The past few years have witnessed a movement of converts to Islam/Walāyah calling themselves “reverts.” The idea, I suppose, is to capture the notion that Islam/Walāyah is not something that one converts to but rather something one returns to.
But choosing the word ‘revert’ is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Yes, the word ‘revert’ does literally mean “to come or go back”. On the other hand, the connotations of ‘revert’ go much further.
For example, according to the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus:
revert vb 2 to come or go back to a lower or worse condition <reverted to savagery>
synonym: regress, retrogress, throwback
related: backslide, lapse, relapse; decline, degenerate, deteriorate, retrograde
contrast: advance, progress
And in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Synonyms:
Revert and reversion ... most frequently imply a going back to a previous, often a lower, state or condition
There are other examples... It appears to me that the word ‘revert’ carries some of the vibrations of ‘tawallaa 3an’, which connotes the idea of turning back from walayah of Allah swt to something else.
In English: “One reverts to alcoholism.” You don't often hear: “One reverts to sobriety.” One reverts to Jahiliyyah/Ignorance; one does not revert to Walayah; one reverts from Walāyah (tawallaa 3an).
Words are not benign, and I hope we can find a better word. In any case, I for one will not insult anyone who has arrived at Islam/Walāyah by labeling him or her as a “revert”.
The usage of revert should be fine. This is from Dictionary.com:
intr.v. re·vert·ed, re·vert·ing, re·verts
1. To return to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief.
2. Law To return to the former owner or to the former owner’s heirs. Used of money or property.
3. Genetics To undergo reversion.
Dictionary.com is not a precise or scholarly source. Merriam-Webster (Dictionary, Dictionary of Synonyms, etc.) is much more dependable for precise English usage. But even in your example, usage 1. is consistent with the above discussion.
Anyway, once one knows who the First Two Reverts in Islam were, one will realize just how bad this word is.
I completely agree with Agha Idris on this issue. The term revert is problematic for a number of reasons.
First of all it is a clear attempt to subvert the norms of the English language with an attitude that can be only qualified as cheap third-worldist counter-colonialism. Unfortunately a lot of converts to Shi’ism see the faith as a mere anti-imperialistic sub-culture against Western hegemony. People need to realize at some point the Shi’ism is not the ultimate hipster cult…
Secondly the term “revert” implies that we all have the same fitrah, which is a belief of the mukhalifin. The teachings on the two clays fly in the face of such a concept.
Thirdly if we are to take into account the teachings on the two clays and the fact that the true Shi’ah have a part of Sijjin attached to their body/nafs it becomes obvious that the term conversion is the most appropriate given that the spiritual path of the true Shi’ah can best be described as an alchemical process during which the true Shi’ah transforms that part of Sijjin into Illiyunn through the Philosopher’s Stone i.e. the Imam.
The term ” revert” is entirely inappropriate. Very simply within the context of Islam, the term itself implies perhaps indirectly – that a person through some act of volition has left a formerly predestined state and has returned to it.
Rather, Islam is the caused realisation or effective realisation brought about by Allah(swt).
In the end, a person “realises” Islam, they do not convert or revert.
We should go back to the Qurʾān and see what it says for this. The expression the Qurʾān uses is ‘Aslamtu wajhee‘. As I have explained in detail in Chapter 1 of Islam, Sign and Creation this amounts to what in English we call orientation. That is, “I have oriented myself.”
This also connects to the notion of fiṭraḧ as contained in the Qurʾānic expression,
So the Qurʾān gives us the vocabulary we need. Entering or recognizing (iqrār) Islam is an act of orientation per se. From within that orientation one can begin the journey into Iman and beyond.
As Imam Ṣādiq explains: With Islam, one has entered Masjidu al-Haraam and is facing the Ka3bah (orientation), but one has not yet entered the Ka3bah (i.e. Iman) itself.
The nice thing about the word ‘orient’ as used in this context is that it makes no distinction between converts and those born Muslim. At some point each Muslim has to consciously orient oneself to the One Who established our fiṭraḧ.
It’s a bit awkward in English, but Qurʾānically accurate, to refer to new Muslims as “orienters”. So, e.g., “So-and-so oriented last year.” A historical example:
I was extremely repulsed when referred to as a revert. Even though reflection and meditation are important, they must be used in going forward, not in turning backwards. So as we return to our “fitric” states during meditation and reflection, these exercises must cause advancement. Also revert is too close to convert. So just as I am no convert I am definitely not a revert. If acronyms have been formed, then I would be happier with words like reformed, realigned, revived, reawakened, refined etc. Since this might turn out to be a word game, I suggest we “arabise” the word redeem into the word “redeen”, which suggests a recognition of Islam as the Deen best suited to our fitra. So, you may say I am a redeened human being if you like.
I have not liked the term revert because it is not commonly understood. “Everyone” knows what a person means if he/she says he/she converted to Islam. But if the word “revert” is used, only an exclusive group of people know what is meant. If the purpose is to communicate an idea, the word “convert” succeeds fairly well. The word “revert” succeeds primarily at creating an in-group and an out-group of those who understand and those who don’t, and further, those who prefer that term (shall we say ‘religiously’?) and those who don’t. So to me it seems a divisive rather than an inviting term.
The confusion stems from two things:
A misreading of a hadith:
“Every newborn child is born in a state of fitrah. Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian…”
All children are born into a state of fitra but not Islam. Monotheists such as Prophet Abrahim and some pre-Islamic Arabs in Mecca were hunafaa; their fitra not having been polluted by the pagan ways prevailing in society at that time. After guidance came to them, Islam sat comfortably with their fitra.
At university I encountered a few friends who were raised in a Muslim family but then reverted to Islam after coming off the rails and going through an agnostic phase. As for me, I was raised as a Christian but challenged the doctrine of the trinity, original sin and so on. Thus I converted to a new faith, namely Islam. I didn’t revert to anything that I followed previously.
Samawi, language changes over time. It’s fine using the term revert. Sure, some may not like it, just as some may not like the term convert. Some people don’t like being called Shia, Sunni, etc. I hope you get the point.
This, according to Merriam-Webster: Middle English, from Anglo-French revertir, from Latin revertere, v.t., to turn back & reverti, v.i., to return, come back, from re- + vertere, verti to turn — more at worth
First Known Use: 15th century
Samawi, this is also from MW’s dictionary:
1: to come or go back (as to a former condition, period, or subject)
You mentioned something about the first 2 reverts. Who do you consider the first 2 reverts?
@gogiison2: Thanks for your comments.
Upon the passing of Messenger of Islam (S), the Muslim community reverted to the old tribal traditions of Jāhiliyyaḧ to chose a political ruler and to establish a political system. The two leaders of that movement were the first two reverts; they abandoned the arrangements made by the Messenger (S) and did their own thing. The second revert, in his conversation with ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAbbās, explicitly confirms this, among countless other evidences.
At the end of the day we do our best to base our cultural vocabulary on the Qurʾān. The negative connotations of ‘revert’ outweigh any positive ones in normal English. The word ‘revert’ also exactly translates the Qurʾānic language for turning away from walayah after receiving it, back to one’s previous state. My sense is that the person who started this “revert” trend probably did not get the nuances and connotations of the English language very well.
That said, an individual can, of course, call oneself whatever one wants. 🙂
Thanks again for your comments.