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Less Of The Labels

WOMEN MIDDLE FINGER GIF BY NERIAN KEYWAN

 

Man am I tired of hearing what the intellectual world and some Muslims think a Western person who adopts Islam as a way of life, should be called.  I am not a Convert and certainly no Revert! I happen to be a human being who believes in one God and the original Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures, making me a Muslim, I don’t need an additional label to clarify or categorise me further.

Do we not have enough labels/categories that we are identified by in this world?  Here’s just a few I come across on a daily basis and maybe the odd made up one (in no particular order and purposely random):

Christian, Bi, ESOL, Jewish, White Welsh, Non-binary, Child, Catholic, Indian, Heterosexual (sometimes clarified as Straight because straight people are like… Shit what’s that?  I don’t want to tick the wrong one!), Professional, Piss Poor, Atheist, Asperger’s, Shia, Disabled, Buddhist, Prefer not to say, Born Again, African, Posh, Separated, Gay, Other (you’re fucked, you don’t fit anything!), Sufi, Robot, Muslim, Married, Novice, Wahhabi, Autistic, Minted, Divorced, Chinese, Protestant, Transgender, Turncoat, White Gypsy or Irish Traveller, EAL, Male, Adult, Single, Female, Bastard, Bitch …

I propose we get rid of the labels. I for one refuse to be called anything other than a human being, I will not be categorised.  Okay, I may not have a choice, so focussing on religious beliefs, if I have to be identified and labelled as a ‘Muslim’ I am certainly not prepared to be sub categorised into what type of Muslim I am.  

I grew up an Atheist and whenever I filled in a form there would never be an option for this category, so my mother would always say ‘just tick C of E, Church of England.’ It didn’t mean anything, what sort of data collection purpose did this serve?  Were organisations using this information to prepare better services for me even though I wasn’t really a Christian?

Today we have the option to tick ‘Prefer not to say’ which is my choice from now on. I don’t want special treatment, I want to be treated equally.  We should be educated enough to offer and adapt services to a wide range of people without making them feel they are ‘different.’ When teaching I remember the equality phrase ‘different but equal’ and now I hate that – we are equal and of course we’re bloody different but we are all the same species!

Going back to religion; as if Convert wasn’t a bad enough label, someone decided ‘No, they are not Converts, they never actually changed their religion because everyone is born a Muslim and it’s the circumstances you are born into that change that state. So, when you become a Muslim, you are actually Reverting rather than Converting and therefore you are now a REVERT!’  

WHAT???

So, If I decide at any point in my life to change my faith, believe in something different, change an opinion etc, What would be my label? Would I be a convert because I’m converting from a Muslim to an Atheist or would I be a REVERT because I was brought up an Atheist?  Hang on … I hear you shouting … ‘KAFFER’ (unbeliever) now that’s a label I forgot!

Now on a serious note, has anyone really thought about the underlying message/connotations of using these particular labels?

Take a look at this easy peasy bit of five-minute research I did into word forms of Convert and Revert.  Please note I am not an expert which is why I Blog rather than Write! 

The Oxford dictionary defines – Convert (noun) a person who has been persuaded to change their religious faith or other belief.

“He is a recent convert to the Church”

This definition suggests the person is not in full control – they have been persuaded. This raises the question as to whether the use of the word ‘Convert’ as a noun, is fitting to describe a new Muslim.

Compare this to the verb form which could be construed as more positive because the subject is in control.

Convert: change one’s religious faith or other belief.

“At sixteen he converted to Catholicism” he wasn’t persuaded he just did it! But do we need to use the noun form to label him?

Now let’s look at the word REVERT as a noun: a person who has converted to the Islamic faith (Wow! Muslims have totally claimed that one).

But what is the Verb form? Revert: return to (a previous state, practice, topic, etc.).

“He reverted to his native language”

Take a look at this!

Synonyms: return, go back, come back, change back, retrogressregressdefault

Convert to (the Islamic faith).

“I reverted to Islam five years ago”

Note the synonyms here for the verb form; they include regress, default, retrogress which all have negative definitions– Retrogress for example is defined; go back to an earlier state, typically a worse one.

“She retrogressed to the starting point of her rehabilitation” We’ve all heard of ‘defaulting’ if we fail to keep up a payment and similarly regress is also a negative term for going back, implying failure.

