Does One "Convert" or "Revert" When Adopting Islam?

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"Convert" is the English word most often used for one who embraces a new religion after practicing another faith. A common definition of the word "convert" is "to change from one religion or belief to another." But among Muslims, you may hear people who have chosen to adopt Islam refer to themselves as "reverts" instead. Some use the two terms interchangeably, while others have strong opinions on which term best describes them.

The Case for "Revert"

Those who prefer the term "revert" do so based on the Muslim belief that all people are born with a natural faith in God. According to Islam, children are born with an innate sense of submission to God, which is called the fitrah. Their parents may then raise them in a particular faith community, and they grow up to be Christians, Buddhists, etc.

The Prophet Muhammad once said: "No child is born except upon fitrah (i.e. as a Muslim). It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a polytheist." (Sahih Muslim).

Some people, then, see their embrace of Islam as a "return" back to this original, pure faith in our Creator. A common definition of the word "revert" is to "return to a former condition or belief." A revert is returning back to that innate faith to which they were connected as young children, before being lead away. 

The Case for "Convert"

There are other Muslims who prefer the term "convert." They feel that this term is more familiar to people and causes less confusion. They also feel that it is a stronger, more affirmative term that better describes the active choice they have made to adopt a life-changing path. They may not feel they have anything to "go back" to, perhaps because they had no strong sense of faith as a child, or perhaps because they were raised without religious beliefs at all.

Which term should you use? 

Both terms are commonly used to describe those who embrace Islam as adults after having been raised in or practicing a different faith system. In broad usage, the word "convert" is perhaps more appropriate because it is more familiar to people, while "revert" may be the better term to use when you are among Muslims, all of whom understand the usage of the term.

Some individuals feel a strong connection to the idea of "return" to their natural faith and may prefer to be known as "reverts" no matter what audience they are speaking to, but they should be willing to explain what they mean, since it may not be clear to many people. In writing, you might choose to use the term "revert/convert" to cover both positions without offending anyone. In spoken conversation, people will generally follow the lead of the person who is sharing the news of their conversion/ reversion.

Either way, it is always a cause for celebration when a new believer finds their faith: 

Those to whom We sent the Book before this, they do believe in this revelation. And when it is recited to them, they say: 'We believe therein, for it is the Truth from our Lord. Indeed we have been Muslims from before this.' Twice will they be given their reward, for they have persevered, and they avert evil with good, and they spend in charity out of what We have given them. (Quran 28:51-54).
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Huda. "Does One "Convert" or "Revert" When Adopting Islam?" Learn Religions, Jan. 26, 2021, Huda. (2021, January 26). Does One "Convert" or "Revert" When Adopting Islam? Retrieved from Huda. "Does One "Convert" or "Revert" When Adopting Islam?" Learn Religions. (accessed March 21, 2023).