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I've seen a few related explanations behind the motivation behind using the word "revert" to mean "convert", e.g.,

They seem originate with the ahadith:

No child is born but upon Fitra. He then said. Recite: The nature made by Allah in which He created man, there is no altering of Allah's nature; that is the right religion." -- reported by Abu Huraira, Sahih Muslim 2658 d (sunnah.com)

No babe is born but upon Fitra. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist. A person said: Allah's Messenger, what is your opinion if they were to die before that (before reaching the age of adolescence when they can distinguish between right and wrong)? He said: It is Allah alone Who knows what they would be doing. -- reported by Abu Huraira, Sahih Muslim 2658 e (sunnah.com)

But it doesn't explain when the word "revert" started being used, or even if the Prophet used an Arabic equivalent himself.

Question: When did converts to Islam start being called "reverts"?

In the comments to How is the notion of a "revert" compatible with not imitating non-Muslims?, G. Bach described it as a "modernist misnomer", which indicates it's new. If it's new, it could might come close to innovation, which is typically frowned upon in Islam.

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    Just note that different juridical schools differ on what actually amounts to haram innovation. – infatuated Dec 28 '16 at 11:09
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    Be aware that the words converts and reverts are not an issue of Arabic language so G.Bach might have a point on the historical nomination at least one of them might be based on an interpretation of the last hundred years at most! And basically have no origin in the teaching of Islam. In Arabic one just say that X became a Muslim. – Medi1Saif Dec 28 '16 at 11:15
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    I doubt you'll find the term used much sooner than 2000; it always struck me as a social media buzzword with an apologist flavor, and if that's the case, then it probably came with the internet. – G. Bach Dec 28 '16 at 11:37
  • @G. Bach i first was confronted with it on this site so i'd agree with you. So i think it is somewhat off topic. – Medi1Saif Dec 28 '16 at 13:31
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TL;DR: I look at Google Trends, Google Ngram, and Google Books data (in English) to investigate when "convert" started being called "revert".

  1. The term "convert" is and has consistently been by far the most common.

  2. The earliest reference I found was to a sporadic book dated 1991. It's possible that nobody before 1990 used "revert" to mean "convert".


Google Trends

Searching Google Trends for Muslim revert and Muslim convert (noun version), we obtain:

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Searching Google Trends for revert to Islam and convert to Islam (verb version), we obtain:

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This data relates to Google search interest since 2004. We see that "convert" is consistently favored over "revert".

Google Ngrams

Searching Google Ngram for Muslim revert and Muslim convert (noun version), we obtain:

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Searching Google Ngram for revert to Islam and convert to Islam (verb version), we obtain:

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This data relates to usage in books in the Google Books database dating before 2008. An exact match for "Muslim revert" was not even found. The first hit for "revert to Islam" was in 1931, but there isn't an entry available on Google Books for this date. There are alternative (false positive) ways "revert to Islam" can arise, such as

Persia and Central Asia Revert to Islam Under Turkish Feudal Rule

which arose in the book The Tides of History: From the expansion of Islam to the treaties of Westphalia dated 1962.

Google Books

Searching Google Books, the earliest usage of "revert" (in the currently used sense) I found was in a book called Echo of Islam, dated 1991:

Being an English born revert to Islam I must confess to being for removed from scholarly attributes, but Allah (SWT) has given me eyes and ears, and the ability to reason ...

(Islamic Horizons, dated 1997, likewise uses this term.)

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