Born Muslim?

The other day I ran into a woman I’ve known for quite a few years. I always liked her, thought she had a good head on her shoulders, was pleasant and affable, and generally someone you’d look to as a person of stability and amiability. I saw her in a setting where I would expect to see her – my office, though she wasn’t here to see me, but someone else in the office. I looked at her, then did a double take, because I was sure it was her, but there was something different. Then I realized what it was. She was wearing a head scarf and a long dress. A hijab, similar to the picture.  I walked into the room and stared,  and when I was sure it was her, I exclaimed “Helen (not her real name)  you look like a Muslim!” Open mouth, insert foot.

“I am a Muslim”, she said. I was taken aback, but lest she think I was having negative thoughts about her because of the current climate in this country concerning Muslims, I simply mumbled something  about not knowing, and my co-worker saved me, by interjecting that she just got married, and was preparing to go to her husband’s country  of origin to visit his mother, and meet the family of new in-laws. That explained things quite well, and I understood that she must have converted to her husband’s religion in order to marry him, which explained the headdress and outfit. I realized that I was  just taken aback, at first, because when I knew Helen, she was as WASPish, as white, as American, as Christian as this locality can produce, so it was odd to see her dressed this way, but I regained my usual tolerant composure, acted dumb,  and congratulated her on her recent nuptials.

I don’t mention this to denigrate her husband or her newly chosen religion (though I’ve often found it strange how people can change religions like they change underwear when it comes to love and relationships. Was their previous religion not true? ), but to discuss something else, something she mentioned that got me thinking. We talked about her new religion a little, and she mentioned that we were all born Muslims, according to what she was taught. Presumably, at some point in our lives, we chose to reject Islam, at least according to the Islamic faith. I don’t know enough about Islam, so maybe someone out there can shed some light on this point of Islamic theology.

In the process of my personal deconversion (from Roman Catholicism) I had come to the conclusion, particularly after reading David Eller’s Natural Atheism, that we are all born atheists. This is so true, to me, that it’s  self-evident. Girls don’t come down the birth canal wearing a head scarf,  or boys wearing yarmulkes. One isn’t born religious. One isn’t born anything, other than human.  Belief in a religion is something you acquire, or more correctly, you’re indoctrinated into at an early age by your parents, your family, and your culture. This is why most people born in Saudi Arabia are Muslims, and most people born in South America are Christians. Your birth place and family tends to determine what religion you will be brought up in, and more importantly, which religion you’ll most likely stick with into adulthood. As the Jesuits used to say “Give me the child before age seven and I’ll give you the man.”

So I was wondering,  after my encounter with Helen, exactly when it was that I decided I didn’t want to be a Muslim, since I had been born one. Clearly, if we are born Muslims, as their theology seems to indicate, and we find ourselves in another religion for as far back as we can remember, then at some point we must have rejected Islam.

Was it some time before age three, that period of my youth of which I have no memory, that I was confronted with the perplexing theological conundrum I now know as Islam, and rejected it? Because surely after that age of my life, I have only memories of Catholic churches, schools, nuns and priests, so I must have rejected Islam before that.

And did most, if not all of the people I know, and have known throughout my life, also reject Islam at an early age? They must have, and also have no memory of it, for I can’t remember anyone ever telling me about their life as a Muslim as I was growing up.

Or maybe Helen is mistaken? Maybe that’s what she was told in Islamic premarital Catechism classes, to make her feel better about switching religions so late in life. I can imagine that love of one’s fiance can only go so far in assuaging any doubt, that if one could convince themselves that they are not really changing religion, simply re-embracing that which they were at birth, it would make the conversion that much more palatable.

Yes, that must be it. Just another instance of religion rationalizing itself into existence.

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34 thoughts on “Born Muslim?

  1. Pingback: Daily News About Religion : A few links about Religion - Saturday, 30 May 2009 22:24

  2. Of course nobody is born with any religion! I have never yet met a religious person who claimed to be religious but to have no faith whatsoever. Faith is a form of belief, and it is self-evident that one cannot believe something one has never heard.

    Aside from that, I really think you are on to something when you said, “I don’t mention this to denigrate her husband or her newly chosen religion (though I’ve often found it strange how people can change religions like they change underwear when it comes to love and relationships. Was their previous religion not true? ).” This needs to be explored further. If religion is not really about belief but merely about belonging and acceptance, then this makes perfect sense. However, if religion is about faith, salvation, and the like, this sort of thing should be extremely rare. I think this would be a great topic for further exploration.

