The question on the tip of most people’s tongues when they meet a Muslim who is different from themselves, is “When did you become a Muslim?” Sometimes, it turns out that the person is in fact a born Muslim, and other times it turns out that the person really is a conver/revert. It never occurred to me that this might be an offensive question, until I started reading blogs, and would read of Caucasian women becoming weary of it, along with the whole, “How did you find Islam, Susie?” routine. Then I read of African American Muslims finding the question equally offensive, and figured that I’d just never ask the question ever again. I’ve done pretty well on that front, and probably will never show any interest in anybody’s journey to Islam, because if it’s going to cause such anguish, then my curiosity is definitely out of line.
Today, my dad brought home a copy of Islamic Horizons Magazine, and the feature article is about Imam Warith Dean Muhammad, may he rest in peace ameen. Naturally, this was of interest to me, and I started reading the article entitled “An Apology,” which is one of about four feature articles related to Imaam WD Muhammad. (You can find this article on page 28 of this link.) It’s an interesting and touching read, but there were a couple of things I would dearly like to object to. Well, I’ll just stick to the one thing that relates to this post, and perhaps address the other issue some other time. This is the passage:
I am failing to understand one thing. How is the question condescending? Presumptuous, certainly…but condescending…well, I beg to differ. And here is why. From my own experience, the question is asked in the spirit of getting to know a little bit more about my fellow Muslim. If I am faced with a Muslim who is new to the deen, then I would like to know so that I’m prepared to not throw out a whole bunch of obscure Islamic terminology/data in their faces that they might not need at that moment in time. I know that it is not necessary to show them this courtesy (as they can, should, and would just ask for clarification if I got too obscure). I’ve been asked this question quite frequently myself, by both “old” Muslims and “new” Muslims, Arabs, Indians, Black, and White alike; I always figured it was because they don’t know me like I know myself, and what better way to find out than to just ask? Of course, not every question in the world needs to be asked, but this one always managed to pass my own personal Nosiness Threshold.
Perhaps its a case of excessive multiculturalism and not knowing how best to navigate these multicultural waters we find ourselves in. For those of us who wish to avoid causing offense, it’s good to know what questions/statements to avoid. For those of you who wish to avoid being offended, it might be a good idea to give the questioner who is clueless about the impact of these types of questions the benefit of the doubt, and try to feel flattered that someone is interested enough in you to ask a question that is the social equivalent of “How are you?”…which is to say, it’s more than likely merely an ice-breaker to indicate the person wants to get to know you better.
And if I’ve offended a single soul by writing this, then please do accept my sincere apologies.