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.’ 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.
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.’
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.
 Agreed upon
 Al-Qur’ān, 30:30
 Al-Qur’ān, 7: 172
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