Of course, there are no examples here of ‘regressing to Islam’ but in my view the negative implications are there in the synonymic definitions of the verb, and therefore the noun should not be used as a label to classify new Muslims.

I would like to ask the experts the following questions;

Is there an expression or word in Arabic (within the Quran) that is used for a Convert or Revert, or is a person who embraces the religion, immediately recognised as a Muslim?

In the 7th century when Islam was revealed and began to spread, were those embracing Islam (followers of the Prophet Mohamed PBUH) referred to as Converts, Reverts or Muslims? 

My concern is that without really understanding linguistic implications of word forms, terms and expressions in a particular language, we may well be compounding issues that new Muslims face. We really need to STOP and THINK about how we categorise and refer to individuals and groups and consider the underlying negative and dividing affect this may have.

Less of the Labels I say!  I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you embraced a belief other than that which you were born into and have been given a label to define where you fit into your new faith/belief.

Saffa (Twitter @saffakate)

41 Comments
  1. Kathy

    July 10, 2018 4:14 pm

    I think we are all humans and I treat everyone with respect,but I was told online you can’t dismiss labels you take away their uniqueness and that is evil. I respect everyone beliefs or lack of belief, race gender id. Idk if you treat me well I will treat you well.I will listen to you talk about your life but I guess now days it’s the labels that are important.Good article thank you.

    • James Malcolm Edmonds

      July 10, 2018 11:53 pm

      I became a Muslim when I was 19. I’ve been one for awhile now. I was a non-religious person before and a religious person after. That is my simple story. We are all just souls following a path down a short life.

  2. Lauren

    July 10, 2018 4:25 pm

    I totally agree with you and I’m glad someone mentioned it, especially someone who has been muslim for a long time. I changed my religion to Islam two years ago and i am still exactly the same person I was, I just found my version of the truth and the religion I want to follow. On the other hand I get treated like a robot from some non Muslims and from Muslims I’m known as the ‘ revert’ or The ‘ convert’ and I absolutely hate it, I am muslim and that’s it, I am nothing special, I am no different and I am just a human being 😂😂🤦🏼‍♀️ I hope this phrase dies out and everyone can just be united instead of segregated by labels!

  3. Adelina

    July 10, 2018 4:26 pm

    I really liked reading this article since I am also bothered by the label. In the country I am coming from, the majority of the people are orthodox and even if you don’t practice it, you are still going to use this label to describe either yourself or the other conationals. I feel like we are not even thinking what this means for us and if it really defines who we are. For me, even if I was baptized as an orthodox, I don’t feel part of this community. It was just for a few years that I stopped telling people that I am not an orthodox. Just after I realised that it’s such a nonsense to label myself with something that I didn’t even had the chance to choose or to believe in. Moreover, when I meet someone new I choose not to ask their nationality either, which for some may sound absurd, but I believe that sometimes people can be affected by this question. As long as you are a rational human being, I don’t care what is written on your ID, or what other labels people are knowing you for.

  4. Sal

    July 10, 2018 4:30 pm

    The third to last paragraph, really hits the nail on the wall!

  5. A "convert"

    July 10, 2018 4:32 pm

    Great topic! I use these words to categorise myself when I need justifications of my way to practise Islam, my way to believe and above all my behaviour and wishes that are sometimes different from what we expect from a “good Muslim woman”. You have made me realise than if I hadn’t to justify my life I would listen to Catholic songs without adding that “I love these songs, you know I’m a convert… it just reminds me my childhood, nothing religious there”. Yes that’s it, “convert” is a word to justify myself in front of ppl about my “bad deeds” and the “kaffer”. I should probably do what makes me happy and don’t give a shit about judgement, there is nothing more personal and invisible that one’s love to God.

