If one turns over enough stones in Morocco, they will come across hundreds of Western converts to Islam, most of whom are white. Some are obvious: one might spot a blue-eyed Belgian wearing a jellaba on a train to Fes or a Danish woman in a hijab running a bakery in central Casablanca. Others might be mistaken for tourists, like an American woman with her hair pulled back into a ponytail seated in the corner of a high-end café in Rabat. These converts are immigrants, and most chose to live in Morocco as a form of hijra, or migration for religious purposes.
Rather than a full anthropological research paper, I have elected to present my ISP as a podcast. Career aspirations and personal preferences aside, the podcast format is particularly well-suited to personal narratives, and consequently well-suited to my research.
This ISP investigates how and why these white converts chose to build their lives in Morocco, and ultimately how their relationships to both their homelands and Morocco developed once they arrived. I conducted interviews with eight white converts from both Europe and North America. Among them were a Belgian military veteran and Salafi convert planning his hijra, two American Sufis who have run language schools in Morocco for decades, and a journalist who was introduced to Islam while in Tangier with his fellow beatniks in the early 1960s. I also spoke with the Moroccan-born and -raised daughter of two American Sufis, two Dutch anthropologists who specialize in the hijra of converts, two Moroccan Islamic studies professors with knowledge of Moroccan attitudes towards converts, and the Moroccan descendant of a Portuguese pirate and convert to Islam in the 18th century. Some elements of the story are drawn from anthropological research on white convert identity and conversion in Morocco, and particularly the presence of pirate converts in Rabat and Sale in the 17th-early 19th centuries. My work draws upon the personal narratives of many of my interviewees – and, in a few cases, the academic work of my interviewees – to illustrate the innumerable complexities and nuances of life as a white convert immigrant in Morocco. When presented together, these narratives reveal white convert immigrants to be both perpetually foreign and privileged by their whiteness, a status that they pass on to their Moroccan-born descendants. Their relationships with their new country appear to be based primarily upon their expectations of Morocco prior to their decision to immigrate, not upon opinions they developed in Morocco.
African Languages and Societies | African Studies | Islamic Studies | Migration Studies | Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology of Religion
Kiefer, Paul Williamson, "Renegado: Immigrant Identities and Aspirations of White Muslim Converts in Morocco" (2018). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 3007.