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Am I a Convert or a Revert?

I used to want to be called a ‘revert’ not a ‘convert’ to Islam, but stop the press, it is at last conclusive, I am actually a convert. I think the reasoning on this minor issue of semantics is probably widespread; I am unaware of another genuine argument beyond the one I am about to mention albeit weakly. Our beloved Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) told us in more than one hadīth about the fitrah that each person is born upon. One version goes, ‘Every child is born in a state of fitrah, and then his parents make him into a Jew, a Christian or a Magian.’[1] The word fitrah can be translated as ‘natural disposition’ or ‘natural instinct’; upon this understanding one can take fitrah to be in some sense a kind of innate characteristic. The concept has frequently been illustrated by posing the question, ‘When in dire need, upon whom do we call for help?’ the answer to which we want to assume is ‘God.’ Whilst this would appear suggestive, it should not be taken as any sort of real argument or proof until we confront something that is grounded in infallibility, something that is not anecdotal but vouchsafed from our more fallible subjectivities: the words of Allāh. He says,

So set you (O Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)) your face towards the religion hanīfa (of pure monotheism) Allāh’s fitrah (Allāh’s Islamic monotheism) with which He has created mankind. No change let there be in the religion/ laws of Allāh, that is the straight religion, but most of men know not.[2]

Fitrah here means the Islamic conception of monotheism. It is important to understand in what this fitrah consists and whether we can really be ‘going back’ to such a state as the idea of reversion would indicate (I am putting aside the additional notion that fitrah indicates ‘an inclination to correct action’ for the time being). The fitrah in this case would seem to me to be referring to the condition that all humans attested to when we were extracted from the loins of our father Ādam (ʿalayhi al-Salām) a moment when we acknowledged Allāh’s tawhīd, His utter uniqueness in lordship, perfection, omnipotence and so on,

And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Ādam, from their loins, their seed (or from Ādam’s loin his offspring) and made them testify as to themselves (saying): ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes! We testify,’ lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘Verily, we have been unaware of this.’[3]

That the fitrah is specifically ‘Islām’, meaning the conception of true monotheism writ large, is further illustrated in the hadīth mentioned at the outset: by the very exclusion of the notion of maintaining a pristine fitrah because of what a parent can change a child into, i.e., a Jew, Christian or Magian, (or collectively, unbelievers of any hue), there is a tacit statement that the fitrah is Islām and that it requires cultivation if it is not to be blemished or altered entirely, whilst indicating that it will always undergo some level of change.

Would it be fair to say then that without any external influences, we might call it a ‘state of nature’, that a child would grow up as a Muslim? In a sense yes, that is, they could conceivably (and most probably) believe in a god of sorts but even if it were the conception of Allāh they would not practice anything of the religion of Islām. But that is what it means to be Muslim, submitting to Allāh through the practice of Islam; it is more than just a belief or commitment without exigencies or contingencies. Being Muslim is not a natural disposition requiring no action whether of the heart, mind or the body. If it were, then we could allow that every child born into a Muslim family as long as they do not convert to another religion, and regardless of their other behaviours and actions, will die as a Muslim guaranteed, and this is a guarantee that involves complete success in the Hereafter. However, this is clearly not Islām and this is not what it means to be Muslim. So what exactly are we supposed to be reverting to?

In the English language the idea of reverting is similar to regression and as such is somewhat negative; it would seem to imply going back to something less than one’s present state. This is not absolute of course, it is merely an impression of the words and their meanings; that impression involves a diminishing, a decrease, a type of default reset and it does not truly refer to the kind of ‘return’ that I think people are trying to indicate when they say they are a ‘revert.’ The additional notion of fitrah indicating ‘an inclination to correct action’, would also be affected negatively if we were to ‘revert’ to it; the same idea of ‘diminishing’ would make correct action as something less than incorrect action when clearly the opposite is the case.