  6. Ammara

    July 10, 2018 4:56 pm

    Loved reading this! Labels might seem handy for some of our fellow human beings but at the same time they seem to create stereotypes. Stereotypes which certainly do not suit each and everyone. We are all the same species but still each of us individuals themselves. Labelling people because of their faith, lifestyle etc. does not do justice to them. On the contrary we change our behaviour the minute we consider anyone’s labels. A single mum raising her child on her own, has to be a really poor woman. An Indian has to be able to dance like in the Bollywood movies. A Muslim woman has to be oppressed. Why don’t we just stop labelling each other and start to get to know each other for the positive qualities we have? #lesslabels

    Love,
    Ammara

  7. Magda

    July 10, 2018 4:57 pm

    To be honest I never looked at the definitions of the words revert and convert.
    It’s an a eye opener for a fairly new Muslim like me.
    Idk, somehow I never liked the word covert, I felt as if I was being called brainwashed instead.
    Now after knowing the meanings of both I just want to be a Muslim, that’s it! However, because I’m white many people question my faith as if only ‘brown’ people were allowed to be Muslim.
    They immediately want to know where I’m from so they can be reassured (or not) that I’m a ‘proper’ Muslim (whatever that means lol). When they hear I’m Polish the jaw drops and then suspicion starts. Some even ask how did I find Islam as if they want me to say that I converted read someone has brainwashed me

    • Alicja the "revert"

      July 10, 2018 6:42 pm

      Salaam! I’m also “Polish white! Muslim girl” raised by kaffer mom. My journey started 2 years ago and everyday I’m learning new things about Islam. The “real Muslims” usually thinks that I changed my religion because of a man or for love, that’s very annoying for me. Also that’s one of the reasons why I don’t feel comfortable between my brothers and sisters when I’m introducing myself to newfound Muslims, it seems like they’re asking but don’t even listen the story of mine. I feel like I’ll never be fully accepted by Muslim society because of my nationality, background, skin colour… Not even mentioning about finding guy whose family would accept me and the fact that I’m the only one Muslim in my family. I wish I could be surrounded by more people like you Saffa and your daughter Dina and rest of your family. xoxo

  8. Ellie

    July 10, 2018 5:09 pm

    Great article!! I agree, after converting people see you as a convert/revert and not as a muslim, and just within the muslim society we can be viewed as differet. And as you touched on here labels can be extremely damaging and segregating in all aspects of society, from sexuality to mental health disorders. Its definately something we as humans need to re-assess. I am relatively new to the Dina channel and am loving it so far! I would genuinely love to here about your journey and story especially in a spiritual/religious sense if you would be willing to share sometime. Thanks again for the great and insightful work. Salam sister xx

  9. Emma

    July 10, 2018 5:09 pm

    I think that there is no harm in calling someone who embraced islam a revert when that is really the topic of conversation (you are having with someone, not gossip). For example, if someone wanrs to discuss religious beliefs with you and get to know you better. Revert just means that you were born Muslim as any other baby in this world (which is an islamic belief) but were raised in a different religion and when you got informed about islam you realized it is the ultimate way and came back to it. I don’t see it as a negative label as long as it’s not something people use to define your whole being when they are talking about you (e.g. oh that person X, he/she’s a revert).

  10. Iman

    July 10, 2018 5:10 pm

    Labels are often used to put us in boxes, but they can serve so many good purposes. Think of people who aren’t surrounded by their like- ex someone who is deaf. That label connects them to other deaf people, or family/friends of deaf people, which you can imagine all the benefits of.

    Like technology or modern medicine, our society has created a irrational fear of labels, which can be so beneficial.

  11. Ayesha

    July 10, 2018 5:11 pm

    Hey lovely article! I think this is more if a western problem. I’m from Pakistan and albeit we do have a LOT of labels for every type of person, i have never heard this convert and revert debate.

  12. R.tah

    July 10, 2018 5:18 pm

    I find labels are a way of expressing ones identity (for example, I’d label myself as a Palestinian Muslim American) so I can’t say “good ridden” to labels and avoid being a hypocrite. But I hear you, creating labels and tossing them around onto groups we don’t identify with is a form of oppression. Muslim is a Muslim and how they got there doesn’t change it. Human is a human and how they identify doesn’t change it.

  13. Sarah

    July 10, 2018 5:21 pm

    As I grew up I learnt that everything is labelled, every single thought has to be named. It somehow kills the liberty of one’s mind. You als3 cannot label every state of mind but if you are forced to do don’t act as if it was the only and invariable name for it. Perhaps it is what Adorno and Horkheimer criticize in their book Dialectic of Enlightenment amongst other things, the thought that man can label everything since the modern age.

