Abu Sinan has recently started a conversation about the treatment of white Muslim converts in the Muslim community in the United States. He argues, correctly, that white converts often do not have an easy time finding a home within the Muslim community upon entering the deen. They enter the deen with the sincerity and vigor of a new convert and then quickly find out that a lot of Muslims are just lousy and that many may not be able to culturally relate to them and others may just look at them with suspicion.
There are stereotypes out there about the white Muslim convert; there is the stereotype being circulated by the yuppie Muslim crowd over at Muslim Wake-Up that white men come to Islam because they want to become the “other” and to reject their historical white privilege in society and be looked upon with suspicion and that men and women come to the deen because they are marrying Muslims. Both of these neglect the fact that many, if not most, white Muslims come to the deen after long spiritual and theological journeys that leads them to believe that Islam is the truth. Those who have suspicions of the motives of white Muslims, particularly the Muslims (or those who were born to Muslim parents who may or may not be Muslims), are in reality saying that Islam is an inferior deen to Christianity, Judaism and secular humanism and that for any white westerner to reject those faiths for Islam somehow has some sort of mental or spiritual deficiency.
To be sure white Muslims enter the deen and do not have a group to immediately gravitate to like African-American Muslims do and the Muslim immigrant groups. Most of these white converts come from backgrounds were they may have not had a lot of experience in dealing with non-whites and if they did it was on their own terms and they come from an American mindset and mentality about how to live their lives which is alien to a lot of existing Muslims. The younger generation of white Muslims also has some of the characteristics of their generation, good and bad, like being more open to other cultures and races and studious while possibly coming form households and schools that didn’t believe in discipline which helped to create sarcastic brats who have never been told no. Myself I didn’t really have many of those problems since I grew-up estranged from the white community more or less and didn’t have any white friends when I entered Islam (or prior to that), the only white friends I were to get in my life were white Muslims like Ismail Royer, Suhaib Webb, Tim Kaminski and others for many years to come. I was used to being the minority amongst African-Americans so it was no big deal for me, in fact it was a real treat, for me to enter a community with so much ethnic and cultural diversity and I never had any problem making friends with Arabs, Indo-Pakistanis, Malaysians, Somalis, Turks and others. At times there are cultural things that I just don’t get, or think is nuts, but I don’t dwell on those things and would rather concentrate on what we have in common.
It is my belief that white Muslims are not seeking to become “the other” when they enter Islam but because of religious conviction, like the Sahabah before us and many others, we forfeit our white privilege for the sake of Allah. You cannot be a Muslim, and definitely not a sincere Muslim, and be fully accepted at the table of white America. Those on the right will look at you as some sort of white nigger or anti-American wanna-be terrorist (no matter how many statements you make to placate them) and those on the left will look at you as backwards, misogynistic, homophobic and unenlightened mortals.
When you enter Islam you become a minority within the Muslim community as a white Muslim. So who does the white Muslim gravitate towards? As the faith in Islam and the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of His Messenger Muhammad (sas) is the commonality between all Muslims then the white Muslim should, and does, gravitate towards those who are sincere in the deen. The Sunnah is full of examples of the importance of Muslims socializing with one another and Islam is a communal faith and therefore interacting with the believers not only increases your faith but it helps you learn more about the deen and how it is practiced (but you have to be careful who you are around because you can pick-up some bad things as well).
The white Muslim is often exploited by those in the community who cannot wait to put that white face in front of the cameras or in some key position at the Masjid. They particularly go for the clean-shaven white man with an America –sounding name or a white women with long blonde hair named Suzy who can represent the community; but may not even know al-Fatihah. Many Masjids are made-up of and ran by immigrant Muslims who have inferiority complexes to whites many who have relationships with the white West going back to colonialism. The white female convert is often pursued with the vigor of a government contract from Halliburton. Sisters will get inundated with dozens of wedding proposals within months of becoming Muslim and the community often does not do a good job in protecting these sisters from unscrupulous characters taking advantage of their naiveté.
Other times the white Muslim is looked upon with suspicion at the Masjid and in the community, particularly from my experience in Arab circles. There exists a large-segment of the Muslim community who are obsessed with Jews and the CIA and think that if you are white and want to be around people as stupid as they are that you must be some sort of spy. Of course this is a laughable; the American Muslim, white and black, has made hijrah to Islam and the Muslim-immigrant has made hijrah to a land of non-Muslims. More than anything in the word most of these immigrant Muslims want to stay in the US to make this good money, and while they may have some anti-American rhetoric or complain a lot, most will do anything for anybody to stay in America and if anyone should be looked at with suspicion it should be them and not the white Muslim who has an American passport and citizenship and cant be threatened with being sent to the gulags of Hosni Mubarak or Bashar al-Asad.
