Sunday, 5 April 2015
The Sharing Group Discussion on Helping New Converts
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following was asked, on The Sharing Group, by me, on the 14th October, 2014: “What is a simple thing that you can do to help a convert, new to Islam?”
Sister Claudia Daisy Zakarya: Introduce them to other like-minded converts.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Hopefully not fill their heads with prejudice! “Like-minded converts”? Why not like minded Muslims?
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: It is an unfortunate reality that there are certain things that only another convert would understand. A man who has not swum the ocean has not credibility talking about the temperature of the water.
Brother Jeff Lilland: Listen to them. Try not to overwhelm them and please let them know that they do not need to change their name.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Categorising and lumping people together like this is extremely dangerous. There are also non-‘converts’ who have swam the ocean.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: It is helpful to categorise things; not dangerous. The process of discernment requires categorisation. Even in fiqh and taswawwuf, we categorise things. Even the Qur’an States that we are Created in nations and tribes.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Nations and tribes are meant to unite under the banner of Islam, and not be exclusive. Do you think this would be the approach of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)? If Mawlana Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (q.s.) was around, would you advise converts not to talk to him because he was not a convert?
Sister Aa'isha Suzanne: How is it wrong to categorise? There are certain things converts experience that all Muslims never have and never will experience. One sure thing is having to give up what you were raised to believe. No born-Muslim, no non-convert, would ever be able to even imagine how it feels to change the core of your beliefs. It makes us different, whether we like it or not. Only fellow converts will understand exactly what we go through.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: If Mawlana Jalal ad-Din (q.s.) was around, Sister Mahshid Turner, or the Prophet (s.a.w.) himself, the converts would not face the trials they face with the Muslim majority. Certainly there are exceptions, but even you must recognise that not everyone is like you. Perhaps you could ask the converts you know of some of the trials they have had with the Muslims, of being told to leave everything of their culture and be subsumed into a Pakistani, Arab, Malay or some other dominant culture. So yes, I am a strong advocate that unless there are exceptional Muslims, and there are more than a few, al-Hamdulillah, the converts should stick with the converts. The Muslims, by and large, are bad for the iman.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Totally disagree with you, Sister Aa'isha. It has to be understood that there we are all ‘born Muslim’, and we are all constantly undergoing conversion. Therefore Muslims are also ‘converts’, and many go through the same difficulties. Many are told how to dress, how to walk, how to talk and how to eat and so on and adapt to their husband's specific culture. I know so-called ‘converts’ find security by sticking to a particular group, but this is a false sense of security and in a way doing exactly what they criticise Muslims not to do by ending up marginalising and criticising them.
Brother Terence, I know quite a few people who just because they had really bad experience with black people they became totally prejudice against all blacks. I acknowledge the bad experiences people have gone through. But I know many, many Muslims who have gone through similar experiences. I have also seen Muslim women who have suffered at the hands of Muslim male converts. Surely the message should be to mix with the right type of Muslims rather than be exclusive.
Sister Aa’isha Suzanne: That is nonsense. No non-convert or born-Muslim or whatever you want to call them grew up praying to something else, or building their faith on another god.
Sister Mahshid Turner: I know many so called ‘non-converts’ whose parents did not believe in God and children were brought up in totally secular environment.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: We can agree to disagree, sister. I am not budging from my position. I spent 15 years in a Muslim convert organisation. You cannot imagine my experience of the many institutions and their politics.
Sister Aa’isha Suzanne: Then, they did not grow up as Muslims but as atheists, and therefor are also converts.
Brother Yahia Ouayah: Regarding the original post, I would ask him what kind of help he needs, if any. And then I see how.
Brother Hamza Shinde: Invite him on ‘Iyd and other Islamic events, and make sure he is not left alone.
Brother Mustafa Davis: My advice is to make sure they do not read threads like this. I am so thankful that I converted to Islam before I met Muslims.
Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Tell them the story of the rabbit and the tortoise.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Converting to Islam is relatively easy. I was reading the requirements and procedures for becoming a Jew, and it was exacting. Staying converted, that is the tricky part: A Muslim Convert Once More: Staying Converted.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Sister Aa’isha, they were Iranians or as you would say, ‘born Muslims’. They did not ‘convert’ to atheism as such; they just did not believe in God.
