I am at a seminar for early childhood teachers right now, Lifeways. It's Waldorf based if you haven't heard me say that 100x's already. Today we covered diversity, and a little analysis of how children come into their own ethnic identity through adolescence really struck a cord for me. "But why UmmLayla??? You're a white girl?" you say? Because I think that converts go through the same stages to some degree when they accept Islam. OK, maybe I'm crazy here... But I think you will see the similarity. It's like by accepting Islam puts you back to that struggle with identity that we all go through as a teen... What do you think? See if you agree:
Stage 1: Conformity
Preference for the values and norms of the dominant culture
Strong desire to assimilate into the dominate culture
Negative self-deprecating attitudes toward themselves and their racial group
Attitudes toward the dominant group are positive
-How that applies to the convert: This is the stage when you first convert (so Islam will be the dominant culture here) and you are trying to fit in desperately. You do whatever you see the "Muslims" do because you think it must be right and good. This is the stage where you shop at the Arab markets even if you don't really know what to do with what you buy there. This is also the stage where you develop a negative attitude about the "kafir" and complain about your "kafir" relatives frequently. You also the reject input from more moderate Muslims assuming they are just being influenced by living in the land of the "kafir".
Stage 2: Dissonance
Individual begins to question pro-dominate culture attitude and behaviors
Individuals alternate between self- and group-appreciation and deprecating attitudes and behaviors
-For converts this is a stage where you just might lose the whole converting thing. You have started to see that Muslims and Islam may very well be different things. But you still want to be a "good Muslim" by the standard of the community and are unsure about rebelling against the things you are starting to see as flaws in the fabric of Muslim culture.
Stage 3: Resistance and Immersion
Individuals embrace their own racial/ethnic group completely
Blind endorsement of one's group and all the values/attitudes attributed to the group
Individuals accept racism and oppression as a reality
Rejection of the values and norms associated with the dominant group
Empathic understanding and an overpowering ethnocentric bias
-This is where you wake up one day and say to yourself... "Hey, I know I'm Muslim, but I happen to be (insert racial identity here) too!" You then commence eating copious amounts of the foods you grew up with for iftar unless you just feel like middle eastern food that night. Now, I'm not suggesting that this means you reject Islam... This is where you start to reject the culture surrounding it. You can now look at Islam vs Muslims, and probably by now you've decided that non-Muslims are not evil... Hey, you were one yourself. And oh yeah, it's totally OK to admit you miss x-mas and all the other things you grew up doing. But hey, it's all part of the personal struggle that is your deen, right? This is the stage where you may go to the extreme of deciding that all born Muslims have never really explored their deen and all they know is "Muslim culture".
Stage 4: Introspection
Individuals develop a security in their racial identity that allows questioning of rigid Resistance attitudes
Re-direct anger/negativity toward dominant culture to exploration of individual and group identity issues
Conflict between allegiance to one's own ethnic group and issues of personal autonomy
Individuals acknowledge there is variation amongst all groups of people
-Getting to this one is a little harder, but I assert that many converts make it there because we are all working on ourselves (that's probably why we converted in the first place). This is where you leave your whole history and "Muslim culture" behind and try to forge a new you... The Muslim you. The person that is an amalgam of all the good parts you can glean from both worlds. There are bad days, because you see you aren't really a member of either group and you now need to form your own identity as an individual. You now see that hanging with other converts is no more a solution than avoiding born-Muslims, you find individuals you like in both groups.
Stage 5: Synergetic Articulation and Awareness
Characterized by a sense of self fulfillment with regard to racial identity, confident and secure
Desire to eliminate all forms of oppression
High level of positive regard toward self and toward one's group
Respect and appreciation for other racial/cultural groups
Openness to constructive elements of the dominant culture
-This is the final stage... But it doesn't mean you can't go back to an earlier stage again later. Maybe you have a great experience and reach this for a short time... Maybe you are super-cool and you feel like this all the time. This is where you finally peel back all the layers of your original cultural identity and glean things you find useful from the "cultural Muslims". Now you can focus on the religion without getting caught in all the cultural aspects, internal and external.