Islām is full of action, consciousness, awareness and intent; childhood is one of unconsciousness, it is one of absorbing those teachings that surround us without any true questioning. It is a kind of purity but not one that can be praised greatly only yearned for abstractly; it has not stood in defiance of impurity, sin or transgression and held its ground without taint. It is innocent, but its innocence is not judged and it cannot be judged for it is innocent by definition and not in the face of real life.

On one level we ‘converts’ have gone back, back to basics and we are prone to the trials and errors of the learning process; we should recognise and embrace our naivety even though it is not without danger or baggage. But this is the case of a Muslims life in toto: life is a learning experience, a struggle in intending and acting in accordance to the requirements of the religion and in attempting to achieve a higher rank while avoiding a lower one. It should happen every day anew. We should not passively submit in Islām, we submit in the face of fear and hope and love and trembling, we submit in awe of our Creator for we realise there is nothing more that we can do; it is precisely the attempt to act and its absurdity that forces us to submit; it is given that even our will and our efforts come from Him and they are useless against Him, and it is this impossibility of doing otherwise that we must submit to Him alone. It is a compulsion we choose through seeking and realising who Allāh is, it is a fight whose end must be surrender and one must never surrender without a fight. It is just that as Muslims we do it in this world whereas the whole of Creation will be compelled to submission on the Day of Judgement, that longest day, that excruciating wait with our static terror filled eyes, too late then when the scroll’s ink has long since dried.

I am a convert. I changed actively and consciously, weighing up ‘pros’ and ‘cons’; I sought truthful answers to questions I had about life and its numerous facets and their meanings. Islām answered more cogently than anything else I had occasion to study, and even then there were some areas I found difficult to reconcile and still do. But, on balance, Islām became necessary for me, it became so compelling that to do anything else would have been unreasonable, in fact it would have been absurd, unnatural even!

So I am a convert not a revert. I have not regressed to some lesser state, but been blessed with elevation to that which is higher and that which is purer. I did it upon a light from Allāh and could not have achieved it by myself. But nor could I have a achieved it by some form of deep introspection, finding within the dark recesses of myself the answer to life’s questions lurking, skulking, as if in some drawer in my mind holding the notion of Islam and which could be slid open and its contents examined. No. Islām is natural, it does fit the human disposition, but it also requires that the human open the doors and windows in the heart and mind through which the light of guidance may shine and through which the actions of belief may walk manifestly onto the tongue and the limbs. It is not something that flows out of my essence: guidance is from Allāh not from me, it is learned and repeated, it is not sucked from my very marrow, it is not something flowing in my blood. Make no mistake, I converted my life to the life of Islām, not the life of an unconscious child; I choose to act by what I believe to be proven decrees, not from some animalistic urge to feed or sleep or anything else; it is a battle to be fought and hopefully won every day; ebbing and flowing, increasing and decreasing, not one of plain inert existence, without direction, without thought, without meaning – no, for me at least it has become meaning itself; it is the measure of me and I am not the measure of it.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Agreed upon

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 30:30

[3] Al-Qur’ān, 7: 172

About Kyle Abdur-Raqeeb MacPhail

5 comments

  1. Well. Good articles. May ALLAH mercy on you and bless you. Whether you are a convert or a revert finally you found your life’s purpose. That’s enough.

  2. Interesting but incorrect. I have noticed time and again that ‘new muslims’ have issue with the term ‘revert’. I do not understand why as ‘reverting’ does not invariably mean regressing to a lesser state. It depends entirely upon the context in which the word is used. Therein lies the problem as I believe people are conflating the positive and negative connotations of the word ‘revert’. For example, if someone is reverting back to their old habits of laziness and eating too much junk food, etc then yes it does have a negative implication.

