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Muslim Converts, Atheist Accommodationism, & White Privilege

White privilege exists within Islamic contexts and Muslim communities.

White converts to Islam benefit from the internalized inferiority complex present in many non-white communities.

White privilege is being able to become a deferred-to Muslim community leader because you’re assumed to be more Muslim than those born into the faith. White privilege is being lauded because you had the opportunity to choose the faith while born Muslims are not equally free to make the choice to leave.

White privilege is reinterpreting Islam well outside of the scope of established scholarship and considering it more pure and accurate because your view is divorced from its cultural contexts.

White privilege is calling the Islam of born-and-raised Muslims “cultural“, “old wives’ tales” and “grandmother Islam”, casting aspersions to its validity via misogyny and racism.

White privilege is being highly sought after as a spouse for non-white, born Muslims because of your fair complexion and “colored” eyes (because dark brown is not a color, apparently).

Converts are not the only people who benefit from white privilege in an Islamic context. White never-Muslims with an abiding interest in Islam often have experiences quite different from those who are from the Muslim community. A member of the dominant group visiting a marginalized community will be treated as someone of authority to impress, not someone to treat as one of their own.

White privilege is being able to visit Muslim communities as an openly gay person with a same-sex partner and being welcomed into them while queer Muslims and ex-Muslims continue to deal with fear, rejection, and marginalization. White privilege is using your positive experiences with Muslims to see the LGBT and Muslim communities as allies even though homophobia is present in most interpretations of Islam.

White privilege is spending time in Muslim communities as an open atheist while most ex-Muslims are unable to do the same.

White privilege is engaging in the Not All Muslims* defense, which can gloss over real problems with the treatment of LGBT and/or former Muslims within Muslim communities.

White privilege is getting praised for “experimenting” with covering your head and fasting to the praise and acclaim of all. White privilege is escaping the sorts of criticism for performing religious acts imperfectly which, had you been born a Muslim, would have certainly been levied against you. White privilege is getting to waltz breezily in and out of Islam via such “experiments”, no death threats for apostasy (perceived or actual) issued.

What it comes down to is that white privilege is having a choice when it comes to engaging with Islam, and the likelihood of a far more positive experience with it if said choice is made.

*Not all Muslims are homophobes, but responding to accounts of the widespread homophobia among Muslims with “Not all Muslims are like that!” is derailing.


  1. says

    …I’ve always had trouble finding the right way to walk the line between making a “notallMuslims” argument and defending non-white Muslims (and Sikhs) from racist attacks and some of the rhetoric which sits well in the mouths of far right skin heads AND so called the so called liberal and conservative western critics of “Islam”… It’s muddy for me. Thank you for writing about this.

  2. yazikus says

    cityzenjane, I struggle similarly. That is one (of the many) reasons I appreciate voices of ex-Muslims like Heina. I live in a very conservative rural area, where people are super scared of anything Muslim sounding, and when I see one of the (I think) two women in town who wear a hijab I always worry for them. When I was practicing orthodox, I felt a lot of solidarity with (what I thought was solidarity) Muslim women, and would have totally high-fived them for wearing their hijabs proudly. I don’t know anymore. I want to be supportive of people’s choices… but not if they are being coerced.

  3. says

    Seems to me supporting them against brutality for having the nerve to be publicly observant is not confusing – regardless of the WHY they are wearing the hijab – which you are not actually privy to…

  4. exi5tentialist says

    White privilege is engaging in the Not All Muslims defense, which can gloss over real problems with the treatment of LGBT and/or former Muslims within Muslim communities.

    And yet, there are muslims seeking to set up LGBT mosques or prayer meetings. Not all muslims are anti-LGBT. Yes I’m white.

    • says

      Yes, there are, but they are hardly anything close to a majority. I don’t deny that LGBT and LGBT-friendly Muslims exist, but I do question this narrative of many Muslims being progressive that is perpetrated by tourists who are outsiders to the realities that people born into Muslim communities face.

      • exi5tentialist says

        I understand. It’s just that if one out of a billion muslims says something different from the rest, then it’s entirely accurate to say, “Not all muslims”, at which point the religion turns into being an invention of individuals rather than a monolithic given. The only way of denying that is to sweep the dissenter aside or belittle the dissenter’s status. Therefore “Not all muslims” isn’t a defence I’d want to give up, because giving it up would portray islam as a monolith, which it isn’t.

        • says

          By “Not All Muslim”-ing, I’m referring to the tendency to respond to legitimate criticism of the staggering majority of a privileged group with “they’re not all like that!” In this case, straight Muslims have privilege over queer ones. The fact that a small minority of Muslims are progressive on LGBT issues hardly helps LGBT Muslims and former Muslims to have a better life, and bringing up the small progressive contingent as if they’re representative hurts by painting an inaccurate picture and minimizing the amount of work that sorely needs to be done.

          • exi5tentialist says

            I agree, I’m just not in agreement with the idea that the majority represents the whole.

          • says

            I don’t see any contradictions between the following statements.

            • Muslims and Islam are not monoliths.
            • There are majority views that are held within the Muslim community along with dissenting ones.
            • To bring up minority views when discussing the harms perpetuated by majority views can be a silencing tactic towards those who have been harmed (i.e. the “Not All” defense).

            This is true for any community.

    • says

      As an ex-Muslim who can’t come out to her family as queer without hell to pay for it, yet who still promotes progressive Muslim voices and works to fight against the perception of Muslims as a monolith, I can assure you I’m aware that not every Muslim is anti-queer but also that I have some very valid frustrations with people bringing up the minority of non-homophobic Muslims when I address the majority of Muslims who do have homophobic views, especially when it comes to members of their own families.

