Margari Aziza

January 13, 2013

Advice to Converts to Islam and those new to discovering their faith

Filed under: Gender Relations in Islam, Islamic Education, Muslim Communities in America — Margari Aziza Hill @ 7:27 pm

bridge

“We’ll cross some bridges when we get to them…”

القرآن
۞ قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُلْ لَمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِنْ قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِنْ تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُمْ مِنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
Al-Quran 49:14

THE BEDOUIN say, “We have attained to faith.” Say [unto them, O Muhammad]: “You have not [yet] attained to faith; you should [rather] say, ‘We have [outwardly] surrendered’ – for [true] faith has not yet entered your hearts.1 But if you [truly] pay heed unto God and His Apostle, He will not let the least of your deeds2 go to waste: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.”
–Translation by Muhammad Asad

So, you are full of zeal and excitement. Everybody wants you to pray for them because your slate has just been wiped clean. This is your rebirth, your new start.  It is not just a new chapter, but a new book, and in fact a new series. Now the community has a vested interest in your success. You have just crossed a bridge to find that you are not only in a new land, but a new world and possibly an alternate universe.   This faith has so many layers and oceans so deep that you feel you can implode from all the pressure.   There are the prayers, the rules, the regulations, the language, the culture,  the disciplines to master,  the 1400 years of scholarship to study. Everyone is telling you this or that and you’re trying to figure it all out. You feel like you’re in a vacuum. It is all mind blowing.

My advice is to take your time, because you have a long road ahead.  I’ve seen some converts full of anxiety because of all the things they needed to learn. You’ll cross some bridges when you get to them. And some of us were once full of zeal,  so super excited to discover this tradition, and  so excited to proclaim that we believe. But the verse quoted above is to point out that like the Bedouin, we should rather accept that developing faith is a difficult journey. Rather, we should say that we submit to God’s will. By obeying God and the guidance given to His Messenger (s.a.w.), faith can enter our hearts. In some ways, this is bringing us back to a certain humility about our relationship with our Lord. In this stage of newness and zeal, we can be easily mislead into some destructive things. Remember, many people are misguided and will capitalize on your naiveté in their own misadventures. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and the mistakes that others have made. I’m still learning.

So here is a brief list of some pitfalls to avoid. The  list is in no particular order.

  1. If you are in college, stay in college. Do not drop out of school, travel to some dusty village to learn the basics of your faith. You can learn a lot of stuff by reputable online classes and institutions or by attending a class at your local Muslim community center. Complete school. Do not listen to somebody who is slanging oils on the street corner or a privileged kid who has had his college bankrolled by affluent parents tell you to drop out because of student loans. Those same people will not be able to support you when you are unemployed.
  2. If you have a job, do not quit. Unless  you are a stripper or bartender, but even then, you probably need to make a gradual transition to halal gains. But if you work in corporate America, do not let some zealot make you feel guilty because you work for “the man.”
  3. Your parents have known you for nearly two decades  or more by one name. Do not force them to call you by your new Muslim name, especially one they cannot pronounce. It will weird them out.
  4. Don’t start debating your family members and chastising them about their “mushrik,” “kafir” faith. It is better to live by example and if they have questions answer them to the best of your ability. But maintain respect for your family ties.
  5. Don’t dress like you’re going to a costume party. Even if you choose to wear hijab (which has nothing to do with Middle Eastern culture), you may want to start out with western-style modest clothes. But if you  wear shalwar kameezes or long all black chador as a woman  or pajama outfits or what appears to be man gowns as a guy, your parents will think you’ve joined some commune or have gone all Lawrence of Arabia on them.
  6. Don’t act like you’ve joined a cult. Maintain ties with your non-Muslim friends and family. It may also be a good idea to keep saying praises and thanks to God in English. If you get all weird and stop talking to people, your family may want to send a specialist deprogram you.
  7. Don’t take it all on. Pace your learning so that your practice matches your knowledge.  This is not a race. Don’t know or feel like you have to memorize the Quran and become a muhaddith tomorrow. Look for creative ways to contribute to your community that doesn’t overburden you, but gives you a sense of place.
  8. Avoid hypercritical analysis of everything around you. Just because you found God, doesn’t mean that the whole world has gone to pot. The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that people’s faith ebbs and flows. Just because you’re on a spiritual high now and willing to give up all your material possessions and become a dervish, doesn’t mean that in 15 years all you’ll be thinking about is how you’ll finance your kids’ braces.
  9. Don’t adopt delusions of grandeur. Chances are, you are not the Mahdi or savior for all Muslims. There were a lot of people who came before you and many  who will come after you that wanted to challenge the established order. It is not your job to start the Caliphate. In fact, you may find yourself frustrated by dealing the board of your local masjid and your own break away group will probably run our of funds before you can kick start your movement. But,  you can do your part to help make the world a better place, by being a good person with a moral compass.
  10. Avoid rushing into marital decisions. Nothing will freak out your parents more than a stranger marriage. But above all, it can be very damaging to you as a new Muslim. Some people will rush to marry a new shahadah because you don’t know anything.  Take your time to develop yourself both as a Muslim and as a human being. You should be prepared to take on all the religious and real world responsibilities of being a Muslim partner. Also, you should make sure that your potential partner knows his/her responsibilities and is willing to be a supportive partner.  You want this decision to be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make and it will determine the course and direction that your Islam will take. Even if you became Muslim through the process of marriage, you need to take ownership of your faith and your religious development.

