The problem of convert disillusionment
Note: I wrote most of this last week, before the sister who posts here as Africana revealed her suspicions about “sock-puppets” (people pretending to be other people as well as themselves) at the ex-Muslim blog Here in Glitnir, which puts the rest of the content on that blog in a rather different light. I was never wholly convinced about how genuine the ex-Muslim and ex-practising Muslim stories on Glitnir were, but aspects of them still do ring true. Further discussion of that issue is in the comments to this post.
Recently, I stumbled across a depressing selection of blogs by people who had either left Islam or stopped practising (Here in Glitnir being one of the first type and So, Brother A Ran Off with a Stripper being one of the second), which contain various stories of women, particularly (although I don’t doubt that some men are affected as well) who became disillusioned with Islam after seeing the way women were treated, even in sections of the Muslim community which present themselves as relatively progressive. A lot of the stories are about Sufi tariqas, some of them explicitly referring to Shaikh Nuh’s group (particularly the Kharabsheh or “K-Town” contingent) but others seem to refer to that group although not by name. (More: Outlines, Nicole Cunningham.)
Of course, some Muslims will readily dismiss the stories on all of these blogs about Shaikh Nuh’s inner circle (they do not generally ascribe any wrongdoing directly to Shaikh Nuh himself) on the grounds that they come through an ex-Muslim, but the problem is that some of them ring very true, and the material about other problems in the community even more so. There are very bitter complaints about “dawahganda”, meaning da’wah material (i.e. publications written to attract people to Islam) which were dishonest and hid important facts, such as telling people that Islam itself condemns racism when in fact there is an awful lot of racism in the Muslim community itself, particularly against converts and even more particularly Black converts, and made simply untrue claims about the status of women in Islam. My own experience is that some men harbour ridiculous delusions about the status of women inside and outside of Islam, telling themselves (and each other) that freedom as it exists in the West right now is some sort of illusion, when in fact middle-class women, at least, have never had it better and certainly enjoy a greater degree of personal liberty than most Muslim women.
Some of the complaints are about things that the Muslim community has in fact acknowledged, although nobody in the Muslim community has any authority to actually stop it, but they can discourage it. I heard a preacher (Abdullah Hakim Quick) attack Muslims playing the benefit system and, particularly, expecting their wives to claim benefits they were not entitled to by pretending to be single when they were (religiously) married with children, back in the 1990s, and similar condemnations have been seen on Umar Lee’s blog and elsewhere. Much the same is true of the polygamy that was treated as something Muslims can do and therefore should, because non-Muslims say they can’t, and it led to a lot of distress and heartbreak for some of them women involved who, after all, were mostly not brought up expecting to become polygamous wives.
There are also stories of women being duped into marriage by means of people in the community providing false character references for men who turned out to be vicious, and the community not backing up wives who were being abused. Other problems are not specific to Islam — the issue of male addiction to pornography, for example, and their expectation that their wives perform as they see in these pornographic videos, which often feature humiliating and painful acts. It’s true that there are some Islamic publications which warn of the dangers of pornography, but the community also needs to back this up with help for both the addicts and their wives. It’s also true that there are non-Muslim women whose husbands are addicted to porn and expect them to act out what they see in the porn, but they won’t be told that their religion is in danger or that they are selling out the community if they take help from where it comes from — mostly, feminist-run organisations.
Again, we shouldn’t keep deluding ourselves about Islam delivering both liberation and security for women when many female converts have experienced neither. We would actually do better, as converts, to stop doing down our own culture and trying desperately to fit into immigrant cultures which are often completely alien to us and not always more in line with Islam than ours is. It’s not to say that no women outside the Muslim community ever get abused or that Muslim marriages, including arranged marriages, are never happy ones, but right now most non-Muslim western women do not have to marry men they do not know on the basis of references from people they do not know, and they are better able to get out of a bad marriage if the man turns out to be a loser or they find out something about him that had previously been hidden. We talk about Islam providing women with security, but that is not the impression you will get from reading some women’s accounts of their marriages, and not only those on these “recovering Muslim” blogs.
Finally, there is the matter of the tariqa groups playing with students’ lives, setting up marriages and then sending those involved back home and interrupting their studies, and the backbiting and blackballing that has been reported (much of it on the preserved K-Town Survivors blog; see these two old articles at Outlines , ). This is something I had heard going on in at least one of the less reputable “sufi” groups going back years — one particular group which has moved its base from town to town and country to country for years, establishing communities and businesses and then dismantling them and moving on — but hearing that it’s going on in what used to be seen as the answer to all the dodgy tariqas that used to be known of is pretty disturbing. It’s also quite upsetting to see that the whole modern-traditionalist movement has become rather inward-looking recently, and loath to discuss problems, often preferring to shut down discussion or push it under the carpet rather than actually deal with it. This was seen recently when attempts to discuss the problem of apostasy among converts on DeenPort led to discussion threads being deleted, but it happens pretty much any time any difficult issue gets raised there. During the 1990s, when it was an insurgent force (before 9/11, when it was courted by the establishment), it was something beautiful, a movement that sought to open a space for traditional Islam away from all the Deobandi/Bareilawi bickering in the UK, to provide evidence for it against the “salafi” claims, and to reconcile it, to a certain extent, with the modern way of life. What’s happened to it? There have been so many rumours and counter-rumours flying around in the last couple of years, in particular, that sometimes I don’t know who to believe anymore.
I’m sure many of us (in the UK at least) saw the Panorama exposé on Scientology the other day, showing the cult’s agents following their critics around and videoing their conversations with journalists in public places and keeping information about their followers to use against them later if they deem it necessary, or read Shahid Kamal Ahmad’s piece on the way the Qadianis fleece their followers by demanding what they call “chanda”, and then don’t give back when they fall on hard times. Nothing that has gone on so far in any of the groups mentioned approaches those depths, but that’s no reason to pat ourselves on the back; to compare groups of Muslims to the Qadianis or Scientologists is a bit like saying someone is more trustworthy than Bernie Madoff. Of course, it’s true that there are quite a lot of female converts who remain quite happily Muslim and quite happily married, the teachings about home schooling have some merit in my opinion (given my experience of the British school system) and many of those who apostated now say that they reject the basic principles of Islam and have not just left because they were abused. There is also the issue that converts to many other religions often fall away after a while, not just those who convert to Islam.
However, the fact is that converts are not especially well cared-for in many places, are more vulnerable to falling into bad marriages than most born Muslims who have the support of their families, are more likely to have their sincerity taken advantage of, and if their background was a relatively stable one before they were Muslim, they might just decide to go back to it (not everybody, convert or otherwise, has this choice). This is not to say that the community has been completely remiss in dealing with these problems, but the experience of many is that being a convert to Islam is a struggle, both with people in the community and those outside. I am not sure many born Muslims are aware of this, and perhaps many long-standing converts forget. It doesn’t mean some people won’t change their minds, but it might help reduce the number of disillusioned converts who fall away unnoticed.
Possibly Related Posts:
- Not a religion of platitudes
- On obscene generalisations
- We can’t blame ‘Wahhabis’ for everything
- Don’t call us haters
- Muslims, Eid and the sanctimonious vegan