Brother Terence, I do agree with you with regard to the atrocious practice of some of these institutions but it is really important not to be reactive and then end up in a sense becoming like them.
Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: The longer I stay in Islam the more I realise just how profound a change is accepting Islam. As one grows and one grandparents pass away, the memory of them start to surge within. These stirrings provoke a kind of nostalgia for the culture of ones grandparents. I am never convinced that a Muslim who was not taught Islam by his parents and didn't feel a Muslim even until later on in life should be called a new Muslim. The feeling that grandparents are pleased with ones Islam must be a great stabilising factors. In Australia however there are family’s called ‘Khan’ whose great grandfathers were Muslims but grandfathers never practiced Islam so these would still experience some of the same difficulties. But even in that case there will be within that family a very different feeling about Islam from a family whose generations have been Christian or Hindi for instance.
Brother Mustafa Davis: The argument that catering to the specific needs of converts is somehow divisive is indicative of a very deep problem. I constantly hear the argument that we are all just Muslim, as though Islam was some monolith that abhors labels. If this was the case, then why did the swahabah have nicknames such as Salman ‘al-Farsi’ (r.a.), Salman the Persian, who was also called Salman Abu al-Kitabayn by ‘Ali (k.w.) which means, “Father of Two Books,” which was a recognition of his conversion to Islam from Christianity.
I am a co-founder of an organisation that is called Ta’leef Collective; also founded by Ustadz Usama Canon with Imam Zaid Shakir as Chairman of the Board. It was created to cater to the unmet needs of converts to Islam. Our constituents consist of both born Muslims and converts and I can assure you that the needs of converts are not identical to the needs of born Muslims. I realise that the focus on converts perhaps makes some people insecure, but to deny this group of people their uniqueness is to deny them the right to get their needs taken care of. While there are many more similarities between converts and born Muslims, there are very real differences that can prove harmful if dismissed. And denying a convert the right to identify as such is to rob them of the empowerment needed to take on their challenges.
Habib ‘Umar ibn al-Hafizh said, “Taking care of the needs of converts is of the most important of affairs.”
Lastly, we really need to stop saying that all people are born Muslim. This is not what that Arabic in the hadits states. This is a mistranslating of the meaning of the word ‘fithrah’. The hadits states, “No child is born but upon fithrah. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist.” This is recorded in Swahih Muslim. Fithrah means to have a primordial inclination to believe in the Oneness of God and to follow His Commandments. It does not mean that one is born a Muslim. The only people are who are born Muslim are those born to Muslim parents. All of Creation is born on the fithrah, but this does not mean they are born as adherents of the religion of Islam. If this were so, then why are converts required to say the shahadah in order to convert to the religion of Islam? It is this reason that scholars such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. ‘Umar Faruq ‘Abdullah and many others reject the term ‘revert’ because people are not returning to the religion they were born into but rather embracing a new doctrine altogether.
After my verbose explanation above, my advice is to allow the convert to have his or her own experience and to remember that they are intelligent human beings and not some problem that needs to solved.
Sister Adita El Sadani: A perfect match sponsor is needed. What I needed was someone understood my former religion to answer my questions and concerns rather than being bombarded with rules and ‘don’ts’ and ‘can’ts’. Much like a sponsor to a recovering addict, now please, I am not saying a convert is an addict or bad no but they need someone there to be available. I know too often, people get caught up in wanting hasanat or getting a Reward from Allah (s.w.t.) that they become greedy with this new convert friendship yet do not have full desire to want them grow even if it means without them. If I know a former Mormon, I try find an ex-Mormon that is strong in their diyn. I wish had known a former Evangelical Pentecostal Muslim to answer questions and concerns along my journey. Most assumed I was Coptic and it was nothing close. It makes it easy if we had a list even here of former religion converts to know who to send where for help along with us supporting them too. I remember going to a masjid first time and a woman yelling at me for having nail polish on my toes. I had no clue I did wrong and was embarrassed.
Brother Mustafa Davis: I directed a very emotional film that covers these topics. You can watch for free on YouTube: Wayward Son: The Jordan Richter Story.
Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Brother Mustafa Davis, thanks for posting that great movie. It had me in tears last year.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Islam does abhor labels which cause disunity. Just because they had nicknames does not mean that they did not acknowledge other Muslims. No one’s needs are identical - we all have different needs - stop lumping me in a box! Empowerment comes from belief, from whoever is righteous; not from a specific group. I agree we are all converts and in desperate need of love and support and we should take care of each other’s needs. All people are born Muslim then they fall and then they have to consciously revert back to their original state. This is why some people prefer the term ‘revert’ rather than ‘convert’. I say shahadah whenever I go to bed, whenever I am frightened. We all need to constantly renew our faith. Yes, we are all intelligent human beings and should be supportive of each other and not exclude people on grounds of race, colour or ‘conversion’!
Brother Colin Turner: One senses, from various posts in this and other threads, that there is quite a virulent anti-‘born’ Muslim sentiment afoot. I find this beyond objectionable. I also find it sad and beyond explanation. I came to this group to escape the vilification of X by Y, or Y by X, but I find it here, subtle, imperceptible at times, then boiling over like this when people get heated and feel aggravated. This is not a post in defense of Sister Mahshid Turner, who happens to be my wife; she can take care of herself without me. This is a post in defense of fairness, which I think is lacking.
Whatever our personal experiences have been, and however entrenched we are in our own positions and opinions - even if that means not wanting to associate with ‘born Muslims’ unless they are absolutely impeccable - we should not posit that as a default position for converts. I find the notion of converts mixing only with converts to be a form of apartheid. I have seen it elsewhere and it was invidious, hurtful. I do not care what ‘born Muslims’ do - as if they were a monolith anyway. But to see them through the prism of victimhood does none of us any good in the long-run. Maybe I have not had the kind of negative experiences that many have had here. Nevertheless, as the Persian proverb says, “I may not have eaten barley bread, but I have seen it in the hands of people.” I am not gullible or naive enough to believe that all is well with born-Muslims. But to speak in ways which make it seem they are all being tarred with the same brush is, I believe, wrong, and should not be advocated as a default position from which converts should engage with those who had the geographical good fortune/misfortune to be Muslim from the outset. I no longer have any contribution to make to threads about converts and how they should do this, that or the other. From now on I will restrict my posts to quotes and anecdotes that are designed to help everyone, convert, ‘born’ or whatever.
Brother Mustafa Davis: Sister Mahshid Turner and Brother Colin Turner, I appreciate your sentiments and feelings. I think there are many issues being conflated here. Perhaps some people are speaking with disdain, however, I am not. My wife was born Muslim as were my children. It would be shortsighted and immature of me to alienate them and only deal with converts. I am having trouble seeing where it is I am alienating other Muslims. I did not have a bad experience converting to Islam. If you were to watch the film I posted above, you will see that even Jordan states that it is not born Muslims who are the problem for converts. Many times, the negative experiences people are referring to are caused by other converts. That is simply fact. I think perhaps my post is being lumped in with the sentiments of others here. My point is simply that catering to the needs of an individual or group is not, by default, an indication of alienation of other groups. If I were to say, “I'm helping converts and nobody else” then I could understand the contention. My organisation caters the very real unique needs of converts, however, our constituents are about 75% born Muslims. We are one family and have classes that cater to converts, classes that cater to women, joint classes, and so forth.
Catering to the specific needs of converts is not exclusionary any more than doctors attending to the sick would be considered exclusionary of healthy people. When we have fundraisers for Palestine, would that be considered decisive because we are not also fundraising for Afghanistan as well? The argument simply does not hold any weight. Nobody is saying, “Hey, let’s take care of converts and forget about anybody who was born Muslim.” We are simply saying that through years of on the ground work, we realise that converts have some very unique needs that often go unmet. So, in order to prevent the far too common phenomenon of people converting to Islam and then leaving the faith, let us do something to ensure a healthy and sustainable practice of the religion. I am just really having a hard time seeing how this can be interpreted as a negative thing or even be considered a type of alienation. Is the alternative to consider everyone the same and only provide solutions that work for everyone and if it does not work for some, then too bad? All I am contending is that the argument that identifying and catering to the needs of people who do not have familial and community support is somehow divisive and alienates born-Muslims is an unsubstantiated argument. Honestly, what is the alternative? Just say, “Hey, we were all born Muslim, we all have the same struggle, you are not unique so don't expect anybody to cater to your needs.” It simply does not make sense to me and I honestly do not understand the contention.
