At a wedding on Thursday, a few friends & I were introduced to a Canadian couple who have recently converted to Islam. I'd met them a few times before. We have a lot of mutual acquaintances. But Thursday was the first time I got into the whole how did you find Islam conversation with them. Normally, I avoid that sort of question because faith is so personal and I was raised to believe it's not really polite to spring questions like that on people you barely know.
However, someone else volunteered to ask them & they seemed happy to tell. So we listened to the story, asked a few questions and then the conversation moved on to other things. Since most of us were Arabs educated in the West, a couple of us in Canada & in the same area as the newly Muslim couple, the conversation naturally turned to our memories of living abroad as students. Most of us had nothing negative to say. College is fun, isn't it? And college abroad is especially exciting because you combine the college experience with the experience of 'seeing the world' etc...
You'd have expected things to be petty laid back, right? They were Westerners. And we were a pretty pro-Western lot in many ways. So they should have felt right at home. Right? Right?!!!Wrong! They couldn't seem to want to hear anything positive about the West or any criticism whatsover of the so-called Islamic World which they seemed to see as some kind of Utopia. I mean, huh? I thought I was in a nightmare! I mean, two Canadian Caucasians defending the Saudi regime!
In the end, they more or less started attacking us in a very polite, indirect way by suggesting that we wouldn't feel the way we did if were good Muslims.
At which point, I simply gave up, excused myself & got back to dancing to Fadl Shaker & Nancy Ajram with the bride & groom & bridesmaids. Just seemed a better investment of my time.
Thing is, it's not the first time I come across this sort of phenomenon among new Muslims here. There's quite a few of them from all over the world. This country provides opportunity for vast numbers of expats to interact with Islam at close quarters. So those who have the inclination are bound to convert here.
Which is cool but why do some new Muslims feel the need to denigrate their former religion & culture & sometimes their own family & upbringing? Why do they change their names to Arabic names? Don't they realize that the majority of Muslims in the world are not Arab and do not carry Arabic names? Who says names have to have religious significance, anyway? A name is something you have no hand in, something you're born with - like the color of your eyes. But it IS a legacy of your parents & their love for you. And of your heritage. I mean, my name has no religious connotations and I wouldn't give it up for anything because to change it would be to hurt & betray the people who brought me into the world.
Who has been telling these people that being Muslim is synonymous with being a wannabe Arab & spewing forth all sorts of anti-Western, anti-Hindu, anti-Jewish, anti-whatever they used to be diatribes that any thinking person knows are nothing more than prejudiced, xenophobic well, tripe?
Is it just new Muslims? Or is it all new converts or born-again types? Maybe it's just the excitement of discovering a new religion/culture that causes you to think what you found is the greatest & so everything else looks bad in comparison? Do converts eventually 'settle down' & become more tolerant of their own past? Or is it an attempt to prove their 'authenticity' to their new community that prompts them to be 'more royalist than the King' sometimes?
I don't know. But this phenomenon disturbs me. You see, Arabs are prejudiced enough without new converts from other cultures feeding our cultural ego. There was a time when I saw a role for new Muslims in opening up our community & mentality. Perhaps, I thought, having brothers & sisters join the Umma from other cultures would lead to more dialogue & harmony & less of the siege mentality. I wanted new Muslims to help give the Muslims masses a voice of reason they can easily identify with.
So it really bugs me when a new Western Muslim essentially sits around telling Arab Muslims Western society really is as decadent & amoral & devoid of all good as our own media likes to tell us it is and talking about the 'hypocracy' of Western democracy. For the purpose of this discussion, I don't care about the flaws of Western democracy. Of course it's not perfect. But it IS light years ahead of us in terms of democracy & civil rights & Western democracies are thus the best available role models around. To tell us otherwise is to insult our intelligence and frankly, to patronize us. It's like saying "Oh you know Whitehall isn't all it's cracked up to be. You guys just stick with the likes of Saddam & Mubarak & Gadafi."
Faith should be everyone's personal path to God, not everyone's means of rebellion against their own society for one reason or the other and feeding everyone's pre-existing prejudices in the process.
Please new Muslims try to avoid making our troubles worse. If you can't be part of the solution, at least try not to contribute to the problem!
That's my two-cents.