Well, that is my list of ten. I am sure there are many others. Feel free to offer your advice in the comments.

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8 Comments »

  1. Salaam Alaikum,

    Someone left a comment on my blog asking (nicely) if I was happier as a Muslim and I think my response would be useful to new Muslims: http://getoutlines.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/down-that-road/

    To add to your excellent list, what I would add is that
    1)It is all about your relationship with God. Don’t get sidetracked and don’t be afraid to talk to God (it doesn’t just have to be the approved du’a and salah only) and take time to seek closeness to God.

    2)You don’t have to be a completely different person to be a better person. Allah made us all different for a reason.

    I do think a lot of people think being Muslim means having a personality transplant and then they end up, 5, 10 years later wondering who on earth they are. I’ve come across quite a few women who’ve walked away from Islam after several years in the deen and I think this has a lot to do with it.

    3)Sheikh/Imam/Hafiz only tells you about someone’s knowledge (supposedly), not their personality. Be careful, trust your instincts and do not feel you need to join any sect/group/whatever and make your own decisions.

    I love you for the sake of Islam sister Margari, I truly do. We are blessed to have someone so wise and knowledgeable in our community.

    Comment by Safiya Outlines — January 13, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

  2. [...] source wordpress.com [...]

    Pingback by Advice to Converts to Islam - AbdelRahman Mussa — January 14, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  3. great reading! just one thing: the verse is from 49:14 in the quran rather than 49:1

    Comment by Razi Fareed — January 14, 2013 @ 11:34 am

  4. Jazak Allah kheir Razi! Good looking out. I accidentally cut that off and probably would have never caught it!

    Comment by Margari Aziza Hill — January 14, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  5. Walaikum salaam Safiya,
    I really appreciate your kind words and I love you too. You have been a welcome breath of fresh air in all the discussions we’ve had. These are great points! I’d add:
    1. Don’t abdicate your own rational thinking or undermine your self interests for a charismatic figure who thinks they are the savior of the world.
    2. Don’t feel obligated to give up your livelihood for a “Muslim cause,” which is really a code word for blindly following a charismatic figure or leader a possible cult.
    3. Don’t throw out all your furniture in an effort to become pious. There are Muslims throughout the world who sleep on beds and entertain their guests on couches and not the floor.
    4. Don’t feel obligated to lead every group prayer because you alone have the zeal and gusto. Unfortunately, many of the mistakes you make in your salat will require a number of those following you to re-do their salat. They are just being kind to avoid fitnah. Be humble. Salat is supposed to be led by someone of sound mind (no insane person can lead prayer), preferably they should be an adult, they should be knowledgeable of the rules of salat and the rules of reciting Quran, and technically order of deference is given to those who know more Quran. Age is not the only deciding factor, as in the case of Ibn Abbas, he sometimes lead salat as a teen because he was more knowledgeable. If you demand to lead salat, and then recite the shortest surahs possible and butcher them, you are only annoying your brethren and making all of us converts look bad.

    Comment by Margari Aziza Hill — January 14, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

  6. Assalaamu alaikum and may Allah reward you for the good that you do.

    Great list. I’ve made almost each and every mistake on it! Walhamdulillah, still learning!

    Comment by Tom — January 15, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

  7. Tom, I’ve made a lot of these mistakes too. A lot of us are in recovery.

    Comment by Margari Aziza Hill — January 15, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

  8. Reblogged this on insearchofilmandhaqq's Blog and commented:
    Bismillah, alhamdulillah, wasalatu wasalamu ‘ala Rasulillah. Well written, I would respectfully differ on some points but that’s a beautiful gift from Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala, when used correctly, that we can differ and propone our own thoughts and beliefs. It is an interesting read that delivers some invaluable advice. May Allah Azza Wa Jal reward the author.

    Comment by In search of ilm and haqq — January 16, 2013 @ 12:29 pm


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