Do the LDS have trophy converts?
Mid-may a report was published looking at the conversion experiences of British women to Islam. One of the things to come out of the report was the experience of white women: that they can be seen as trophies by heritage Muslims. In an interview with Jenni Murray on the BBC radio Woman’s Hour programme Professor Yasir Suleiman, director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at Cambridge, had the following to say:
Jenni Murray: Yasir, your report talks of white female converts being celebrated as trophies by heritage Muslims. What do you mean by that?
Yasir Suleiman: By some heritage Muslims. I think the Muslim community is a community that lives perhaps under mental siege and emotional siege in very many ways. And some people, when a white Muslim woman converts to Islam consider this a triumph of some sort or another, that is cultural, that is also in some cases religious. So the idea here is that those conversions are highly valued. They are visible. Made more visible by in a way that draws a distinction and difference between the conversion of a white woman, and the conversion of a woman from an Afro-Caribbean woman, although there are very many women from that background, the Afro-Caribbean background who are converting to Islam. …
[see page 4+ of the pdf report for additional information]
I was struck by what he had to say about mental and emotional siege. It’s a state of mind I have observed in the LDS church, and I set to wondering who might be our trophy converts.
Back when I was a student in London, there was a brief period when there was a large number of baptisms in the singles ward I attended. It seemed like there’d be three or four people to sustain as members every week or so. Most of them were students. Some from overseas. One of them is my now husband. Another is a General Authority. He was seen as the trophy I think; an articulate, personable, successful man; and white. He looked like a Mormon, behaved like a Mormon. His later non-member US girlfriend also looked like a Mormon, was carefully cultivated by the senior missionaries, and also baptised. I don’t begrudge either of them this. He was (and presumably still is) a great guy. But I don’t recall that quite the same care and attention was paid to the rest after a while, though it was universally agreed that all this group of converts were a great bunch.
A few years later we had a fireside at which two American converts, a husband and wife, were going to be relating their conversion experience. I’d attended a fireside given by astronaut Don Lind in the past, another by American footballer Steve Young, and a fair few by general authorities of the church, but converts was a new one. They were articulate, clearly well educated, in later middle age, and professionals in the publishing business. They were enthusiastic converts certainly, and told their story well. But it struck me as odd, recent converts on the international fireside circuit.
More recently, there seems to be a trend of inviting the more articulate converts in our stake to speak at stake conference. Not a necessarily a bad thing, I suppose. But where the majority of converts tend to be immigrants with poor English-speaking skills, it isn’t representative. And, as with the couple giving the fireside, I wonder at the purpose. Is this a demonstration of “yes, we attract these kinds of converts” triumphalism, or something more benign? And what is the effect of this on the remaining converts? Professor Suleiman concluded his remarks as follows:
Yasir Suleiman: So the conversion experience in that sense could be described as an ethnicised conversion experience, and the Muslim community, communities and others need to turn attention to it and to start to deal with it and help converts in their journey into Islam.
Do we to need to take a closer look at how we treat our converts?