    However, in this context ‘reverting’ means going back to a clean slate by shedding all other flawed concepts/philosophies a person has picked up in his/her life. Another way to describe it is wiping your hard drive clean and reinstalling the previously good version of your operating system if the latest Windows 10 updates transpires to have errors or be incompatible with your gpu drivers. As a pc builder and enthusiast, I often find myself ‘reverting’ to the previous stable graphics drivers if the current Beta updates causes BSOD or other corruptions.

    Also, once a year I undertake a purgative diet given to me by hakeem to purge my system of all toxins and inflammatory mediators my body has accumulated over the past 12 months for whatever reason. By purging/detoxing my system, I am ‘reverting’ back to a natural, clean slate.

    In a similar way, people who are embracing Islam are ‘reverting’ back to the last spiritual ‘clean slate’ they were in (ie – as a neonate) before they became an atheist or some form of idolator. Yes it is true that they (ie – reverts, neonates and young children) do not innately know how to read Quran and pray and that it has to be taught to them BUT this is a natural progression as they are building the concept of deen on an already ‘clean slate’.

    The clean slate is akin to a freshly constructed (and not dilapidated!) foundation for a new house. Erecting the walls and roof for the house is akin to teaching the ‘new muslim’ how to read Quran, pray, etc.

    In my opinion, you are spiritually purging yourself of all false philosophies you have picked up during your life and reverting back to your last known ‘spiritual clean slate’. You also cannot ‘convert’ atheism or any form of idolatory to monotheism (ie – Islam).

  3. as-salaamu ‘alaikum and jazakAllah khair for your article.

    There’s a flaw in your thinking, you forget that there’s an entity called shaytaan (satan) which whispers to us and our parents and thus corrupts our soul. We are indeed born in a natural state, with a pure, clean soul, and if we were left to ourselves (without outside influence and without satan), we would surely worship Allah alone without partners – the proof of this is within our beloved Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wassallam) and Ibrahim (alayhis salaam) and even Abu Bakr as-siddiq.

    Their stories are some-what similar, prior to the revelation to the Prophets, and since Allah protected our Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wassallam) from the shaytaan since birth, he always believed in One God and knew that He should be worshipped. And thus the reason he (sallallahu ‘alayhi wassallam) sought refuge in the cave, worshipping Allah in his own manner prior to revelation.

    Similarly Abu Bakr, Allah had protected him, and he always believe in Allah and the previous messengers and shunned the idols his father introduced to him – his story is similar to Ibrahim (alayhis salaam). And he spent much of his time seeking the truth and being curious of various beliefs.

    Another evidence is of the 4 “hunafa” whom Allah had protected to some degree from shaytaan, and they shunned idol worship and the pagan jahiliya society in which they were born – they were sort of outcasts as they didn’t just follow the herd. And they spent the rest of their life looking for the truth, until they all died just before our Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wassallam was chosen by Allah as the final Messenger. (I think the grandfather of Khadija(ra) was one of those hunafa who was waiting for another Prophet from Allah).

    The other thing I wanted to mention, I’m not sure if there’s some sort of competition between Islam21c editors, but I don’t understand why you guys write articles with such difficult grammar for the average person to comprehend?
    If you write simple, short articles, it would appeal to a greater audience – just like BBC’s news articles.

    You may also want to take a look at this:
    The Plain English campaign
    http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
    (the crystal mark you sometimes see of documents).

    Peace.

  4. Professor Ahsan

    For the converts to Islam, I recommend that they study the universal values of Islam as depicted in the Qur’an. All the (real) faithful of the world are invited to study the pure faith in the Qur’an and not just Muslims. However, too much politics today has created much confusion and that deprives the sincere faithful of all the religions to reach the purest mine of faith.It is a dilemma that requires the intelligentsia of the world to work together. Salaam and congratulations on reaching the Faith.

  5. Good article. On the point of you still have issues with somr aspects of Islam…. the only day when you will have completely submitted is when you will be able to say سمعنا و أطعنا without any issues pertaining to this religion. Allaah sent it down and this life is all about fully submitting to Him and Him alone.

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