  3. “We’re all born Muslims”

    Methinks she must mean something along the same lines as when Christians say something like “Non-christians can go to heaven, but only through the saving power of Jesus.” Or when a Buddhist says “We all have the buddha nature.”

    According to Islam, you ARE a Muslim (albeit a bad Muslim), even if you’re Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or atheist.

  4. Everyone is born a Chiefs fan, but for some reason as some grow older, they renounce the One True Team. 😉

    So, are you gonna ask her about Sharia? How about being alone in a room with a man other than her husband? Has she started dropping to her knees and praying to Mecca several times a day? How’s that go over if pray time coincides with a meeting? Is she going to get her clit cut off, too? Oh the joy of Islam!

  5. Chiefs fan? No way, man! I bleed silver and black! And let me tell you, being a Raiders fan these days is no easy task.

  6. I have an evangelical Christian co-worker who’s dating a Jewish woman; both of them take their religious beliefs and traditions seriously. They’ve attended religious services with each other, but neither of them finds fulfillment in doing so. I don’t expect the relationship to last very long.

    As for the important stuff, Chiefs and Raiders both suck: Redskins Rule!

  7. How sad. Helen has turned into a Muslim Stepford Wife. I hope she watched the Sally Field movie “Not Without My Daughter.”

  8. Hi there…the answer lies in the word ‘muslim’ itself which means ‘one who submit’. In the Islamic context, this means as one who submits her/himself in the believe that there is only one God, an All-Knowing Omnipresent Being, Who has no partner of ever in need of partners. As opposed to atheism, Islam teaches that all humans were born in the state of ‘fitra’ or the ‘natural state’ with an inner inborn knowledge that God do exist.

    All Muslims believed that most religions in the world actually come from one divine source, all religions invite to submitting oneself to the Power of One God. As time passes, it was the humans who actually distort the true teachings of these religions, changing the Holy Books to suit them, killing prophets, fabricating false gods, creating bigotry…all in the name of God.

    Actually the idea of a Muslim Stepford Wife has no place in Islam. If you study carefully the history of world religions, you’ll find that most religions came into being at the time when a society is at its worst state. Islam came upon a group of patriarchal people who bury female infants alive, degrade their womenfolk, cheat at trade…When Islam came at that time,the position of women was elevated and women were given their due rights and freedom, ethics are established in trades and mudane transactions. Sadly today, it’s the misguided and bigoted male Muslims and some of the overzealous clerics who actually suppressed the freedom of Muslim women today. I bet you weren’t even aware that a Muslim wife under the Islamic law gets to keep all her own money and possessions, the husband cannot even touch a penny without her permission and he is obliged under the law to provide all the necessary living provisions for her and their children, and a woman actually cannot be forced to marry against her will. Before a marriage is due, there’s the ‘taklik’ or a marriage-contract that can be used by a woman to protect herself throughout the marriage or should the marriage ends up badly. Sadly, not many Muslim women are actually aware about this much to the delight of the men of course.

    By the way, most level-headed God-fearing Muslims do not subscribe to suicide-bombings or taking human lives. Suicide and taking the lives of others is actually forbidden and a big sin in Islam. If you care to dig further, you’ll find that violence has no place in Islam. Islam views both men and women as accountable for their deeds and actions in this world. No intermediaries will stand between a person and God.

    To understand a system of belief, a difference in culture and mode of thinking requires a holistic view… taking a negative one-sided shot at Islam and Muslims based on the current world political situation is totally unfair. I always believe that the Americans always think highly of themselves as level-headed, rational, just and fair, so why not take some time to study what Islam really is about from some really reliable and just scholars and sources, not from hate-mongering media and tabloids…

  9. So Islam is great, but everyone’s just doing it wrong. Well maybe you could apply yourself to remedy that and teach those “misguided and bigoted male Muslims” instead of trying to set a few atheists straight on how awesome Islam is. How’s that sound, cupcake? Right, well off with you then, and best of luck to you. 🙂

  10. as a longtime feminist atheist, i totally enjoy the atheist blogs, but reading infantilizing and dismissive terms like “cupcake” applied to another woman expressing her thoughts– even theistic thoughts i completely disagree with– is a truly disheartening experience for me.

    i’m raising this issue, not to try and take a shot at any one commenter, but because this one instance is an immediate reminder of a trend i’ve noticed quite a bit on the atheist blogs. white men do seem to be heavily represented among the online atheists, but please just try to consider different perspectives. certain types of comments ridiculing theists can also work against one’s intended purpose by alienating current and potential atheists who also happen to be white women and women and men of color.

    like i said, these are my thoughts on what i observe to be a larger trend among white male atheists in the online community and in no way intended to harsh on one commenter alone.

