world with different eyes. Still annoying but at least not in the same way!

cncz said...

salam alaikoum
You know what bothers me more than the why did you convert question?
When non-Muslims have the nerve to compare my actions to their notion of an Islamic lifestyle. I had this chick once sit there tell people that I wasn't into Ramadan (astarfirghallah), like she knew what she was talking about.

Carmen said...

NO WAY do people ask you if you wear the hijab in the shower!!! I can't believe it!

Maxxed`ouT said...

Actually Safiya i have a different say if you may allow me .
I think you should be more tolerant regarding the inquiring - even sometimes nosey - strangers .
The way i see it , you should profit of your new status as a muslim woman to put in a good word for Islam .
I'm not saying trying to convert christians or whatever no not at all .. just try to rid them of their unobjective stereotypes about Islam .
The way they see it , you are "one of them" .... or at least were till you converted .
As far as they're concerned you have not been biaised or corrupted by the evil oriental brain-washing muslim apparatus .
They would actually listen to you , and what you have to say would not be taken for granted .
If you think you have you have been blessed with Islam , maybe its time you give it something back ?

Safiya said...

Carrying the banner of "ambassador for Islam" can be a bit of a heavy burden though.

Anyway my main point wasn't about people asking questions, it's about people not repecting your boundaries and asking really personal questions.

And S, that's not even the most stupid question someone has asked me... there have been far worse.

Ali la Loca said...

Safiya -

Despite the fact that I don't know you very well, I couldn't resist and had to ask a few questions a couple of weeks ago. At least my questions were a bit creative!

I can relate. I have a similar question that EVERYBODY asks who meets me in a Portuguese-speaking context. "You're not brasilian? How is it possible that you speak so well and without an accent if you're not brasilian? Did you move to Brasil as a child? No. Are your parents brasilian? No."

You get the idea. I feel like I could make a tape recording for the answer. "No, I'm not brasilian and neither is anybody in my family. I lived in Brasil for a year when I was 15. I don't have an accent because I grew up speaking other romance languages and have a good ear. Yes, I'm american..."

At least it's not the kind of broken-record question that gets into morals or religion...I don't know if I could deal with that. Although I do get into many a socio-political discussion...