Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you
I have written this article for several reasons. My hope is that it will be used as an educational tool for those who are interested in learning about Islam as well as for Muslims who doubt or hold skepticism towards White converts who marry ‘brown’ women.
Soon it will be my wife and I’s two-year anniversary. She is from Indonesia and was born into a Muslim family. She had a similar childhood as other ‘natural’ born Muslims. Attending Islamic school, learning to read Quran, and pressure from her family to marry someone of the same ethnicity, culture, and religion. What I am going to speak about comes from my own experience. I do not wish to pass judgment or make generalizing statements.
My wife and I first met each other over the internet, Facebook to be more specific. One day, I had been checking my news-feed and her picture (profile) was one of the possible mutual friends that I could connect with. During this time, my intention was to travel to South East Asia. In the beginning, our conversations were basic. We talked about the weather, differences between Indonesia and America, as well as family. After a couple of months we had grown close and I made the choice to travel to Indonesia. It was during this time that I would be introduced to skepticism coming from other Muslims.
Previously, I never had been questioned about my conversion (whether it was real or not). A very close friend of mine named Muhammad (a Somali brother) brought me to a masjid (mosque) while we were studying in South Africa and I converted to Islam on the spot. He gave me his copy of the Quran and after learning about the true teaching of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and who Allah (s.w.t) was, I knew it was the right choice. When I returned back to the United States, those who I were associated with which were Africans and Arabs embraced me. No one asked me if I was a ‘real’ Muslim or if I did it because I wanted to marry a Muslim girl.
My mother-in-law believed that Americans couldn’t be Muslim and/or we weren’t interested in Islam. This wasn’t out of ignorance, intelligence, or intellect. Rather she just wasn’t as educated as others about the United States or American history. In fact the United States has had a very long and prosperous relationship with Islam which dates back before Columbus.
While my mother-in-law was skeptical about my conversion, my wife’s uncle was not. I remember embracing him (Om Pit) for the first time. The warmth, the happiness I felt as we hugged and talked about life and why I wanted to marry his niece. He was kind and sincere. Convincing Lili on the other-hand that I was Muslim, was a completely different story. She wanted to know why I became Muslim, when, where, and who was around. To be honest, none of that was important to be besides for the seconds in which I repeated the Shahada (testimony of faith);
lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh, muḥammadur-rasūlu-llāh
There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.
My reply to Lili was simple, I am Muslim. Allah is my witness. In my heart, I knew the truth and I kept feeling like no matter what I did or said it would never be enough. After we performed the marriage ceremony in the mosque, I thought the skepticism from those who questioned my sincerity would go away but I was wrong. My wife had told me that if I wanted us to be legally married we had to go to the KUA (Government Marriage Department) and complete the marriage ceremony again. In my mind, I thought we were already married. I was told that I would have to take the Shahada once more and prove to the KUA I was Muslim. The day I took Shahada for a second time at the KUA saddened me. Not physically but mentally and spiritually. Not only were Muslims around me doubting my sincerity but those who had the power to approve or deny our marriage license believed I was ‘faking’.
We had gone back and forth from the KUA to Om Pit’s home. After a couple of weeks we finally finished all the paperwork and received our marriage license. While my in-laws were split between (was his conversion real) my own family back in America doubted me for separate reasons. They believed I only became Muslim to be accepted by others (Africans and Arabs) and told me I would never be accepted. In a way they were right, no matter what I do or say, some will never believe that I am Muslim. My wife who always is asked by her own countrymen who she married, and when she says an American, their response is the same. You married a non-Muslim?
First, just because you are born into a Muslim family doesn’t mean you are ‘Muslim’. What makes you a Muslim is when you are old enough to understand and comprehend the qualities of Allah. Whether you accept or deny these facts either affirms or denies your religious affiliation. I know many Arabs who were born into ‘Muslim’ families but they themselves are racist, drink alcohol, smoke weed, and have multiple sex partners. On the opposite side of the spectrum are Americans who converted to Islam and read the Quran on a daily basis, never miss a prayer, as well as fast and don’t cheat.
I understand why some people might be hesitant towards believing that Americans convert to Islam ‘sincerely’. My own background is full of drugs, alcohol, guns, and family abuse. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have heard just leave those things behind you. Move on and stop thinking about the past. Accepting Islam takes conviction and strength. The fact is that when you become Muslim, your background does not disappear. Rather it stays with you everywhere you go. While I may know it is forbidden for me to drink, smoke, and/or listen to music (debatable); simply not doing those things is harder than it sounds.
In countries that are predominately Muslim, so called ‘born’ Muslims do things that are not allowed such as chewing qat/kat (hallucinogenic found in Somalia and Yemen), cigarettes (Indonesia), half-naked belly dancers (Egypt), and many other countries I could list off as committing haraam (forbidden) actions. Pointing out a convert’s flaws does not make him a ‘fake’ Muslim. I admit that I was a smoker in the past. My father gave me my first alcoholic beverage and cigarette when I was 9 years old. He also was a raging alcoholic. What makes a Muslim sincere is his or her understanding of what vices they need to work on and the compassion they have towards others.
These reasons are just the few that I take into account when I hear skepticism in other people’s voices. Whether someone believes me or what my wife tells them is another story. I hope that this article helps readers understand the stress that converts are under as well as the pressure Muslim women face when they marry converts.
Until next time, peace