The White Muslim

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.

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21 thoughts on “The White Muslim

  1. I feel like I have to stand up for secular people after reading your post. We aren’t all “anti-religion.” I do not follow any particular religion but I like to study different religions. I also take issue with your statement, or implication rather, that evangelical Christians are somehow more Christian than “mainline” Protestant churches. Many evangelical Christian groups have drifted far away from Christ’s teachings about tolerance, not casting stones, loving thy neighbor, etc. (Actually Christian churches in general have drifted away from many of Christ’s teachings, such as his belief that prayer should be done in private rather than in front of others, and that it is the next world that is really important, not this one).

  2. Good stuff here. I dont think I can add anything. You said it all.

    I had to laugh about some of the comments because they are so true, like the Arab/South Asian and other brothers lining up to marry newly converted white sisters. Sometimes they dont know better and get fooled into being nothing more than someone to get a green card from. I have seen that.

    I cannot say that us white brothers have the Arabs and South Asians beating down our door to marry their sisters and daughters however. It is a cultural issue.

    Two local Imams had issues with their daughters because they wanted to marry converts. A bit hypocritical I think.

    I guess I fit into your comments about coming from no experience with none whites. I didnt, and became racist like much of white America because of it. Alhamdulillah, I have changed.

    But at the end of the day I cannot change myself that much, nor what I like. Good thing is that I do not feel that I have to. I like to camp, hunt and fish. Not a past time most Muslims share. I also show up to the mosque in my pick up truck, the only one I have ever seen at a mosque. All of this is fine. Islam is a HUGE tent and we can all fit under it.

  3. Hey brother,
    Nice article. How do i contact you? Tried calling your cell. Where are you?! Call me. I’m back from India!!!!

    Faeez

  4. I like the community, but don’t consider it a nessecity. Sometimes, I even consider it a hinderance.

    I’m pretty liberal in some respects, pretty conservative in others. I don’t see Islam as either, since those are artificial human definitions of morality that don’t realy mean much. I’m pro-religion, but against the main thrust of the new Christian Evangelical upsurge, which seems motivated by a real hatred for other religions and cultures, particularly Islam. It also signifies one thing I despise about working class white people, which is that we’re often willing to vote in blocks for officials who are obviously gonna neck-boot us, because they’re good at talking about “God” and “Values”.

    Anyway, I don’t have any real desire to fit in, but that works both ways. I don’t need American society’s approval, but I don’t really need the approval of the Ummah as a whole either. One Sufi Shayk( a very conservative guy, incidently) described Islam as being a “Self-Chosen Life Pattern”, as opposed to an organized religion, and that’s mainly how I think of it.

  5. Asalaamu alaikum. Thanks for the interesting post Umar. In all fairness, I have to say that this is pretty much the experience of all converts, not just white ones. It is true that African Americans have more converts to blend in with and feel a better sense of community. But for the other groups, like Native American, Hispanic, etc. it is basically the same as it is for whites. Except that for some reason, when you are a white convert (which I am not, but being half-Irish I pass for), some Muslims like to say that you can’t really be Muslim and don’t understand Islam. Which is too bad, because that’s just not true. My brother also passes for white (don’t know why the Irish stands out so much for than the Native) and whenever he says something of intelligence or going back to the Sunnah, everyone else says “White boy, you don’t know anything so shut up”. My first week being Muslim I almost beat a brother up for disrespecting my brother that way, LOL. And I got called a “Miss Anne”.

  6. BTW, I meant to cover the marriage issue in my last post on my blog but got sidetracked. InshaAllah I’ll get that one up soon, ‘cuz I sure got a lot to say about how the community is is such a rush to marry us all off, but none of them want to be the one who marries us, LOL. And how many times I’ve heard that a sister should get married right away so her husband can teach her how to pray, instead of sisters in the community just teaching her!

  7. aaminah I’m not familiar with anyone saying you cant really be Muslim and e white or have knowledge; you must be around some real ignorant Muslims and that has not been my experience.

    Abu Sinan you are right because these brothers are in a hurry to marry the white sisters, even the ones who aren’t so hot, but they wanna have a heart attack when you talk about marrying one of their women

    Elizabeth
    I take your points into consideration

    Faez
    Call me again

    DA
    The Sunnah is to be with the Jamaah. No sheikh can declare otherwise as the seal on prophethood has already been made.

