‘I know the Muslim religion by how [my grandpare…

‘I know the Muslim religion by how [my grandparents] reacted and how they did things, so all [my knowledge] is from seeing and hearing; I knew nothing about the Qu’ran or anything. All I know is that my grandparents were Muslims, and this is how they behaved and what their belief system was.’


Evidently, kin-based identification of this kind differs sharply from that associated with the formal embrace of the tenets of Islam. Based on cultural affiliation rather than a dramatic spiritual transformation, it represents a form of identification that sociological studies of conversion rarely recognise. In the context of the long, tangled history of Indigenous exposure to Islam this is particularly unfortunate as it has the effect of devaluing that historical association. In contrast with conversion – which at least in its classical formulation involves turning one’s back on the past – kinversion is an act of turning towards the family history and respecting the memory of the ancestors. It is, among other things, the phenomenon widespread among people of Indigenous-Muslim descent of invoking Islam as a marker of family continuity and identity. An identification with Islamic values that is not formal but familial is the result of long-term and widespread contact between Muslims (almost invariably men) and those (almost entirely women) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. To invoke the term is to resist the dehistoricisation of the Indigenous-Islamic experience and to remind ourselves of its persistence across generations, genders and state boundaries.

Islam Dreaming — Indigenous Muslims in Australia, Peta Stephenson

I had Islam Dreaming on my list for a long time and suddenly it turned up. I didn't expect it to be so personally relevant, to read these pages and how simply and matter-of-fact this relationship was understood. It's something I've struggled to understand for myself for so long, and once again, it's Indigenous knowledge and life that helped. Different continents and I'm not Indigenous Australian, and trying to be careful here in not selectively appropriating a specific historical and geographic experience. I read these two pages over and over, recognising similarities to myself and my family's history in this.