Tuesday, December 07, 2004

How to Become a Muslim...

Five days before 9/11, Charles Vincent bought his first Koran. Six weeks later, while smoke was still pouring from the remains of the World Trade Center, he formally converted to Islam in the mosque attached to the Islamic Cultural Center on 96th Street and Third Avenue in New York City. A blond, blue-eyed 29-year-old from Torrance, California, he readily admits that he chose an unlikely moment to fall in love with the world’s most newsworthy religion. But in the three years since, his devotion to Islam has only deepened. Like a growing number of white Americans and Europeans, he has discovered that Islam is not just the religion of those "other" people.... read on...

15 comment(s):

  • I've noticed this as well, that oftentimes conversions often up in numbers after various incidents. I myself finally caved in and converted shortly after a local incident in Denver (my hometown) almost nine years ago where basketball player Mahmud Abur Rauf was taked out of play for not saying the pledge of allegiance, followed by a shock jock radio program which broke into the largest mosque in Denver during fajr prayers, harassing those in salat and playing nationalistic songs on brass instruments. It was at that point that I knew where my identification lay, and I think incidents such as these often tip the scales for individuals who already question certain status quo to an extent anyway.
    A couple I am close with in Denver had been Jewish converts for decades. Following 9/11 and also a trip to Israel, the couple began to re-think their identities, and now recently have become Muslim.

    By Blogger Leila M., at 12/08/2004 07:56:00 AM  

  • Salaams

    I read this story on Alternet. I have never experienced a story which seem so apparently authored from 'outside', yet so potently invoking my sympathy for the main protagonist of the story.

    The tale reminded me, to some extent, of my own conversion and my own quest for belonging and certainty amongst the Wahhabis over a decade ago. There is something about the intensity and whole-heartedness of this kind of belief which I dearly wish I could reclaim.

    But I am beginning to realise there is no 'Muslim middle class', no half-way house between popular piety and deep knowing. And so I return to my books and thoughts and prayers...



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 12/08/2004 10:26:00 AM  

  • Yakoub, that's brilliant. I'm also neck-deep in confusion myself, and only hope to grasp an iota of knowing. I also remember (grimacing a bit, mind you) the early days of my conversion, the resulting "convertitis" and the tendency towards staunch surity in my thoughts, actions, and words.

    At some point, evidently, I've "reverted" once more into a state of mostly knowing nothing. Ok, fully knowing nothing.

    By Blogger Leila M., at 12/08/2004 11:33:00 AM  

  • scorpion,

    I remember that Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem. Irrespective of his beliefs, his action that antagonized thousands was not the correct(nor islamic) thing to do. But I see that something good did come out of that. Allahu Akbar.

    Although I am not a "convert" I feel like one sometimes. I was born to muslim parents and identified myself as one all my life. I prayed once in a while, paid zakat yearly but not my full share, fasted a few days and that was it. My journey towards islam really began early this year enduring the darkest days of my life. And the journey is on-going.

    By Blogger Jafar, at 12/08/2004 12:43:00 PM  

  • I'm also a convert. I'm reminded of VS Naipaul's oft-cited comments in his prologue to "Beyond Belief" which explains the trap that so many new converts fall into:

    "Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert's worldview alters.... His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his."

    Of course, Naipaul is overstating the case as usual, but it's plainly true in Charles Vincent's case.

    By Blogger Tony, at 12/08/2004 01:01:00 PM  

  • i read the article. unfortunately i came away with the impression that vincent is a nutjob.

    By Blogger crossfader72, at 12/08/2004 01:18:00 PM  

  • Jafar-- out of curiosity, why would not be standing for a national anthem the wrong or incorrect thing to do in your view?

    By Blogger Leila M., at 12/08/2004 04:20:00 PM  

  • I'm a convert to Islam and while I'm excited to have inherited a whole new world of history and culture, I see no point in abandoning my own culture. I think Islam has a place for all cultures, not just the cultures traditionally thought of as Islamic. American society has just as much valuable resources and ideas to input into the Islamic culture as any others. I have no plans to take on a false identity just to please the traditionalists. I even live in an "Islamic" country and have found a way to assert my American identity while still keeping my Islamic one.

    By Blogger Kelly, at 12/08/2004 08:27:00 PM  

  • Kelly, I feel the same way you do. There is much about the culture of the Muslim country I live in that does not mesh with the values of the one I was raised in (the US - middle class) and if it is not real to me, or it does not "speak to me" I can't just adopt it to please others. Examples I can think of are all purely cultural and not religious that I can see - the shame vs. guilt issue is probably the biggest difference I can come up with at the moment. The funny thing is, that as you say, I never understood people converting to Arab culture as if it is the same as the world religion Islam. I love Arabic, and old Arabic movies, and songs, and poetry, and Ramadan in Cairo, and lots of things about Arab culture (specifically Egyptian) -- but I have no wish to reject the fact I'm American and try to pretend I am Arab.