  11. lonelymusafir

    Thanks for that. I knew there’d be someone out there who knew more about Islam than I , and that does explain things a little better. Unfortunately, I’m really not interested in delving too deep into Islamic theology, until someone proves to me that the underlying assumption of all theology, i.e. god exists, is true. Until then, it’s a waste of time. I’m not going to waste brain cells studying a subject that assumes something it cannot prove.

    I also agree with Philly, that it’s really hard to take you at your word that Islam is a peaceful religion, when most Muslims that are held out as exemplary examples of your faith do not believe that aspect of their faith. When the wacky Ayatollahs and Ahmadinejads are stripped of their power by the “peaceful” Muslims, I’ll take your claim more seriously.

    Karen

    You make a good point. I frankly could not figure out the gender of lonelymusafir, so I couldn’t take Philly’s “cupcake” comment as sexist (infantilizing and dismissive towards a woman, in your words). It was dismissive, but not because of the gender of the writer, but because of the nature of the writer’s contentions. At least that’s how I saw it. I know you say you weren’t criticizing him specifically, and I’m not coming to his defense. He can do that quite ably. Just my observation.

    There are a lot of female atheist bloggers out there that I enjoy, admire, and respect, often more so than many male writers. There are nine of them alone in my skimpy faithfreeosphere blogroll up there (ten if you count Evo when he’s getting in touch with his feminine side) with many more not on my blogroll.

    But I appreciate your observation.

  12. spanish inquisitor, you raise a great point about the gender assumption that i absolutely made here. based upon the subject matter lonelymusafir raised, i totally assumed this commenter to be a “her” rather than a “him,” and i assumed philly’s comment to be leveled against a female rather than a male. (i still find the term cupcake super-infantilizing and dismissive, and one that is usually deployed against women, even if and when directed at a male). but anyway, this is yet another reminder to me of how sexism– like racism– is such a deeply ingrained facet of my own lived experience that even when intending to discuss my concerns about one of its forms, i’m throwing it right back out there in another form. this stuff is hard, and my own catholic religious upbringing did me no good.

    also, i know there are white female atheists and female and male atheists of color out here, respected and supported. but over the months that i’ve been perusing the blogs (i’m pretty new to blog life), i have noticed a trend of terms i find distasteful being put out there sometimes without too much reflection. reading these terms causes a physical reaction in me– a feeling of panic– probably because i have let my guard down so much (the atheist blogspace feels like such a safe space usually so i’m not expecting it.)

    i guess i just want to see a community that really thinks deeply about how to offer a welcoming place for those who aren’t represented in the majority– and the atheist majority really does seem to me to be white and male, but especially white. and i’m of the opinion that challenging religious dogma can especially difficult for white women and men and women of color.

    anyway, that’s where i’m coming from.

  13. Karen,

    Your behavior sure serves your gender and your feminist cause well by exhibiting such stereotypes as being easily offended and easily worked up into hysterics, not to mention ignorantly jumping to conclusions and attacking men. Now what I’m annoyed with is the other stereotype you’re reinforcing, and that’s the stick up their ass atheist who has to tell other atheists how they should and shouldn’t be acting. As far as “working against one’s intended purpose”, you’re quite the encouragement for the Muslims to keep women stifled and barefoot in a burka. Nice work, sugar. 😉

    Btw, I actually assumed the Muslim cupcake was a man.

  14. BTW, speaking of sexism. You don’t find my banner sexist, do you?

    I’ve had one Christian blogger, a minister, delete my comments from his blog, because my comment led back here, and he didn’t like the banner. It offended him, which I actually thought was good, because the point of the banner was to provoke.