  8. Yes, but that Sunnah was established during the best generation of Muslims, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) called the Sahaba. Can you honestly look at what’s left of the Ummah now and say they fit the same bill? I honestly, in many cities I’ve been to, find that barely any of them act Islamically at all, and their attitudes towards others can be pretty detrimental. I won’t go so far as to call them unbelievers, but I will say that we should not always be willing to associate with those who claim to be Muslims. What if the last Muslims on earth were Al Queada and you? Would you feel the need to do Jummah with them?

  9. Salaamat Umar,
    I have taken some exception to this post…especially the part categorizing immigrants as money-grubbing came to the “land of non Muslims etc”.

    For one, there isn’t anywhere in the world that is “land of Islam” purely, since the whole place is a mess…and

    two, immigrants have done some awesome things in this country too..and many came cuz they had to, political repression, economic hardships, lack of basic freedoms to even subsist. There is nothing wrong with that, even Islamically.

    Sometimes, I feel that reverts have a “holier than thou” sense, and its vice versa cuz the immigrant community has its own share of issues. but its really sad that we can’t see eachother as the struggling humans we are and appreciate and compensate for each other’s strengths and weaknesses..instead of calling each other out…

    sorry, this issue is a bit personal to me.

  10. It is not a shariah sense of any place being the land of Islam. it is the mental perception that you are leaving a land of Muslims and go to a land of non-Muslims.

    I agree with you that immigrants are doing amazing things here and I am pro-immigration; nut that does mean that immigrants are infallible and without sin. I merely point out some of those shortcomings and the fact that there have been many many cases where they have cooperated with authorities in order to stay in the US.

  11. DA, no doubt you are right about that this generation is not the Sahabah. But that is why we strive to be like the earliest generations of Muslims. They had the Messenger of Allah (s) and we only have each other to give advice. The hadith says that “Islam is the religion of advice” and we should encourage and support one another.

  12. Funnily enough, I went to the Masjid for the first time in a while today. The Saudi Flag was gone. The insulting flyers were gone. Nobody looked at me askance, and every single brother was warm and welcoming. Well, there were even two other American converts, one white and one Latino guy. Masha’allah.

  13. I think all converts can relate to this. Actually, my parents converted and I am a second generation Muslim, and I still get treated as the “other” amongst immigrant Muslims.
    As an African-American, we are often treated as undesirable even in the Muslim community, a different extreme compared to whites.

  14. I stumbled on your blog while seeing what was out there under my name. In the end, a very pointless discussion and that is being very charitable. (I didn’t say “racist”.)

    The only reason skin color (i.e, pre-Islamic or extra-Islamic “cultures” of Muslims) even enters any conversation is because of our weakness in knowledge and MANY deviations in Islam.

    What determines when Islam will go “right” in America or anywhere else is simply:

    1) When we return to the true teachings of Islam as understood by the Salaf (NOT the “salafis” in most cases) and reject ALL innovation and deviation which has afflicted the Ummah, and

    2) When we get serious about our Islam, organize ourselves around it, go to our scholars (not kaafir courts) for resolution of ALL of our issues, etc. This will eliminate the “idle minds/hands” syndrome which is the real cause of so much of our differences and bickering.

  15. I cut the last part of my message:

    Yeah, it USED to be that most white Muslims gravitated to Sufism (and thus were emasculated and incapacitated as Muslims of any possible benefit to themselves or others), but they have since been far outstripped by black people and others flocking to wacky sufi cults, ESPECIALLY if they have something black in there like studying Dan Fodio or something like that.

    It is the deviation in creed that is relevant, NOT where they came from.

  16. WHY IS THAT THE REASON FOR WHITES TO CONVERT TO MUSLIM ANY DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER RACE. IT DOESN’T MAKE SINCE.YOU WANT US TO BECOME ONE RELIGION OR NATION THEN THAT MEAN WHITE, AFRICAN ISPANIC JEWS, INDIANS AND SO ON. IT IS CRAZY TO PICK ON ONE RACE BECAUSE ALL WHITES ARE BAD PEOPLE JUST LIKE ANY RACE EVERYBODY HAS A DARK SIDE OR A BAD PERSON IN THE FAMILY SO WHY IS THE WHITE MAN ANY DIFFERENT.

  17. Lets keep it real as a Afro American Muslim I have a better chance marrying a White Christain women than marrying a foreign muslim. White non Muslim men are less reluctant to give Blacks there daughters than foreign muslims. Its funny because the Arabs forgot about their mother Hagar.

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