    By Blogger Anna in PDX, at 12/08/2004 10:37:00 PM  

  • I sometimes feel like if taking on that identity is a way of facilitating an inner change it's fine, though the religious core should not be confused with "Arab culture". I was raised in a mainly South Asian Muslim community and I've found that some converts I know convert into the South Asian culture! Islam is a way of life but that way of life fits any container, you don't have to buy a new wardrobe and grow a beard and presto! you're a "true muslim"! Surrendering to God is beyond all of that. But thats just my opinion...:)

    By Blogger whalesoundervish, at 12/08/2004 11:15:00 PM  

  • "Jafar-- out of curiosity, why would not be standing for a national anthem the wrong or incorrect thing to do in your view"

    scorpion, In my view, not standing for national anthem (even if Rauf didn't believe in it) was disrespectful to the feeling of all the people around him, and hence wrong. I am sure he could've excused himself and avoided all the controversy.

    By Blogger Jafar, at 12/09/2004 06:25:00 AM  

  • Jafar,

    Perhaps you should find out something about a situation before you comment on it, especially if you are going to criticize your brother based on your false assumptions.

    Brother Mahmoud spent the first few months of the season staying in the lockerroom during the national anthem. He did not try to make anything of the issue nor to offend anyone. When some people started to notice he was not coming out during the anthem, they began to call radio shows and complain. Eventually, the team (which had been letting him stay in the locker room) decided to change its policy and force him to come out and stand for the anthem. Brother Mahmoud initially refused and then a compromise was worked out where he would stand and silently make dua' during the playing of the anthem.


    Abu Noor al-Irlandee

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/09/2004 12:01:00 PM  

  • "Religion" it seems to me, does need to exist within a culture - i.e. culture contains "religion." Can religion, by itself, be a culture? Well, according to the idea that "Islam is a way of life" - maybe it can. But when you look at what this "way of life" is - usually it is a culture from whatever background a Muslim is from... There is a deeper meaning to "way of life" of-course - that is considering that Islam (or islam)can infuse existing cultures with a sense of compassion and justice.

    On the other hand, people take on this or that culture all the time...sometimes an adopted culture just "fits better" than one that the person is born and/or raised in... This does not necessarily mean that one is superior to another, rather, for some (unknown) reason one "way of life" works better for some than another...

    As Karima says in her piece above:

    "Speaking every language and wearing every outward form - speaking every language and wearing every outward form
    The lovers of Love answer yes to your inward calling..."

    By Blogger redwood, at 12/09/2004 02:21:00 PM  

  • Abu Noor,

    I admit that I wasn't aware of the circumstances before the matter became public. But regardless, I stand by my position that when a person willingly belongs to a group/society, he/she is obligated to abide by their rules and requirements. And when you are willing part of a gathering, you adhere to the prevailing custom, be it a dresscode, or a specific action.

    By Blogger Jafar, at 12/10/2004 08:39:00 AM  

  • There have been some insightful comments here, forgive me if I repeat what has already been said.

    I don't think most people, including converts themselves, fully understand what an incredible change conversion entails. This is especially true for those of us converting to Islam in countries that have a long history of antagonism toward Islam and have abandon many of the values that Muslims traditionally--or perhaps just traditional Muslims-- regard highly.

    I have been Muslim for almost 15 years now (subhanallah the time flies) and I am just now coming to term with all that I gave up to become a Muslim. It probably doesn't take most people that long, but I converted at 13 so I was still just finding out who I really was. I have a great deal of sympathy for the new convert who submerses themselves in the culture of their newfound community. I also have a great deal of sympathy for the convertitis (http://www.islamfortoday.com/ummzaid02.htm)that many new Muslims and people who are rediscovering Islam go through.

    When you leave not only your religious background but abandon many of the cultural practices and values that you grew up with, you become sort of an orphan. Often times the Arab, Desi, Iranian or whatever adopts you and becomes a secure matrix that you can consistently return to for stability as you mature in your understanding of Islam. I was blessed that I was involved in a large and extremely diverse community when I first became Muslim, but I still took on a sort of "middle eastern" attitude. It is just now after over a decade that I am really settling into my identity as an American Muslim and enjoying the way those parts of who I am blend.

    By Blogger blagdiblah, at 12/10/2004 08:18:00 PM  

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