It was not until I had been a Muslim for a few years that I came to know about the term “revert”.
Revert, a word used to describe someone like me, who was not born into a Muslim family, someone who came to Islam from another, or no other religion.
Calling Muslim converts “reverts” comes from the belief in Islam that all human beings are born upon a certain nature or fitra.
That basic human nature includes belief in God, His oneness, and knowing the difference between good and evil. And it is the family, their culture, and society that change the child to believe differently as they grow.
The term “revert” has been popularized in Muslim communities over the last couple decades and has been internalized by those Muslims who were not born into Muslim families.
For me, calling myself or being called a revert was not something that I was really crazy about.
Certainly, I believe that God has created us all with a basic nature, belief in God, and instinct to determine right from wrong. And the latest research has at least partially proven this belief. But I have problems with the terminology for a couple of reasons. The first of which being choice.
In order for one to revert, one must first convert to something else. And in order for one to convert, there must be a choice-a cognizant decision.
For me, and most people, there was no such conversion process. I had no choice in the matter. I was raised in the Catholic faith, practicing American culture, and was taught the beliefs that those around me held.
And for most people this is true. Our parents, culture, and society indoctrinate us into a faith, practices, culture, and beliefs that may be different than the true nature of the human being. Nowhere does the child have a choice- a crucial component to converting.
When I became an adult, with the ability to think for myself and examine the world around me, I left the faith I was raised in, and I examined the practices of my culture and the beliefs of those around me. I consider this my conversion.
I chose Islam for myself. I kept cultural practices and beliefs that suited me and did not contradict my faith and rid my life of those that I felt contradicted my nature. I did all of this once I was old enough to think critically and had the opportunity of choice.
To me, each and every person needs to make the same choice, in order to consider him/herself a Muslim, or a member of any faith.
Once an adult, it is up to each and every person to examine what they have been taught to think. Each person must think, examine, and choose for him or herself.
But the whole premise of the “revert” philosophy leads one to believe that every Muslim born into a Muslim family is left to grow up on his or her natural state or “fitra”, and will arrive in adulthood still upon that true nature of the human being. Sadly, this is not always true.
The assumption is that only non-Muslim parents make their child depart from their natural state. There are without a doubt parents who call themselves Muslims who teach their children immoral and corrupt behavior, whether they attribute it to their faith, culture, or personal belief, it makes no difference.
The child born into a Muslim family is just as easily subjected to corrupt behavior and teachings as the child born into a non-Muslim family.
The choice is up to each person as they come into maturity to continue the traditions of their upbringing without examining whether they are good and just or to truly think for themselves and find the truth in the world- the truth that God has sent to us. This applies not only to those raised as non-Muslims but also those raised in Muslim families.
The philosophy that comes with the term “revert” also leads one to believe that if a child is born as a Muslim, that he or she will automatically grow to know how to behave as a Muslim.
In order to determine whether this is true or not, we must understand what the word “Muslim” means. Muslim: one who submits his or her will to the Will of God. Belief in God’s oneness and understanding right from wrong is one thing, but submitting one’s will to that of God is another.
One can believe in the oneness of God and right and wrong, and still go about doing whatever they want. This is not a submission of one’s will to God’s will. This belief is not enough to make one a Muslim.
There is a certain amount of knowledge one must pursue in order to call him/herself Muslim, to know what the Creator’s will is. Knowing how to pray, what to give in alms, or why and how to fast during Ramadan, etc. are not things we are born knowing, and still we must know them in order to please our creator-to be Muslims.
Converting to Islam, this knowledge does not all of the sudden become apparent. Nor is it innate to the child. Knowing exactly how one is to obey his or her creator comes with knowledge. Therefore it takes more than being born and left to that innate nature to be a Muslim.
So What Does It Matter?
Terminology only matters in as far as it is applied to treatment of others.
If you call someone who was not raised as a Muslim “a revert” and treat him or her as not REALLY Muslim because he or she does not come from a Muslim family, it is not OK.
But if one calls the same Muslim “a revert” with the best intentions and treats him or her as an equal, then it is done with good intentions and is perfectly fine.