Reverts: Heroes or Social Misfits?

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Mum I’m a Muslim’.

This statement falls from your lips.

Then you watch, heart pounding, as your mother, the one who gave birth to you, who knows you inside and out, struggles to put words to her horror – that you have suddenly joined the most pilloried faith in the modern world.

Lauren Booth-Despite the fact that before taking my Shahadah I had spent half a decade traveling the Muslim world, my mum was still shocked. She had never expected me (‘of all people’), her Jack Daniels drinking, low neckline wearing, foul mouthed, eldest daughter, to embrace something so ‘puritanical’.

All credit to my mum though. Despite her silent horror, she has (with bitten lip) for the past three years, worked hard at accepting that Islam has entered her family from this most unexpected direction.

What goes on in the homes, the difficulties faced, are mirrored, or worsened by the reaction of wider society. Certainly, this is true in the West. It was ever thus.

From Makkah to the UK

We remember that the Quraysh put into process a deliberate plan aimed at making life intolerable (or so they thought) for the Prophet (peace be upon him), after he announced to his closest relatives that God was One.

Rumors and gossip mongering played a large part in their scheme to discredit him. Once all the locals in Makkah had been told/warned to avoid Prophet Muhammad, then even visitors, international pilgrims, to the city, were told to avoid the ‘magician,’ the ‘wizard’. Time and again assertions were made that Prophet Muhammad had ‘gone mad.’ Why this accusation in particular?

Because he was previously known and respected for his good character. He was a relative of some of the most powerful people in the Arabian Peninsula at the time. Therefore he could not be written off as a ‘fool’ or a man of evil. Both would have been easily disproved. So, the accusation of madness was made. God revealed the following verse in response to these lies:

{Nun. By the pen and what they inscribe, You are not, (O Muhammad), by the favor of your Lord, a madman. And indeed, for you is a reward uninterrupted. And indeed, you are of a great moral character. So you will see and they will see. Which of you is the afflicted (by the devil).} (Al-Qalam 68: 1-6)

As in the Prophet’s time, so today, there seems to be an imprinted pattern of reaction unchanged in more than 1400 years. The main difference is that instead of poetic insults being hurled at Muslims in the market place or the Ka’bah, Twitter and Facebook are the preferred mediums of spreading fear and loathing.

I was amazed that far from the spirituality change being questioned when I announced my own conversion, the main questions put to me by disbelieving colleagues and acquaintances was to do with what they consider a ‘lifestyle’ change.

What! NO alcohol at all?

What! NO sausages and bacon?

What about boyfriends then?

Never mind I was in my forties and a mother of two children. Clubbing, dating, drunkenness are sadly deemed things that British people cannot do without. We have a RIGHT to drink ourselves into a hospital ward and a RIGHT to make fools of ourselves at the ubiquitous ‘office party’.

Social Misfits?

Most reverts describe a gradual – or even immediate – ‘drifting away’ from people and places they enjoyed previously. Pubs, bars, clubs, social gatherings where house prices are the main topics of conversation; these just become either horrifically dark or unbearably boring.

Islam opens our minds to a whole new universe. Like a door that was locked keeping us in the broom cupboard of existence, has been flung open and there before us lies infinity. Nope. Engaging with half hour conversations about fashion just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The social isolation that almost inevitably occurs isn’t all the choice of our former associates. Prayer and reflection are not spectator sports.

Meanwhile, should you begin to wear the hijab then mainstream society recoils in horror, then mocks. The ancient plan of discreditation begins.

The very papers I wrote with, for over a decade, have recently become the most vociferous in their personal attacks. I am neither surprised nor angry at this predictable turn of events. As a former colleague of some of the most highly respected and published writers and editors in the UK, how else can they cope (in 1000 words or less) with a colleague coming to a religion they regularly pillory for cash? Seriously, are they going to be respectful or non sensational?

Muslim reverts in the public eye in Britain, must be painted as needy, social failures, possibly in the grip of a mid-life crisis in order for society as a whole, in its gaudy drunken Technicolor, to continue making sense.

‘What sort of woman freely converts to a religion which supports the oppression, torment and murder of thousands of Christians, homosexuals and spirited women, worldwide, every year? The sort of woman who writes love letters to a serial killer, I reckon’, wrote a columnist in one of the more middle of the road UK tabloids.

So, pantomime villain, manic depressive or social misfit, Western reverts face a series of social assaults after they take Shahadah.

The Real Question

The most telling feature of our life change, from darkness to understanding, has a far more subtle flavor. This is expressed by the people who know you the best. Those we have grown up with. The ‘bf’s’ (best friends) we had water fights with. Those we cried with over exam results and laughed with until the tears flowed over our most embarrassing teenage gaffs. The childhood buddies whose treetop pledges of ‘forever friends’ blossomed into a genuine, hard wearing, affection.

These special people are the real reflection of the changes that have taken place inside our minds, our bodies and our spirit.

For in their eyes, in their gentle, questioning comments, the revert is reminded of the enormity of the journey we have embarked upon.

‘You’ve changed’ said my friend Sam, the last time we ate together.

‘And I feel a peace in you, that wasn’t there before.’

When we enter Islam, we humble ourselves before God. The abuse from society only strengthens our trust in Him. Being mocked at or denigrated only makes us appreciate all the more, the trials that our beloved Prophet Muhammad faced. So, the real question isn’t will society change towards us, for history shows us that is unlikely.

The real question then is how can we be as composed as Prophet Muhammad was to those who are harsh towards us?

And how can we be as grateful and as patient during our own small trials and thank God for the good days and the bad?

{Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and do good to parents, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor further away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.} (An-Nisa’ 4: 36)