This post on Muslimah Media Watch caught my eye, because it reminded me of one of my favourite topics – converting on paper. I think the subject is pertinent. I disagree with Yusra’s assertion that for Muslim women, marrying non-Muslims is not an issue, because, as she puts it, “Muslim women believe that their freedom lies within the teachings of Islam.” I rather view this as a minority issue – no more irrelevant than the issues the GLBT community faces when trying to carve out its own space within a particular religion. I also think that this issue will continue to grow in importance, because, crisis or no crisis, the world is progressively getting smaller. More and more people are leaving their communities, or stretching the concept of what “community” means in the first place. As their numbers continue to grow, so will the issue of “mixed” marriage.
What do I mean by the phrase “conversion on paper”? Let’s put it this way – We all know people who had to convert to a particular religion because of their prospective spouse. Whether due to religious law, family pressure, inheritance issues, etc., people convert in order to get hitched all the time. While some are sincere in their conversions, others view it purely as an issue of convenience. With Islam in particular, it’s not as if a Muslim woman (someone who isn’t very religious, for example) can simply say, “oh, I can’t marry this dude ’cause he’s a non-Muslim? Well, I guess I’ll stop being Muslim then,” because many communities actively police those who would like to officially leave the religion.
The word official is important here, because we all know that the issue of religion is actually quite elastic to begin with. I’m not just talking about Islam here either. Many people are religious only nominally, or culturally (I often see the argument that Asra Nomani is pushing for a cultural interpretation of Islam, which makes me scratch my head, because who isn’t influenced by a particular culture in one way or another?).
Conversion is often framed as something that’s “best for the children,” as in “dear God! Won’t somebody please think of the children?” but we all know that you can’t make your kids believe. You can make them culturally adherent – little Soraya put on a hijab upon puberty, how wonderful, little Boris goes to Sunday prayer every week, how special – but faith is a different subject altogether. You can lead a horse to water, et cetera.
Conversion, instead, is important because it addresses the “warm bodies” issue. It gives the impression that the religion is striving and strong, that it won’t be taken over by infidels of whatever stripe. It’s addresses a security concern.
Modernity takes its toll, but religion isn’t going out without a fight. I believe that there will be more and more “paper converts” in the future. This may be the part where you say, “of course, it’s terrible what’s happening in these modern times, but when we get society fixed up, inshallah, we will…” What? Send a weekly committee to the house of every convert to make sure they’re following whatever interpretation of Islam (or any other religion that’s an issue) you have decided is the most authentic?
We all know that you can choose who you marry (well, assuming your family doesn’t shove a prospective spouse down your throat). You don’t choose, however, whom you fall in love with. So people make whatever arrangements that are necessary. Remember that scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when the prospective groom converts to Orthodox Christianity? It’s shown as a positive moment, but it also made me wonder just what the character was supposed to believe, in the end. Probably nothing. The ceremony is what’s important. Not the faith.
In my impossible post-religious utopia, the only issue will be that of faith.