  14. Alima

    July 10, 2018 5:52 pm

    Literally what I’ve been hearing all my life ! People coming to Islam as “converts” when I was younger and then some mufti decides to change it and say “revert” …they neither they are Muslims end off! ..we all are one , we are the human race but titles are made to divide us , just as Race has .. we are made to feel different , we are raised to notice the difference it’s like it’s programmed in our brain ….love this piece Dina

  15. Sadia

    July 10, 2018 6:01 pm

    Lovely piece, and beautifully written.

  16. Maryam

    July 10, 2018 6:07 pm

    YES MAMA TORKIA! PREACH!!! I took an English linguistics class in 2nd year uni and studied a bit of Arabic the year after and the whole experience has opened my thoughts in the world of words so so so much to learn and discover yet we shut ourselves off or label it. I can say the only labels I accept of myself are what you can physically see of me which are black, muslim and female (will let sarcastic slide as I take pride in my skill lol) everything else are opinions or interpretations which don’t affect me as they are not facts. Would like to hear more of what you got to say and open up more discussions, prolly take over Dina’s when she’s on maternity leave?

  17. Fatima.

    July 10, 2018 6:32 pm

    I am thoroughly impressed by this Saffa. As was born and raised in Pakistan with 97% of the population is born as a Muslims. And so it is pretty unusual or even rare to fine a ‘revert’ or a ‘convert’ or ‘whatever you please’ to Islam.
    However when we DO hear of an individual taking shahadah we’re all blown away by it. Including me. We cannot believe how incredibly ‘strong’ a person is for changing their faith. (Which they are of course). In our eyes a ‘new’ muslim is an ultimate hero.
    However in the East, as far as I know we never differentiate between ‘reverts’ and ‘born-lims’. I may be wrong however.
    This pseudo intellectual idea of labelling or categorizing people into groups causes more damage than good. It causes existential crises and confusion amongst individual seeking to find the perfect ‘category’ for themselves.
    I speak Urdu and for a ‘revert’ there is no word for it. All we have is ‘unho nai Islam qabool kia’. They embraced Islam. That is it. They are muslims. And I am sure it is the same in Arabic!
    Lastly, I’d like to congratulate you on finding Islam. I am sure you have an incredible story about the journey you embarked upon. Sending love and power you way xx.

  18. Ina

    July 10, 2018 7:13 pm

    Nice post! I don’t think labels themselves are the problem though but it’s how people use them. If we think that for example there’s only one way to be muslim or female or whatever and we are putting everyone on the same box, that’s where the problem comes from, not from the label itself. I think labels help with indentifying ourselves and they should not be used as a way to put people in to boxes where there’s no way for differences since we are all different one way or another.

    https://fashionbyina.blogspot.com

  19. Mina

    July 10, 2018 7:13 pm

    I have some new Muslim friends and honestly I think that what you have said is totally true. Calling them revert/converts can potentially sound disrespectful. It’s best to call them Muslims, or if necessary you can describe them as new to Islam or new Muslims. No need for the word revert or convert. As someone above said, there is no term for this in Pakistan. Mostly new Muslims are described as simply that – new Muslims. And it sounds so much nicer!

    Thanks for this article!

  20. Louisa

    July 10, 2018 7:13 pm

    I get asked and assumed alot of the time if I’m a revert bcos I’m white , while I do find it annoying that you can be white and not be a revert, I think in some situations it can be helpful, for example your approach to a new muslim would be different to a born Muslim in the way you explain and rationalise things. so I believe it depends on the context of the situation

  21. Demi

    July 10, 2018 7:35 pm

    It is in human nature to want to belong to a certain group, to believe that what we feel, what we do, how we think, is normal. It is also a way to understand other people who appear to be “different” from us. To understand why they do what they’re doing, etc.. It is quite impossible to understand every single individual’s way of doing things, so we start categorizing, to simplify it.
    However, there has never been a label that I can 100 percent identify with and that has often left me feeling alone and left out, because I don’t seem to fit in the category I was put into because of the place I was born and the way I look.
    So for me it is not so much the labels that is wrong or suffocating, so the say, it’s the expectations going hand in hand with it and the superior feeling that people within a label tend to have. Because yes, I am a woman and my neigbour is a man (because that’s how we identify ourselves), but in no ways does that mean I am better than him, or that he’s better than me. And my label shouldn’t come with the expectations of being an excellent cook. And the man label shouldn’t go hand in hand with him having to be tough and strong. It just means that I’m a woman, and he’s a man. And that should be it. And this goes for any label.. religion, sexual orientation, skin colour, etc.

