Monday, June 08, 2009

Blog Carnival post on White Privilege... Very Late.

This blog carnival is one that I promised myself I would write for... Of course I am late so I hope the sister who is organising will accept my apology and my entry. It's a good topic, and being lily-white Muslimah I have thoughts on it!LOL


Craving the Spotlight

As a White Muslim you are a BIG DEAL. You are a superstar at Muslim gatherings. And unless you are painfully shy you will eventually start to love it, NEED it. No, really. Everyone will ask you how you converted and tell you how wonderful you are. You learn masha'Allah and think maybe it means something like "Look, there goes the only American smart enough to convert to Islam." The entire community is ready to marry you off if you happen to be single.

Then the reality of your new life starts to set in. When you peel back the thin veneer of this "welcome" you will find that you are an outsider. You will see all too clearly that the praise only keeps coming as long as you aren't challenging anyone. The minute you dare to contradict you will find out that born Muslims automatically assume you to be uneducated in matters of religion. And where a lesson or hint may be appreciated in the first months after you convert... The assumptions start to sting once you have been Muslim for a few years. They come from unexpected places. Even your spouse may pull the born Muslim card on you. So we are knocked off the pedestal the community put us on swiftly and unceremoniously. And we fall hard.

Here we were thinking that we were trading one community for another. We tolerated the looks that the old ladies at the grocery shot us because we knew the Muslims understood us. The Muslims were proud of us. The Muslims thought we were smart. Well, maybe they did anyway. It's an unpleasant surprise to find out that everyone still thinks of you as a child even when you have been Muslim for years. There is also the matter of feeling like you have to fight the culture that people THINK is Islam all the time. And usually both these things are in play when you feel like the community just doesn't get you. The attention you learned to love, turns sour overnight. You realise that no one ever seeks more from you than your conversion story and you start to get tired of telling it.

I have left more gatherings with tears than I care to remember. I NEVER feel like I fit in. The ideals of Islam and the truth about the Muslims of today are just so far apart. I don't think people dislike me, but I do think they are full of negative assumptions about me. I challenge these people who think they know so much to ask themselves how much direct knowledge from learned people do they have? You can't just assume that because you have been following your cultures "Muslim" version of life for years you know all there is to know about the religion. Worse yet, you might be surprised at how much of what you think you know has NOTHING to do with Islam.

So, here we white converts are in between a cultural rock and a religious hard place. We aren't American anymore because once you out yourself as Muslim by dress, actions or talk you don't really fit in with the other people from your cultural background anymore. At the same time, we will never be Egyptian, Arab, Pakistani, whatever... So we will never fit into the groups that the Muslim community divides itself into either. By choosing Islam we have chosen life as an outsider.

So, yes... We have the admiration of the Muslim community. People will offer us jobs and spouses thinking we are just so great and wonderful. But they will never really accept us. So maybe we are privileged... And maybe not. I guess that depends on how you define it.

20 comments:

Jaz said...

The Prophet and the Sahaba were at one time "outsiders". It's a good thing - and if you let people know exactly your thoughts when they try to patronize you I bet it will happen much less.
Nice article, I guess most converts can relate. Very well written :)

Umm Nassim said...

Touché

Anonymous said...

Yes, White converts will always be outsiders. This actually suits my personality just fine but I still find most of my close friends are fellow converts.

Here in America we have a large communities of African American converts. The interesting thing about African Americans is that converting to Islam is, to some degree, normal and a part of the culture. So Black Muslims do not have the same degree of outsider identity as White or Latino converts.

Kristin said...

I will agree and disagree with you. I had the same experience in the early years after my conversion and I cringed every time an event would come up that my husband wanted to go to. After everyone had heard my conversion story, I was left to the side and no one sought me out. I'm partially to blame, but I was very shy at the time.