    Actually, the point is to be in the face of Christians and make them think about how silly their beliefs are, and a naked woman on the cross seemed to me to be appropriately provocative. Not only does it violate the usual Christian taboo against nudity, it puts a woman up there on the cross in a patriarchal religion, that blames a woman for creating sin then sends a man to save us from it. Bah!

    Two birds with one stone and all that….

  15. I find your banner obscene. I also have been following you for a while, and this is not the first time you have slandered Muslims. I’m not Muslim myself, but the man I am marrying is Muslim, and he doesn’t object to my faith (as a Christian). So, here is another girl who is marrying a Muslim, but she isn’t converting.

    A lot of atheists will not only say they don’t believe in God, but then persecute those who do. You fall amongst them: solely by the image of your banner you disrespect them. If you really wanted to have an objective discussion instead of a fan club of atheists, you would respect theists beliefs as well and not have such an image prominently displayed on your blog.

    You persecute the Christians and the Muslims for being inclusive, yet commit the sin yourself.

  16. Oh, I do weep crocodile tears for you.

    Slander?

    Persecute?

    My, your beliefs must be really fragile for you to feel that criticism of a mere belief rises to such levels of anguish. It would seem to me, that if your beliefs are so true, and your god so powerful, what I say would be like water off a duck. They are just written words after all. Sticks and stones and all that…

    BTW, in order for it to be slander, it has to be false.

    And if my banner is so obscene, what are you doing back here?

    I also have been following you for a while

    I don’t make you come here. No one puts a gun to your head and forces you to read me.

    Methinks thou doth protest too much.

  17. Sounds like someone needs to look up the meaning of the word “persecute.” Criticism of one’s beliefs is hardly persecution.

  18. To chime in on the cupcake thing, I thought it just as likely that Lonelymusafair was a male as a female, so I didn’t catch it as a sexist slur. Then again, since I am a man, perhaps I am not as sensitive to such things as a female feminist, though I like to think of myself as a feminist as well. If the person PhillyChief was responding to had a name that was obviously female, I probably would have bristled at it myself.

    SI, isn’t it funny that the mere expressions of our opinions on our blogs is tantamount to persecution to these people?

  19. I find your banner obscene. I also have been following you for a while…

    I find that hilarious.

    Why on Earth should anyone have to respect the beliefs held by someone else simply because they’re being held? If the belief warrants respect, then ok, but if not, fuck if I care. And before you get all offended, ask yourself if you REALLY respect other’s beliefs. Do you respect the the beliefs of a NAMBLA member? How about those of a Klansman? Taliban? Al Quaeda? Scientologists? I bet you’re quite comfortable “persecuting” them and their beliefs (or perhaps you just follow their blogs).

    I’m thinking you like being offended and “persecuted”, don’t you? 😉

    “Cupcake” is a derogatory term from one guy to another. It’s an emasculating term. Here’s an example: I was at a bar once where some fat bouncer felt like being a tough guy and started fucking with me. Later, on our way out, I patted him on the cheek and said, “see ya later, Cupcake.”

  20. Karen:

    Do you think calling a guy “cupcake,” a word that’s often used as a term of endearment by a man to a woman, as a way to disrespect him might imply that there’s something wrong with, or inherently weak about being a woman? Or at least that there’s something better about being a man?

    As Philly said, a lot of us guys do that sort of stuff amongst ourselves, and I’m curious to hear what you think about that.

  21. BTW, Lonelymusafir, I do give credit to Muslims when it is their due. My most recent post gives props to Kuwait for electing some women to the parliament there for the first time in its history. I have praised the Muslim women’s rights group Sisters In Islam in Malaysia on a couple of my blog posts.

    But it would really be a big step up if Saudi Arabia, which is the country which has jurisdiction over Mecca and Medina, would finally allow Saudi women the right to drive to a car.

  22. Lifeguard:

    …might imply that there’s something wrong with, or inherently weak about being a woman? Or at least that there’s something better about being a man?

    I know your question was addressed to Karen, and I hope she answers, but I just want to say that you said pretty much what I refrained from saying yesterday.

  23. Chappy:

    You know, I was actually surprised that you hadn’t chimed in on that aspect of the thread yet since in the past, particularly regarding the last presidential campaign, you’ve written about gender issues getting short shrift.

    I addressed the comment to Karen since she’s the person who raised it, but, of course, I’m interested in hearing what any woman (or anybody else for that matter) might have to say about the issue.