Sister Mahshid Turner: There is nothing wrong with catering for specific needs as long as it is understood that a so-called ‘non-convert’ may have more in common with a ‘convert’ than another ‘convert’ and may have had similar experiences. Also I consider remarks such as “The Muslims, by and large, are bad for the iman” dangerous and divisive.
Brother Mustafa Davis: Sister Mahshid Turner, this is why I said I think issues are being conflated here. In my first comment I stated, “While there are many more similarities between converts and born Muslims, there are very real differences that can prove harmful if dismissed. And denying a convert the right to identify as such is to rob them of the empowerment needed to take on their challenges.”
There are surely many people who were born into Islam that have near identical experiences as a convert. Perhaps they are alienated from their family. Perhaps their parents no longer practice and are upset that their offspring are identifying as Muslims. Perhaps they fled a war torn country and are alone in a new land, separated from family. Without a doubt, there are Muslims who have almost identical circumstances regardless of how they became Muslim or what culture they identify with. That goes without saying. It also goes without saying that catering to the needs of others while purposely excluding others is not part of our tradition.
But that is not what is happening so I am genuinely confused about the contention. I feel like we are upset about hypothetical situations and possibilities that have not actually manifested in the real world. I stated that at our organisation, about 75% of the constituents were born into Islam, including my wife who teaches there and my own children, and we are one family. We study together, pray together, laugh together, play together and cry together as one family. But just as my four children are part of the same family, they each have unique needs. If I were to dismiss these needs in some attempt to keep unity, I would rob my children of what they need for their own unique development. And by catering to their specific needs does not mean I am alienating the other children. It simply means that as a family we all have different personalities and I raise my children individually within a collective unit. I do not think anybody would take issue with this because it is understood I'm merely providing each child what they need to fully develop into unique individual within the family structure. That is all we're talking about here and it is confusing that we are constantly met with contempt, and I do not mean you, but others in the past have been really combative about this.
We have mentioned that there are more similarities than there are differences between born Muslims and converts. We have mentioned that not only do we not alienate others; that the majority of the people we help were in fact born Muslim. But we have also recognised that converts do have some very unique needs that often go unmet. I do appreciate the sentiments of others here, but I am truly having a very hard time understanding how any of what I said is contentious or divisive.
Sister Mahshid Turner: No one should be denied the right to obtain support from others. It is the exclusion and stereotyping of others that I object to. I can assure you that there are very real differences between so called ‘converts’ themselves. Also lots of differences between ‘born Muslims’. I have heard of many Islamic society prayer rooms which are controlled by Wahhabis and many so called ‘born Muslims’ are excluded. There is so much hate among different groups of Muslims and this is due to lack of unity. We all need to unite under the banner of Islam, Guidance from the Qur’an and stay away from those who try to cause disunity among us.
Brother Mustafa Davis: Sister Mahshid Turner, perhaps I'm not making any sense. But we have to fair here. How is labeling a group as ‘Wahhabis’ in a negative fashion not divisive but saying we are interested in helping converts is somehow alienating? I am genuinely confused.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Unity does not mean we all have to be the same. Every single one of us had our journey and our pain and our challenges. Just as I would never claim to know the challenges of another, I would not accept the disingenuous idea that another person knows my struggle. I reject the idea that a born-Muslim could understand the struggle of a convert because a bad Muslim of Muslim heritage has to leave what he has, even if he does not practise the religion, it is intrinsic and inculcated. A convert, on the other hand, has left something to come to Islam. There is that option, and perhaps, temptation. This does not mean we are being divisive. It means that we recognise that there is a different need and a different response. It has nothing to do with hate, Sister Mahshid Turner. Based on that analogy, could we then say that we must treat every disease the same, or cook every meat the same manner, because we do not want to be ‘divisive’. You are mistaking uniformity and unity. We strive for unity, not necessarily uniformity. You will struggle to find converts to Islam who will agree with you. This diminishes our struggles and dismisses our needs.
Sister Mahshid Turner: I was not labelling them in a negative fashion. I was giving the example of the fact that in certain towns Islamic societies run by Wahhabis are excluding other Muslims from attending. So it does not matter who it is; it is the act of exclusion that is wrong.
Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: For someone entering into Islam, it is much easier to keep the company of born Muslims especially when they extend their excitement of new people embracing Islam. Often, the manners and generosity of born Muslims is far more than the converts own family and previous community. There is also the sense of having a clean slate. People from this new community have no knowledge of your past reputation. Often, born Muslims recently emigrated have a feeling of inferiority and do not really have understanding of the new Muslims’ actual cultural standing. In many ways, it is not because born Muslims are bad but they are ‘too good’. The new Muslim assume airs and graces that are not really congruent. All of a sudden, he or she is a respected member of a new society. But if he were to mix with other Muslims like himself, they would immediately see through him and treat him as he used to be treated. So it is important for their own egos they remain within a culturally similar group.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: An act of exclusion is not necessarily wrong. It is the intent behind such act that would make it just or unjust. If every act of exclusion is wrong, we have a problem with reconciling the Qur’an, the ahadits and the jurisprudence as a whole. There are exclusions on the basis of maturity, gender, level of knowledge, and proscriptions on the basis of ‘aqidah.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Brother Terence it is the uniformity that you are propagating that I reject. Muslim ‘converts’ or ‘born’ Muslims are not one homogenous group. As I keep repeating, I have seen evidence of more differences between ‘converts’ who have preferred to obtain support from ‘born’ Muslims. Unity should be based on the Truth shared rather than colour, race, nationality, ‘convert’ or whatever.
Brother Colin Turner: I have known a number of 'born Muslims' who, growing up in either secular or ultra-traditional families, have accepted Islam consciously and ‘reverted’ to the default, fitri position, so to speak. The hardships that these ‘born Muslims’ go through on their new journey, ridiculed by their secular families or rejected by their ultra-traditional ones, are not to be dismissed so easily. In many ways, as has already been pointed out, everyone is a ‘convert’, because the shahadah is something which has to be said consciously. And the problems that born Muslim ‘converts’ undergo are often just as exacting as, and sometimes more exacting than, the hardships of conversion from one religion to another. It is a different kind of conversion, perhaps, but the issues faced are no easier.
Sister Adita El Sadani: Sister Mahshid Turner, I understand your point of exclusion. That is why I made no mention of born or converted Muslim. Being married to a born Muslim, I think we have learned from each other many things that has made our Diyn stronger in many forms. But I do feel from personal experience that converts can many times help other converts from same former religion or school of thought because they have been there and felt that, whatever it may be. I can say also that a born Muslim with that understanding can also be of help. My husband now understands the Evangelical Pentecostal doctrine to the degree that he can answer someone struggling with questions or concerns when converting to Islam. I have been shunned by born Muslims but find other converts harsher, not the other way around. But I have matured in Islam and just try to not do to others especially when knew to Islam. Much like a baby, you give them information as they mature.
Sister Tezuka-Syusuke Jaeun: The simplest thing is I can do is pray, so that the person is one with God’s Will and not against, and also, God Willing, continue to grow stronger and become more steadfast, and most of all, love God, love himself. Only then can they reach out to others.
Brother Colin Turner: The danger here lies in the possibility of stereotypification. A born Muslim is a born Muslim is a born Muslim is ridiculous: how does one square a Yazid with a Husayn? A convert is a convert is a convert is similarly ridiculous: how does one square a Tim Winter or a Hamza Yusuf with any of the countless Wahhabi converts who bestride the Internet with their ‘Ask the Shaykh’ type video empires? If I were about to convert, I would hope not to be advised to seek the company of converts only, lest I fall into the hands of a Musa Cerantonio or a Bilal Phillips. Let us be reasonable about this. Having societies or set-ups for converts only is not necessarily the pernicious thing that some may feel it is being painted. It all depends on intention. But let us also bear in mind that classifications are not set in stone, and conversion is something that all Muslims have to undergo, whether born or rediscovered.
Sister Mahira Khairia: As a born Muslim, I would befriend that person, hang out with them more, would bring them around to any activities that would make them less lonely as a new convert, not just for Islamic activities but also for recreational. Being there in person for them would hopefully help them to be more comfortable as a new Muslim, would be less scary experience for them as well. And of course help them make new connections amongst other Muslims in the society.
Brother Mustafa Davis: Who here is saying they are “Having societies or set-ups for converts only”? Are we all having the same conversation?