  22. Angelica

    July 10, 2018 7:42 pm

    I really enjoyed this article ! Like you I chose isla for religion, and when someone is introducing me it’s like “she’s revert” or “she converted” sometimes they also classify me like “the young Portuguese girl who reverted”, in France (where I live and was raised) I think it’s such a subject because in their languages it’s like “you’re not a full Muslim yet”, and that’s kind sad when you chose your own religion, by yourself, just educating your own self, and still believe you’re “not enough” “you don’t know enough” to be called a Muslim. That’s just my point of view, hope you’re good, and sending lot of love for you ♥️

  23. Timmeke

    July 10, 2018 8:53 pm

    I’d say people just have a certain built-in mechanism in their brain which makes them categorize things so they’re easier to comprehend. Why is a train not a door for example? They’re both made out of materials such as wood or iron. It is nothing but human to put things into boxes. What makes us separate these is that line we draw somewhere. I don’t know anything about the human brain so I will not even attempt explaining it. Also, define right and wrong as there appears to be implications of labels being wrong (bad, evil). Right or wrong is mostly made up. Something isn’t right or wrong, something is right or wrong IN FUNCTION of something, in a certain context. In my context and in the one of victims of prejudice, it indeed is a bad thing. Then yes, labeling is a bad thing but that’s mainly because of my standards in life.

    Good read.
    Regards.

  24. Arshiya

    July 10, 2018 8:57 pm

    I will be honest i’ve Never had to be labelled atleast not in the religion field
    But I totally agree with each and every single point you have made
    The only thing is family name and country that is used to refer to each other
    And that too only to distinguish identities

  25. Sophie

    July 10, 2018 9:41 pm

    I honestly cannot stand the word revert. I get the sense of belonging that some people new to Islam want to feel, and calling themselves reverts is like saying “hey! I’ve always been in your club really… please accept me!”
    Whereas I’m here feeling like “No! You’re not taking this decision off me! I’ve made the choice to become Muslim, give me some credit for it!”
    Saying that, I won’t call myself a Muslim convert, I’ll only correct someone if they suggest I use revert instead. Ugh just writing the word irritates me.
    I just really don’t feel the need to put labels on and broadcast my faith to others, there’s enough people already doing that. As soon as you put your faith out there, it seems like you open yourself up for people criticising every aspect of your life, whether it relates to religion or not… Nah got no time for that.

  26. A person

    July 10, 2018 10:34 pm

    I feel like ur angry for no reason . Why do u care so much? U have great kids and one of ur children is doing really well for herself . Why don’t u praise urself for raising ur kids right instead of trying to use her platform to voice ur crazy thoughts. Chill, relax . Covert , revert, who cares ? U are what u are? No one cares. And some of the labels u wrote down are not even labels, they’re facts . Like male and female. How is that a label ? It’s a gender . For real, reading this just made me feel like I have no idea what goes on in other people’s mind . This is barbaric, and bonkers that u think like this. Chill, relax . Enjoy life. It ain’t this deep.

  27. Lamis Jailani

    July 10, 2018 11:08 pm

    This is really beautiful

  28. Aisha

    July 10, 2018 11:12 pm

    I see your convert/revert point but labels are important to so many people. A kid struggling in school will do better if diagnosed and given learning aids after being labeled dyspraxic/autistic/deaf – it is beneficial, helps parents and is a positive thing.
    Someone transitioning ftm will want the labels ‘son’/’man’. Same for those who identify as ‘bi’/’pan’/’ace’
    A lot of people find community in labels – some even switch them up to make them positive ‘down syndrome’ > ‘up syndrome’.

  29. Sum

    July 11, 2018 12:32 am

    This is a great read, you have raised such relevant conversation.
    Firstly I believe the labels have come from how we have always completed census with out flickering an eyelid. Every form, application or conversation has been lead by labels and categorizes. It has become the norm for all us Brits to a point where we do it unknowingly.
    The applications and forma have asked us our ethnicity, sexuality, gender, our age all to understand who we are and what makes us, this has lead for most of society to then practise same finding methods to label people around us. I don’t know exactly what help it offers but for me it truly is to understand socially how we have developed ourselves to live our current lives. It helps me understand where opinions come from, why people carry certain personality traits, strengths or lack of.
    But being in the social eye the scrutiny is higher, the self esteem is tested and people are detested for being trolls.
    Let’s hope when the higher commanders remove labels society will naturally conform but until then i us all good luck with our challenges with labelling and our t3st with humanity.

