What is it about converts?

They always seem much more belligerent than believers who grew up “naturally” within a faith. Of course they have made the choice to embrace a way of life, and hence probably have a lot more riding on “success” in their new found faith. Two examples spring to mind today, Michael Nazir-Ali, who Dave Osler has an interesting post on, and Gina Khan’s experiences on a train:

I was on a train to London last week, when a mixed race teenager, who couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19 years old, sat on the seat behind me. Throughout the whole journey this young convert was reciting the Quran from a book, in a low tone but nevertheless in the quiet zone he could be heard.

After thirty minutes I was annoyed, I watched how others tolerated his behaviour but I had had enough. I’m a Muslim too and never have I seen or experienced South Asian Muslims here or in Pakistan carry the Quran around and recite the Quran in the public arena. He was oblivious to everyone else until I interrupted him and asked him to read quietly just as I was reading a book silently; I pointed out the quiet zone sign, saying he should have respect for other passengers. I was angry but calm.

He did listen but I knew he disliked me for interrupting him, he had no respect for people like me who needed a nap and chose to sit in the quiet zone. ”Read as loud as you like when you get home son, but right now you are making people uncomfortable”.

Being a Muslim I know that this sort of obsession isn’t necessary. It’s not even about being a secular Muslim: the majority have always kept their religion at home or within mosques, but now converts are emerging who are taught to make a public display of their religion. There is a time and place for everything, even the Quran states that. The word is ‘duniyadari’ meaning that ‘worldly affairs’ must continue normally. Most Muslims recite a page or two first thing in the morning after morning prayers…then worldly affairs continue and how you conduct yourself as a citizen on a daily basis is just as important.

Ed Husain notes a similar convertitis, although noting that other converts do relax and find peace and dignity (even on Big Brother!).

In the case of extremist interpretations of Islam, the case could be made that even Muslims who move into this area are converts. Certainly, they are indoctrinated with the view that other Muslims are not living up to the standards they set within their vanguard. Converts seem overly represented in terrorist activities, outside of the Middle East. Perhaps some of them are more intellectually susceptible to being preyed upon by extremists. Others do not have the religious background or contacts in mainstream Islam to counter such views effectively. I suspect others may find it terribly exciting to be considered so important.