Converts, music, & Ridley

Converts, music, & Ridley May 10, 2006

I’m going to take down the 2 posts on Yvonne Ridley and converts for the time being.  I’m doing so mainly because I don’t have the time to tweak them satisfactorily to respond to the feedback and my own dissatisfaction with how they come across.  (As if often the case, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in a quick post.)   Also, my comments could be misconstrued as speculation on her personally, which is not my intent.

I’m also doing so because they cover too many topics–another nasty habit of mine–which complicates things and might give the impression I’m trying to imply connections that I’m not.

I’ll try to split them up and repost them soon.

A few quick points in response to my commenters:

  • Obviously, noone’s rich individuality and complex background is captured by a label (e.g., "convert", "born Muslim"), so my use of these terms isn’t intended to reduce people to a caricature.
  • I mean no offense to Sr. Ridley, who is obviously intelligent and thoughtful.  I’m merely riffing on parallels that I perceive, perhaps mistakenly, between her discourse and certain patterns one sees among certain kinds of converts.
  • Converts have it pretty good in the community.  Sure, there’s irritating patronizing stuff ("Let me show you how to make wudu correctly!") and the occasional unfair stereotype, but by and large you guys get pretty reverent treatment.  So it’s not like there’s this problem with sniping at converts that I’m contributing to (not that I’m sniping in the first place).
  • One can discuss general patterns of behavior and experience in a group without implying that said patterns apply to all or even most of its members.  If patterns exist you talk about them openly and fully aware that there are many exceptions (or that perhaps this pattern is the exception). 
  • In my parlance, a convert eventually ceases to be a "convert".  Some differences vis-a-vis "born Muslims" might remain due to different life experiences, but the distinction becomes increasingly irrelevant with time.
  • I think it’s obvious that there are common phases of development for converts.  That doesn’t make them any less individuals with unique experiences or perspectives, and there may well be exceptions, but the broader patterns are clearly there and, therefore, it’s not demeaning to discuss this phenomenon openly.
  • Given that recent converts are by definition in transition, 1) observations about them as a group generally apply to specific individuals for only a limited amount of time and 2) meaningful comparisons soon become impossible.  Thus, Hamza Yusuf, Yusuf Estes, Siraj Wahhaj, and Jeffrey Lang may have once gone through similiar experiences/phases, but generalizations about them based merely on the fact that they weren’t raised as Muslims would be pointless and silly.
  • Converts are no less or no more affected by the laws of human psychology than the rest of us.  The fact that they’ve embraced Islam doesn’t automatically make them immune to the anxieties and hangups the rest of us deal with.  Inevitably, those factors will manifest themselves differently given their different experiences.

re: music

  • I do have major issues with the music ban, partly because I think it illustrates how inconsistent we often are in dealing with the arts (we look the other way with images but get all strict on music) but also because I think it ignores historical context (music had highly different associations in the Prophet’s time). 
  • It ignores the many different kinds of music (e.g., Bach vs. Black Sabbath) and kinds of musical experiences (e.g., hearing it in an elevator vs. listening to it during worship).
  • The ban ignores the good music does (i.e., the peace, happiness and increased productivity it brings many, myself included).
  • We live in an incredibly different intellectual and cultural environment from the early Muslims.  In those times, the arts were often exclusively dedicated to religious rituals, which gives them radically different psychologial and social associations.  We don’t live in a sensorily understimulated world where any statue or drawing is assumed to be an object of worship.  (Does your son worship that X-Wing fighter that’s hanging from the ceiling in or that poster of Michael Jordan hanging on the wall of his room?)

    Today, music’s primary association is not with religious ritual or debauchery (though there is admittedly a lot of it in some cases), so it means something different in our day and must be treated as such.

  • Obviously, music can be abused, but what can’t?  It’s a question of context.  I don’t think banning music solves any of those problems.

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