Brother Colin Turner: I did not say that anyone was suggesting that. I said were that to be the case, it would not be problematic. You have decontextualised it from my whole post and surmised that it was a statement aimed at someone. It was not.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Sister Mahshid Turner, no one was propagating a uniformity. Rather, the first comment was speaking of generalities. People are allowed to speak of their experience. You would notice that I refrained from labels of right or wrong, but you jumped on what was initially an innocent comment by a sister. Could you not have addressed it gently? You made this all about what you think and totally subverted the thread. One of the reasons we created this group is for convert support, because converts, whether you like it or not, have specific needs that need to be addressed. I do agree with you, and you would actually find that from the group description, that when I say converts, I generally mean new Muslims, ex-Muslims and lapsed Muslims, although I do not impose that definition on others. I am quite disappointed that you seized upon one thing, and made it all about your understanding to the exclusion of others. That, is the epitome of divisive. You began the very thing you claimed to oppose.
It is arrogance to decide what others should feel, what they should call themselves, to claim to know their state, and to tell them what they can or cannot use because you have a private pet hurt. Everyone is hurt. Can you try not to heal wounds with a giant stapler?
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Terence, I take it that ‘converts’ in the context of this group also applies to ‘born Muslims’ who rediscovered Islam?
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Yes, brother. That is in the group description and the welcome message itself.
Sister Shahla Khan Salter: You can say, “Allah will Love you even if you decide Islam is not your thing.”
Sister Mahshid Turner: I do not have a private pet hurt. You are making a lot of assumptions here as well as being judgmental. I have never said that people should not be allowed to speak of their experience. I also do not jump on comments, but simply and politely respond. I do not believe that I have subverted the thread, but because I care about my Muslim sisters and brothers, I feel that is my duty speak out when I see posts that are sent out which have the potential to cause disunity.
Brother Colin Turner: The posts in this thread need to be depersonalised. It is becoming nasty and I suggest that the thread be brought to an end.
Brother Hossein Turner: I think Brother Terence’s question at the top of this thread is basically answered by initiatives such as his group in Singapore, which is effectively international now because of the internet. It offers the provision of good resources and knowledge, as ignorance is very high these days amongst converts and many non-converts alike. I do not want to get into a debate over semantics, as these are pointless frankly. I would add that people are individuals and have their own lives and their own circle of friends or social-life which they are quite free to engage in at the same time of being involved with convert-support groups.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I was hoping, we could all resolve this like family. I am not asking that we all agree, but that we can respect the differences of opinions. These are not issues of ‘aqidah, but cultural and social experience. If not, people would be hesitant to have any opinion and comment. That would be the death of the group, and our community.
Brother Colin Turner: Let us have husn azh-zhan towards each other, agree to disagree, and move onwards and upwards, insha’Allah.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Yes, Brother Terence, but it should be done politely, without getting personal and judgmental.
Brother Colin Turner: Sister Mahshid Turner, we are all weak. Insha’Allah, we are Forgiven.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: It is an important question because we have conversions from people in this group. Those in Singapore, are arranged locally, and those elsewhere, we help them with their arrangements. I hope members remember we do have babies here.
Brother abdu'Rashid Craig: You are probably right, Brother Colin, but to get back to Brother Terence’s original question, I would say to someone new to Islam, “Do not read too much until you have developed a sense of your capacity to learn and understand. Islam is not about memorising a set of complicated rules by rote, or grappling with arcane intellectual propositions; it is about leading your life in a manner fitting for a proper human being. Listen to what other Muslims have to say. By all means accept guidance, but do not get unduly pressured by people who want to change you. That is not their job - they should be working on themselves. If you hear something that shocks you or is contrary to what you have been brought up to believe is correct, there is a pretty good chance your instincts are right; but give it time and seek explanations. Do not cut yourself off from your friends and family, but do seek out the company of people of knowledge and those whose presence is uplifting. Stay away from those who create conflict and confusion in your feelings. By that time they will probably have fallen asleep.”