There is another type of white Muslim I run into frequently who is the butt of jokes because they are overzealous and fanatical in their approach to the deen. They end up running to the desert to study with Sufi sheikhs, or to the mountains of Yemen to study with Salafi scholars, or whatever and then come back to the US and are almost too much to bare. The mutawwa of Saudi Arabia is their model I guess and they come to the Masjid and chastise all for being in error in a zealous manner, which may or may not be true but there is a certain etiquette to maintain, and are looked at by those who remembered them coming to the Masjid when they were not even Muslim and dint even know how to make wudhu with humor. In my opinion we should be easy on these Muslims who are young and immature in the deen because at least they are making a sincere effort to seek knowledge of the deen.
You also have the experience where the new Muslims of all colors are heavily recruited by all in the Muslim community. At one point or another I was approached by the Jamat at-Tablique (repeatedly), Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Sufi groups, Shia, al-Ikwaan, and anything else you can think of. Alhamduduilah for me that I was blessed to have great teachers like Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Basheer and Sheikh Ali al-Timimi (please make duah for him) and inspirers like Imam Siraj Wahaj.
The new white Muslim that I am seeing and hearing about more and more often is the so-called “progressive” and “reformed” minded Muslim. These are white Muslims who are educated and more often than not come from middle to upper-class backgrounds who wish to be Muslim, or have some connection to the deen, without changing their yuppie lifestyles. They seek an Islam that is compatible with the coffee-shop crowd and the sidewalk sandwich-eaters. For them they want the endorsement of the Muslim community and the likes of Woody Allen (the child molester). Practices and beliefs within Islam that prohibit them from fully integrating into this secular urban and affluent lifestyle they wish to pursue are disregarded or refuted. The Quran and Sunnah no longer has authority over their lives; rather authority is given to academia, Western philosophers, pop culture, humanism and in general everything un-Islamic. In this pursuit of a reformed Islam they find allies in those second and third generation immigrant Muslims who were born to parents with inferiority-complexes and were sent to the best American schools and surrounded by white students their entire lives and were always made to feel like the “other” even if they bent over backwards and desperately sought the acceptance of their peers. More than anything, more than wanting to be a Muslim, they want to be accepted as equals amongst the latte and tofu crowd in Manhattan, Georgetown, Cambridge, Hyde Park, South Beach, Hollywood and the like. They are gravitating towards secular America, a secular America that is extremely hostile towards all religion and people of faith, and there is no place for sincere religious practice in these circles.
Like the Reformed and Conservative Jews before them these progressive Muslims (white or not) seek to maintain the name Muslim; without actually believing in the religion or adhering to its principals. Islam is based on the belief in the Kalima and not based on what your name is or where your parents came from. In Judaism if you are born to a Jewish woman you are Jew; there is no equivalency in Islam. If you do not believe in the deen you are not a Muslim. There is no such thing as a “secular Muslim” and the like. I should also point out that much of this progressive movement has come out of a fearful reaction to the wrath of white America after 9-11. Muslims couldn’t wait to jump up and proclaim their peacefulness after 9-11 and while those who took the arguments of the right and became Muslim neo-cons and the like those who felt the stinging critique of the secular-left towards Islam couldn’t stand being out of the fold and sought to create a movement to immunize themselves from the scorn of the cultural-elite. It is also interesting to note, on a historical note, that Reformed and Conservative Judaism are in crisis as that movement has led to a mass exodus from the Judaic faith and Reformed and Conservative synagogues are now seeking ways to become more orthodox in their approach. The same can be said of Christianity; where liberal mainline-protestant denominations continue to see a decline in their memberships while Evangelical churches are rapidly growing. A faith based on no faith cannot succeed.
All of these problems and obstacles haven’t stopped many white Muslims in this country from achieving excellence in the community.
You have scholarly white Muslims who have excelled in the learning of the deen like Suhaib Webb, Salim Morgan, Musa Richardson, and Hamza Yusuf. The Islamic University of Median and Um al-Qurra in Mecca have dozens of white Muslim students at this time as did the schools of Sheik al-Zindani and Sheikh Muqbal in Yemen in the nineties. Within the Muslim community in America there has been no hindrance towards these white Muslims achieving positions of leadership. Then you have those who have done very well on the activist front such as Ibrahim Hooper and Ismail Royer and sisters like Sheila Musaji (who has gone off the deep end but nonetheless she ahs a track record) and Ingrid Matson. Of course you also have the thousands of households of white-Muslims all over the US that are silent success stories every day as these Muslims strive along with their families to practice the deen in a society that is often hostile.
Islam is a universal religion for all of humanity. The Messenger of Allah (sas) was sent as a mercy to mankind as the Quran states. The Quran and the Sunnah is of equal value to all peoples of the earth. For us as white Muslims it is important that we do not let any of the negativity from within the Muslim community, deviant ideologies or pressure from non-Muslims distract us from our goal of living lives in adherence to Islam which in these days is hard for anyone.