I have found, however, that it really depends on what kind of muslims are around you. As the years have gone on, the atmosphere at my masjid has drastically changed as the people "in charge" are now second generation muslims in this country. They are the 'kids' that have grown up in the mosque and in American society and they have a good handle of both groups. Now, even their kids, and mine too are getting older and I expect that it will only continue to be welcoming to people of all faiths and cultures.

jana z. said...

omg!! how many times have i both written and verbally complained about this very subject!! in the beginning i was deeply saddened by it and still find myself sad that even in our own country we are viewed as outsiders in our neighborhood mosques. yes we are welcomed with open arms, but after that its basically "fend for yourself" and "hope you like being ignored as you sit over there in the corner alone and we sit in our cultural groups".

astaghfirullah for me saying this, but it just astounds me that this happens.

oh yes we are celebrities and how many times can we tell the "how i came to love islam and reverted" story. not that i mind telling it, but......

trust me, i feel ya!

Anonymous said...

Assalaamo alaykum Sister.
I've heard these familiar stories and points of view...mostly from Women on the Web. :)

I think this experience of being an outsider - or not - really depends. It depends how large the muslim community is where you live; it depends how many in your community are in your same boat, which can greatly lessen the impact of the "outsider" feeling. It depends, perhaps, how liberal and therefore classically open-minded your community is, no matter how physically diverse they may or may not be.

You know what I often think about? Someone who is considering Islam - do you think it would be encouraging for them to accept Islam while hearing all these reams of stories on the web, or the opposite? Go to almost any muslimah website, and you will hear lots of complaining, lots and LOTS of negativity.

I think it takes much greater strength to be positive, to look at things from a positive point of view, to be patient, and to send positive messages out there.

I'm not saying don't be truthful. Always be truthful! I say this because I know muslimahs will instantaneously, INDIGNANTLY shoot back with, "What do you want - a sugar-coated version of the truth?" And I say, no, absolutely not. What I want is for people to reconsider what their truth is. To work harder to find the good in their situations, to be grateful, humbled by that, and to send those positive messages to both readers and people they meet.

I seriously worry - will the spread of the Truth of our beautiful Islam slow if those considering it are bombarded with stories about how depressing it is to be a muslim?

As muslims, it is our duty to spread the Word of Islam. There are already millions of devout haters, ready to criticize all facets of Islam and those who practice it.

I think we should spend our energy countering that with spreading knowledge about what the Truth really is. We talk a LOT about how everyone has misconceptions of muslims, misconceptions and total misinformation about Islam. How many appealing, relateable sources do they have for finding out what that truth IS?

Every person in life experiences negative things. But in our core, aren't we glad that we chose Islam? Or that Allah chose us?

I know that you know, if you feel oppressed, it is better to go where you do not feel oppressed. I know this may not always be an immediate possibility, however. Or maybe you feel it's not a possibility in this life to ever feel NOT like an outsider, anywhere. That may be so! Allahu alim. So while you are where you are in this life, I think it is good to be grateful for what we have - not to eye-rollingly sneer (not you personally, I don't believe you are like that - just people in general) at the suggestion that we should accept a bad situation or merely accept being downtrodden - but to truly, inwardly accept and be grateful for what we have. In that way, we are not downtrodden at all - we are in fact patient, which is what Allah wishes for us to be. Meanwhile, we also work at finding the beauty and the good in whatever situation we are in, and spreading that positivity.

Finally, to each person out there, know that sweeping generalities may not represent the whole - so be cautious in assuming that they do. Not everyone under that label of Convert wishes to represent the order of New Outsiders, or the New FarOutsiders. If you feel that that is your experience, go for it - describe it explicitly, explain it to the end - but know that it is yours. :)

sincerely,
Your sister in Islam

zahra said...

Salaam,

I remember before and after my conversion you were the token white chic in a scarf at every event! For years. It must have been shortly after your conversion. Back in '98 and '99. How did you feel about that? I know, in our small community, many sisters wouldn't want to be in the spotlight or maybe it was a "white" thing although in this state we are almost all white! But in the day, you dressed and spoke the part which isn't a diss but we do have pressure to be "Arab" or whatever, so you must have been the darling at one point. I have never been, because of my big mouth, but I am at peace with it.