Brother Colin Turner: Allah is so Merciful, so Incredibly Merciful, that at every step of the way on a journey of almost forty years, He has Placed me in the company of different groups of wonderful people, leaving me with no excuses. Some of those groups have now been ‘outgrown’, of course, but I realise now that they were perfectly ‘fit for purpose’ at the time, providing me with all of the support and guidance I needed to progress - in theory - from one kind of understanding to another. Negative experiences have been relatively few, and this is perhaps why I personally have difficulties in understanding the problems faced by people who are new to Islam, be they converts or Muslims who are rediscovering, or discovering for the first time, the faith of Islam. When I say I have difficulties understanding these problems, that is not to say that I do not think these problems exist - far from it! It has been extremely instructive to read threads in this group which open my eyes to the experiences of others, and which have made me realise how ungrateful I am for the relatively problem-free experiences I have had.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Interesting thread and my thanks to Sister Mahshid, and Brother Colin, and Brother Mustafa among others. There is much to reflect on. As an early convert to Islam in the 1970’s I experienced nothing but love and acceptance from born Muslims. In fact, they were the backbone of the early Islamic communities I belonged to. Much of the negativity I experienced was from my mind as the result of what I had been told by a specifically exclusionary ‘Sufic’ community that passed easy judgement on Muslims outside of the specific beliefs of this group. Most of them were, in fact, converts who made pejorative comments or assessments about Saudis, Iranians and the like. I unknowingly took on their view, particularly about Saudis, but as a result of extensive travel experienced the delight of Muslim countries throughout the world including Saudi Arabia and came to my own understanding.
Converts, however, as Brother Mustafa has pointed out, from western societies today, have a specific set of challenges that need to be addressed. I will not elaborate them here, but suffice it to say they have often struggled through particularly abusive and traumatic experiences. It is my belief that it is these very experiences that have left them open to accepting Islam. There is also the feeling of alienation when they are exposed to what I view as a highly culturalised and ethnocentric practice of a religion which encompasses all aspects of one's life. This presents distinct challenges that need to be separately addressed but should not alienate the converts from the mainstream of the Muslim ummah. It does not serve them to under emphasise or set aside these challenges as important and unique and in fact addressing these challenges in a positive and transformative way is often the key to whether or not converts remain Muslim. These efforts are better addressed by converts who are solid in their Diyn, and should not be viewed as exclusionary.
This just came up on my FB page and it illustrates some of the confusion converts have. It is from another Muslim group. The lady said, “Don't you hate it when people say that because you’re an American Muslim, or a Muslim convert, that you're probably not a true Muslim?”
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I believe every one of us has been called something like that.
Sister Nur Atiqah Ali: Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam. I would befriend them. It is important to let them know that there is a community whose doors are always open for them.
Brother Tan Siew Kim: Do not scare them with these and that. Give them a comfortable space and pace.
Brother Billy Johnston: Probably sharing the best advice ever given to me: Be the Muslim you want to be.
Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: I am realising that one of the most pernicious effect of nearly a century of Wahhabism is a distortion of the notion the position of culture within Islam. The discrediting of the ‘ulama and the propagation of the notion that they are dispensable as texts are now freely available has had great consequences. Essentially the main reason for Wahhabism is to obtain “freedom from the shackles of having to rely on generations of ‘ulama and get free and have unrestricted room to interpret text how one wants.” What we have to realise is that by eliminating the authority of Islamic law to only very early texts and ignoring the volumes of commentary in later period the notion of Diyn has seriously been skewed. The biggest casualty of this has been the understanding of ‘urf, culture. I see there is such confusion as to what sunnah is, and what shari’ah is. These questions really need to be addressed.
Sister Lorraine Nur-Shufiya Branson: Guide them in swalat, and other devotions, step by step.
Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: The Maliki school stresses the importance of cultural context. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf speaks of this a lot. For instance, adab, etiquette has an importance in Islam. He contrasted two societies: Sham and West Africa. In one, furniture is common whilst not in the other. Where furniture is part of the culture, it goes against the taste or etiquette of the people to put the Qur’an on the floor. In West Africa, where people sit on the floor, there is no sin in placing the Qur’an on the floor. It may have been so during the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.) too as furniture was not common. It is an importance aspect of Islam to respect people’s cultural sensibilities; it is part of akhlaq, good character. The Wahhabi mentality is, “Oh, there is no hadits about putting Qur’an on the floor so I will put the Qur’an on the floor,” or, “Oh, this thing is just the culture of a decadent society so will for the sake of reviving sunnah, I will expose this bid’ah.” Some extreme manifestations are saying that the Prophet (s.a.w.) prayed in shoes and did not prohibit people wearing shoes in the masjid, so some extreme Wahhabis have tried to enter Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi with shoes on.