Convert or Revert?

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In the English language, the noun convert refers to a person who has changed his/her faith. The word revert has no theological connotation; it isn’t used as a noun and as a verb simply means to return to a previous state. Applying it to those who submit to God and accept the prophethood of His final messenger is not only a linguistic aberration, but also theologically incorrect. It is essentially an unsound understanding of shar’ī sources.

Here are a few brief reasons:

1. The Prophet’s famous statement: “Every child is born on fitrah” does not mean that the entire humanity is born into Islam and then reneges on faith, but that every soul is created with godly subservience coded into its existential DNA – it does not say that they were actually in a state of intentional subservience. Scholars of the past have also had similar things to say. al-Nawawi wrote about this hadith, ‘The correct meaning is that every child is born predisposed to submitting to God,’ and not that it already has. Ibn Al Qayyim wrote (in Shifa al-Aleel), ‘It should be noted that when it is said that he is born on fitrah, or on Islam, or on this faith, or created Hanifi (the different variants of the narration), it does not mean that when he came out of his mother’s belly that he knows this faith and desires it, for God says: “Allah brought you out off your mothers’ wombs; you knew nothing.”‘

2. One of the absurd consequences of this line of thinking is: to say they reverted is to say they believed, then reneged (i.e. they became murtad), and now believe again! Thus every non-Muslim today is really an apostate?! Obviously not. Whenever anyone joined the new faith, neither God nor the Prophet put it that he re-submitted (أسلم مرة أخرى), reverted (عاد/رجع) or renewed his submission (جدد إسلامه). The key word for those who convert and submit to God is أسلم (aslama) which holds absolutely no suggestion of returning. We find in revelation:

  • “They think they have done you a favour by submitting (aslamu). Say, ‘Do not consider your submission a favour to me; it is God who has done you a favour, by guiding you to faith, if you are truly sincere.’” (49:17) Note that Allah does not say ‘re-submission’. Qais b. Asim said: “I came to the Prophet and I wanted to submit, so he commanded me to bathe with water and sidr.” (al-Tirmidhi) Note that Qais did not say “I wanted to resubmit/revert.”
  • Qais b. Asim said: “I came to the Prophet and I wanted to submit, so he commanded me to bathe with water and sidr.” (al-Tirmidhi) Note that Qais did not say “I wanted to resubmit/revert.”

3. As for those who believe in Judaism or Christianity and then hear of the final message, they do not revert; they progress along with the updated message. In the hadith of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (al-Bukhari and Muslim) the Prophet said: “There are three who shall be rewarded twice over: A person who affirms his Prophet, and then affirms me…”

4. It seems that many people misunderstand the hadith on fitrah and come to inaccurate theological conclusions (including many clerics and preachers). I sympathise with the laity who might have been told that this is a cogent idea, but it’s somewhat bizarre that this misunderstanding has persisted for so long.

5. Additionally they have come to incorrectly use the English language and muslimify it. Linguistically, reversion is synonomous with regression and given that believers ought to be portraying themselves as a learned bunch, it really isn’t a good look in wider society – it comes across as linguistic incompetence.

(And even beyond the point of this post (revert vs convert), perpetual references to believers as converts has no theological value and in reality has merely acted as an ethnic indicator.)

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