      • yazikus says

        I think that when I embraced orthodoxy, it was a gymnast’s feat in #notallchristians. There I was, saying things like, priest and wife, two sides of the same coin! icons of women! st. mary, equal to the apostles! And yet, it was still what it was. When I tried to explain to people how much better it was than other versions of christianity, I started to doubt. It was what it was, and I know and love many orthodox people, many amazing women, many compassionate men. But it is what it is, and #notallchristians doesn’t ring true for me any more.

      • exi5tentialist says

        So when you’re addressing homophobic muslims, do you point out to them that not all muslims are homophobic? Or is your view that homophobia is intrinsic to islam?

        • says

          I do so, but they tell me that those Muslims aren’t “true Muslims”. As a non-believer, I can’t argue with that much, other than to remind them that those people do consider themselves Muslims.

  5. says

    It’s not confusing to me when visible minorities of any sort are targeted because they are easy to target…because they are “outed” perforce by their cultural norms… Thing is brown people simply PERCEIVED to be Muslim are targeted for violence as well.

    Much like homophobia can actually harm a straight person who doesn’t “read” straight – i.e. I was almost beat for being perceived a lesbian… That said… I can undermine that perception by changing my clothing/demeanor etc… whereas a brown person cannot really do that… I can disappear into cis/white/conformity…

  6. Ed says

    I’m sorry to bring up a side issue, but the article in the second link “The Problem With White Converts”, while it made a lot of good points, got some things wrong in my opinion about Buddhism which it discussed along with Islam.

    Yes many Western enthusiasts often make broad statements about the “scientific” nature of Buddhism and ignore the very religious nature of most Buddhim as practiced. But at the same time, the early Buddhist texts have little to do with supernaturalism and a lot to do with self discipline, ethics and detachment from craving.

    It’s more like reading an ancient Stoic philosopher than reading the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions. One may be deeply moved by the philosophical observations and advice on living in the Dharmapada and similar works without accepting Buddhist religious beliefs (which differ widely across cultures). It is also a fact that parts of the Zen tradition are radically opposed to metaphysical dogma.

    Point taken about Westerners dabbling in other cultures traditions and then claiming unwarranted expertise. But ideas are not limited to their cultures of origin. Islam and Budhism already spread across many very different cultures and nations as does Christianity and increasingly Humanism and Atheism.

  7. Anne Fenwick says

    I haven’t met many white converts to Islam, but where I live there’s a not-insignificant number of white muslims from eastern european regions which were converted to Islam a long time ago. I don’t know much about them either, though I’m sure their culture and traditions differ from those of muslims in other parts of the world. Once they’ve lost their accents they’ll be indistinguishable from white converts, so I thought it was something people ought to be aware of.

  8. geocatherder says

    As much as anything else, the notion of #notallmuslims is only useful in context. I am capable of meeting a Muslim person and interacting with them without a lot of assumptions, because not all Muslims espouse or do not espouse pretty much anything, especially in the U.S. OTOH, trends are important; without them data is meaningless. Most current versions of Islam, as practiced today, seem to be quite conservative and inherently anti-Western. When I think about, say, U.S. policy, I think in those terms. It’s a bit like accepting that light is both a particle and a wave.

    It’s possible to be wary of religions without automatically demonizing their adherents. I’m wary of Christianity, too, though I have Christian family and friends I hold dear, and I don’t think I’m superior to Cathy Christian on the street because I’m not a believer, any more than I’m superior to Maryam Muslim. Thinking that way is a waste of neurons. However, I want my government to reject the homophobic, bigoted, misogynistic traditions of those and all religions.

  9. Katherine Woo says

    Wonderful piece. I’ve brought up this very issue at left-leaning websites, including here, only to be met with scoffing and denial.

    White privilege to slum it in repressive cultures is vile and it corrupts the very notion of equality under the law and secularism.
    Whiteness and white privilege can be over-applied and even used in a racist manner, but you hit the nail on the head on all of these.

    I see exi5tentialist is here running interference for Islam like a good little apologist.

      • exi5tentialist says


        Except neither is accurate…

        Stating not all muslims are homophobes isn’t apologetics. It’s fact.

          • exi5tentialist says

            I’m not overstating it. I’m saying not all muslims are homophobic. There’s nothing inaccurate about that statement, it’s not even alluding to numbers.

            Denying that there are any muslim allies of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (which you do when you object to the statement ‘not all muslims are homophobic’) inaccurately portrays the LGBTQi people as a western-only community. This harms western LGBTQi people, and makes muslim LGBTQi people invisible.

          • says

            The “Not All” reference in the OP is a reference to a phenomenon when people respond to genuine accounts of oppression with “but but not all [group] are like that!” For reference:

            So it isn’t arguing that Muslims aren’t a monolith that I have a problem with, it’s this tendency to knee-jerk with exceptions to the general rule when someone is experiencing marginalization and oppression. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I thought “Not All [Group]” was enough of A Thing for what I was saying to be clear. I’ve added a clarification to the post.

  10. says

    By “Not All Muslim”-ing, I’m referring to the tendency to respond to legitimate criticism of the staggering majority of a privileged group with “they’re not all like that!” In this case, straight Muslims have privilege over queer ones. The fact that a small minority of Muslims are progressive on LGBT issues hardly helps LGBT Muslims and former Muslims to have a better life, and bringing up the small progressive contingent as if they’re representative hurts by painting an inaccurate picture and minimizing the amount of work that sorely needs to be done.

    Really enjoyed your post and also very much agree with many of your follow-up points in the comments, including this one. I think there are Muslims who focus on the fact that they are a minority in many countries while ignoring the fact that Muslims can still be in a more privileged position compared to others due to other demographic factors, like race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. And they take advantage of that privilege to appoint themselves as the spokespeople for the religion and ignore every other type of discrimination other than discrimination against straight Muslim men by non-Muslims.


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