I have observed, however, over the years anytime someone comes to the Mosque (newpaper, radio, tv) all the women stay home because "good" women don't want to be part of such things. So maybe it isn't a token White thing but a - eh she's western so she doesn't have proper haya thing. I don't know.

Geez I am so negative! Sorry.

Zahra again said...

Sorry,

had to comment on Anon above me. Sister, the reality there is a lot of depressing events we face upon conversion. We are spoon fed "1400 years ago, Islam gave us rights" and yet we are told by our community that working only serves to tempt men, we are to be hyper vigilant about being as covered up and take up as little space as possible because it makes us "good", we are not given proper space or voice in our communities, and on and on. IT is a very harsh wake up for women who read the Qu'ran,love it, convert and then meet "the Muslims". Seriously. Should we not address it? I know women who decades after conversion and years of accepting oppressive interpretations by thier spouse and community snap and bail. Why? Because it isn't Islam! It is a bunch of BS that people sell as Islam and unless you are a woman with an inferiority complex and a streak of masochistic inclinations, it isn't sustainable. It just isn't. At some point, hoping for some relief upon death is not enough and they leave. I cannot fault them for it.
This is probably off topic but I hate it when we are told to smile and act all rosey posey - it creates the dissonance in the first place!

UmmLayla said...

Anon, what you said about African Americans is true I think. But I bet in my small community of immigrants they would have some struggles. On the whole, I find it interesting because there is a sense of going back to our roots for AA Muslims that we white Muslims don't have.

Kristen, you aren't really disagreeing with me... I just haven't gotten out of the stage in the community of first generation dominance. I can see where second gen people would change the feeling of a community.

Jana, I hope that this segregation thing gets better for all of us... I'm glad I wrote something you can relate to. Maybe I'm not insane after all.LOL

Anon, I hear what you are saying. I just think that you have to present an honest view. Zahra took the words right out of my mouth actually. You have to accept Islam for what it is in real life and KNOW that it is not the ideal version. Otherwise you will get all bitter and depressed and think Islam is what people do... And then you will go back on your shahada. How many times I have seen a wife exposed to a sugar coated version of Islam and never look beyond her DH and his family to really learn about the deen only to get divorced and HATE Islam because of what it represented in her life. Am I rambling??? Anyway, I think we have to be honest.

Zahra, girl... I'm still that darling. Only now I have to be in Egypt to pull it off!LOL You are right I am pretty traditional, I converted around Gulf Arabs after all. Maybe if I had married a different guy and my life had taken a different direction I would still seem that way on the surface. But taking on a business and being the public face of that forced me to rethink some things. It has its good side and its bad side. It certainly would've been simpler to take the traditional stay at home with the kids path in a larger Muslim community, but I didn't!LOL

Anonymous said...

I hate that whole "born muslim" holier than thou attitude. I am a convert and I don't wear hijab outside of mosque. I have had eyes rolled at me when I've said salaam to someone outside of mosque. Am I not as much a muslim as them or what? Lots of born muslims don't wear hijab. My question is this; is God looking for a cloth on top your head, your ethnicity, or your heart?

Sarah Plain And Short said...

THAT S EXACTLY WHAT I GO THROUGH!! and i was born into a 'muslim' family...arghh its so darrrn frustrating!!
Right now i realize i am not going to learn ne thing of knowledge from these cultural muslims, then i have to move my butt in order to seek the knowlege. thanks for this post its exactly what ive been dealing with for 5 yrs now....thanks you!!

Molly said...

Hey honey- hows your trip?

I was wondering if you've written your conversion story and are willing to have it published on the website I work for.

I’m looking for converts who have written their conversion stories or are willing to write their conversion stories and would be interested in having them posted online.

The website I work for (www.readingislam.com) is dedicated to non-Muslims who are seeking information about Islam and new Muslims who are looking for support. One of my assigned sections is conversion stories and so many new Muslims and/or seeking non-Muslims have found inspiration there.

Would you like to be the inspiration for someone?

Email me at mollyannelian [at] gmail.com and I will reply via the official editors email if you are interested.

Tutti said...

