Growing up in Mexico, I had a very rudimentary understanding of religion and religious diversity. While the national census showed that about 80% of Mexicans practiced Catholicism, I was raised an atheist. My parents, born Catholics, had left religion during their teenage years for various reasons. My paternal grandfather (who was never really religious either) still likes to tell his story: His grandmother had a painting of Virgin Mary in the living room and would tell my grandpa to say a small prayer in front of it before leaving the house. My grandpa would do this daily because he had been taught that failing to follow the ritual would provoke bad things to happen to him. One day he left the house without saying the small prayer, and while he was truly scared of the consequences, he noticed nothing happened to him. No bad things, no consequences. My grandpa quotes this day as the day he stopped believing in God.
People change their religious beliefs and opinions on religion on a daily basis based on personal experiences. Upon being exposed to the religious question, I felt that it was my time to explore my relationship with the divine. The process was not straightforward, and it was deeply personal. I did not tell anyone except two friends who were present when I did my shahada, and it is something that, four years later, I still consider a very personal matter.
Before converting to Islam, I happened to stumble upon negative ideas of conversion. The first of them came from Asra Nomani, who I interviewed in 2009 for an academic paper. In a very honest and open interview about Islamic feminism and the inclusion of women in religious spaces, she asked me if I had considered conversion. When I said “yes,” her recommendation was against it. She seemed to think that I had more potential as a non-Muslim woman to develop outside the realms of organized religion. However she saw herself in the role of a “Citizen of the World,” which prevented her, in her view, from leaving Islam instead of reforming it. This interesting comment was central to the interview and the section I wrote about her work.
Nomani was not alone. In my third year of university, I was lucky enough to be a student of Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, a well-known scholar of Islamic Studies and Middle Eastern politics. Whereas Abu-Rabi was all for interfaith dialogue, he was not a supporter of religious conversion to Islam. In a public lecture, he made the point that Muslims could barely provide for themselves as a community and, therefore, they should seek to provide for themselves before recruiting and converts.
Even though I did not understand these opinions at the beginning, after a few years of being a convert I acknowledge the challenges of conversion, not only to Islam, and I am often annoyed by the ideas surrounding conversion. [Read more...]