  30. Barcilisa

    July 11, 2018 12:45 am

    I absolutely love this! Great read thank you Dina!!

  31. Sonya Bay

    July 11, 2018 4:47 am

    Hmm this is very interesting. I love the fact that you went into the linguistics of the English words. It goes to show you how weak the English language is. I’ve heard lectures where they touch upon the Arabic linguistics which is a lot stronger and find them just as interesting. I really enjoyed this read and you’ve opened up my mind a bit more. Thanks!

  32. Melisa

    July 11, 2018 5:23 am

    Love your thoughts about labels. I am „born as a Muslim“ and I agree with you, there is no term in the Arabic language (mentioned in the Quran) for a new Muslim. People nowadays want to categorise everything. People ask me when Inhave decided to wear a hijab and being in some form “radical” because of praying 5 times a day.. well, people need terms. They need it, why ever

  33. Simone Dønvang

    July 11, 2018 7:40 am

    O M G – I was just sitting and putting this into words last week.

    I did not convert to Islam to become a convert – I converted to become a MUSLIM. I am not a convert or a revert, just a Muslim. It is as simple as that.

    Thank you!!!

  34. AH

    July 11, 2018 8:16 am

    When Dina posted this link on her Instagram, I thought it was going to be about fashion and designer labels 🤦🏻‍♀️ Donut!!!

  35. Dahlian Kirby

    July 11, 2018 3:57 pm

    Whilst I generally agree with what you are saying there are some times reasons why we need to look at labels and what happens to the people who broadly or narrowly come under those labels. So, for example, in UK bisexual people are more likely to have mental health problems than people of other sexualities. The theory is because they face more discrimination. So something needs to change. In general men earn more than women in UK, something needs to change. In UK suicide is far more prevalent amongst young men under 24, I want to know why and what we can do about it. let’s celebrate individuality, but remember some are allowed more of it that others. Keep up the good work by the way…

  36. FaithFashionFriendship

    July 12, 2018 1:30 pm

    I’ve always wondered how people, who accepted Islam after practicing another faith, or no faith at all, felt about the term “revert”. Interesting view of the situation! I’m not sure how I feel about labels. I’ve never really been labeled, except for being a girl and a Muslim; I guess it’s because I’m basic! (hahaha) But just because I’m ok with the labels that define me, doesn’t mean that I don’t understand or respect the fact that others are not ok with them! Everyone has their own situation and opinions and we should all be open to that.

    P.S thank you for giving us Dina

  37. Suraiya

    July 14, 2018 4:42 am

    Thanks for your blog post!
    My thoughts: I defintely understand that labels can be devisive and can take the focus away from the fact that we are all human beings.
    On the other hand, questions on ethnicity, gender, religion often fall under the equal opportunities section of a form. So, if I for instance wanted to select 20 students for a university class I migh first and foremost look at grades/ attainment. Then I might look at equal opps data to ensure that the cohort I select are diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender.Otherwise, I might end up with a class of 20 pelple from the same ethnicity/ gender e.g all white middle class men. So, I can see where data like this is important sometimes…

    I open to hearing other opinions and constructive challenges to my view of-course! 🙂

  38. Claire

    July 15, 2018 4:33 pm

    I agree, i hate when people say ‘are you a convert?’. No, i converted to Islam years ago. I’m just a Muslim. Converting is an act, a process someone goes through, it’s not a permanent state of being. It happened once, I wasn’t Muslim and now I am and that’s it. I do think in Muslim communities there is an obsession on forever labeling people as converts. I grew up Catholic, and i don’t remember people going on and on for years about whether someone had converted.

  39. Wafa

    July 25, 2018 2:24 pm

    They just overthinking Dina !!! lol
    No seriously That’s why the world is so confusing in our time, everyone want to put a word on everything.
    Its doesn’t matter revert, convert or born like that… I’m a muslim point.
    The only things in my opinion who “need to be labelised” are the name, the gender and if you want where u come from