  24. Do you think calling a guy “cupcake,” a word that’s often used as a term of endearment by a man to a woman, as a way to disrespect him might imply that there’s something wrong with, or inherently weak about being a woman? Or at least that there’s something better about being a man?

    Yes of course. It’s the same reason why homophobia directed against gay men is in fact an extension of misogyny.

    And I’ve never heard anyone referred to as cupcake as a term of endearment. Only ever to denigrate, infantilize, or write someone off. Usually in my experience directed at me, when I was a teenager and young 20-something working in the restaurant industry.

  25. And exactly how are you different from those who just post links to AiG, DI, or something comparable rather than being able to discuss things for themselves? Do you have another link which can answer that, too?

  26. Karen:

    You wrote: “And I’ve never heard anyone referred to as cupcake as a term of endearment. Only ever to denigrate, infantilize, or write someone off. Usually in my experience directed at me, when I was a teenager and young 20-something working in the restaurant industry.”

    For whatever it’s worth (perhaps not much), I have heard it used as a term of endearment, although I’ll admit I’ve also heard it used in the disrespectful, dismissive manner you’re describing. Actually, I think I already admitted that but, heck, I’ll admit it again.

    Regardless, thanks for responding. The question was lingering as I read through the thread, and I wanted to hear what you (and Chappy) thought about it. Good stuff… helps identify blind spots.

  27. Tommykey,

    ..I do give credit to Muslims when it is their due. My most recent post gives props to Kuwait for electing some women to the parliament there for the first time in its history. I have praised the Muslim women’s rights group Sisters In Islam in Malaysia on a couple of my blog posts.

    I expect that from you, because it’s in line with everything else I’ve seen from you that suggests an open mind.

    lonelymusafir,

    While nothing can satisfy the more determined haters, I appreciated your comment, and learned a few things from it. Thanks!

    Karen,

    If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend Greta’s excellent post that touches on atheists and the white male majority.

    vjack,

    If religion is not really about belief but merely about belonging and acceptance, then this makes perfect sense.

    Like anything else religion means different things to different people. Some are into it for the pursuit of truth, others are into it for the belonging and acceptance you allude to. Still others are into religion to make money and get girls. It’s just like anything else, including atheism: any one of multiple motives can influence the adherent. Not all atheists are atheists because they’re sincerely pursuing the truth at all costs. Just look around here! Some folks are atheists for reasons just as fickle as your average theist’s.

    SI,

    Like you and vjack, I disagree with Helen that we are all born Muslim, or Christian, or anything else besides “born.” Still,

    ..we are all born atheists. This is so true, to me, that it’s self-evident.

    ..which seems oddly juxtaposed against,

    One isn’t born anything, other than human.

    And you fault me for semantic games! If we say that atheism is nothing more than “lack of belief in deities,” then sure, we’re all born atheists – then again – we’re also all born apolitical, acultural and ascientific, so that’s not saying much. To an extent, I tend to agree with Pinker that quite literally, humans are born blank slates, as in agnostic, meaning without knowledge. OTOH, if by atheism we mean the rejection of theism, nobody’s born an atheist. You’ve offered an argument that hinges entirely on semantics and proves nothing.

    I realize you like to paint in broad strokes and make generalizations and all, but there is no “Christian taboo” on nudity, just as there is no “atheist taboo” on political conservatism.

    mystic_life,

    May I say politely, don’t overreact? The jokesters here aren’t persecuting anybody. OTOH,

    If you really wanted to have an objective discussion instead of a fan club of atheists, you would respect theists beliefs as well and not have such an image prominently displayed on your blog.

    Ha! Another person hitting the nail on the head. Although SI’s banner doesn’t bother me, objective discussion would be nice, but with the exception of a few thoughtful commenters, it’s typically just closed-minded theism in reverse around here – but from your comment it seems you’ve figured that out already. Don’t let ’em bother ya; theirs are just words images intended to shock and provoke.

  28. And you fault me for semantic games!

    Yes, I still do. You’re now comparing our humanity, a biological fact, with Islam, a belief system. Not sure how you can do that except semantically.

    If we say that atheism is nothing more than “lack of belief in deities,” then sure, we’re all born atheists – then again – we’re also all born apolitical, acultural and ascientific, so that’s not saying much.

    True. And? Did you notice that the post was about someone claiming we are all born Muslim? I think the juxtaposition was apt.

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