As Salaamu Aalaykum! sister I soo feel you. As a hispanic revert I was even worse off. People were interested in me but the moment I was done with my shahada store and I was looking to get married I was discriminate against for being spanish. Don't you know Spanish women are sluts? The stereotypes they would blatantly throw in my direction made me cry in my salat out of frustration.

Muslim Hippie said...

I am so sorry to hear about all your hardships. As a born Muslim I feel the need to apologize in behalf of all my fellow born Muslims who made you feel awkward or discriminated against. I myself experienced similar circumstance when I started practicing and wearing the hijab. But I know for a fact it was nothing like what all of you have experienced. Please accept my apology!

***
On a different note: Umm Layla- where did you go, I miss you girl!

Peace!

Anonymous said...

As Salamualykum it doesn't matter if you're a convert or a born muslim who has had an awakening, either way if you try to practice islam instead of cutlure you will butt heads, head butts etc etc kwim!

'HOW DARE you tell me how to pray you impudent pup ehm.' or why don't you pray like your elders do? or whats wrong with my walking around naked i have haya/ shame in my heart why you wearing all that on your head you think your more religious than me ? etc etc

yes i could go on. at the end of the day we each have to answer for ourselves first and foremost. we could go with the flow and be like a sheep, or we could try to read/ learn and follow the quran and sunnah.

If we can't find a teacher and are lost, we could read ibn khateers tafseer of the quran in english all 10 volumes and subhanAllaah we would learn a lot. but even after practising for many years or having converted years ago or being 50/ 60 years old you find that ppl might have read it in arabic once or many many times but never read the tafseer in a language they understand. that includes arabs even arabic speakers need to read tafseer to understand the quran in more depth.

yet how many of us do it. make the effort. its good to listen to talks etc but when the da'ee is telling you go read the quran see if what i am saying is correct do we?

wasalam

Anonymous said...

Dooclodopsy, clomid online DevyWagever, [url=http://www.webjam.com/clomidonline]buy clomid[/url] Veiskkeyday
23

Anonymous said...

woodsesty, levitra online, DinoEndorgo, http://virb.com/levitraonline levitra online, twepitiencisy, order levitra, thaccumence, http://www.protopage.com/orderlevitra levitra

Anonymous said...

Verduekssem, propecia online, spancenus, [url=http://virb.com/propeciaonline]propecia[/url]

hawa said...

OMG, I always figured being a convert couldn't be easy, but personally I always assume that converts are more knowledgable than born muslims-because converts learn the RELIGION and a lot of times born muslims are tought CULTURE instead of RELIGION...lol idk if that made sense.It's interesting to see (or read) how it might feel...ah idk what I'm writing. Jaz made a really good point saying that the Prophet (SAW) was once an outsider.

Anonymous said...

Assalaamu alaikum warahmatullah

As a black American revert, I would have to disagree. Accepting Islam is not always so easy for us either. We have our own struggles in the communities here. We are outsiders to our families and to the greater society as a whole. Within the masjid we're not the "celebrities" that white reverts are. In fact we're almost completely ignored in some communities. Sure people are friendly to us on the surface, but when it comes time to find a mate or to be invited to events at sisters' homes that would allow us to develop real relationships/friendships those opportunities rarely come. I cannot count the times that when I was looking to marry, people almost always steered me towards black American reverts who had nothing in common with me despite the color of their skin. I'm sorry but I don't know too many people who would jump at the chance of marrying some brother fresh out of jail with no prospects of a real job :-|

Alhamdulillah all is not lost and I've managed to find some wonderful muslims from various ethnic groups both reverts and born muslims to relate to, but I often find that we too are placed in a catagory and it's quite often labeled as the "untouchables" astafirgullah. I'm also fortunate to have married a wonderful man that didn't care about my color or the fact that I was a revert despite some of the reservations that came from his family. What mattered to him was my love for Allah subhana wa ta'ala and my dedication to this deen in it's purest form.

I don't blame these terrible experiences on Islam, but just like any religion you will have people who do not truly represent what that faith is all about due to ignorance, stupidity, etc.