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The miracle of the increasing number of converts is not only that people are finding the light of Islam in an age of such darkness but that they are coming to the faith despite the actions of some of its believers.
Lack of Induction
To my profound disappointment, as far as my Islamic education is concerned, I have been left to fend for myself. It would seem that no mosque I have visited has a systematic induction program for new converts. The mosques in my area are all dominated by south Asian immigrants, with a sprinkling of Africans on Fridays. They are not attuned to the needs of indigenous converts. In fairness, I seem to be the only white person (i.e. convert) at the mosques I attend, so they may not perceive a need. But nevertheless, I live in a major city with a significant Muslim population and many mosques. Surely there must be somewhere where a new Muslim adult can receive training in the practical daily basics. Surely the established Muslim community should know where to refer the convert even if they are not suitably geared up themselves at the local mosque.
The Catholic Church has a thorough practical and theological induction program that is actually compulsory for people who wish to join it. The Anglican Church actively advertises its Alpha Course to attract and teach new converts. We Muslims seem to have nothing organized.
When it comes to lack of both meaningful social welcome and organized teaching of Islam for new Muslims, American convert, teacher and writer, Yahiha Emerick, hits the nail on the head in his article Ten Things Every Muslim Must Do. At number six on his list, he says:
If you see any new Muslims at your Masjid (mosque), then partially "adopt" them into your family. The convert experience is basically one of isolation and loneliness. You'd be surprised to know that most converts are outright ignored by the people in the Masjid. Beyond a few pleasantries and handshakes, they are usually never made to feel welcome or accepted. They are often cut off from their non-Muslim friends and relatives so they are doubly vulnerable. A new convert should be invited into various people's home for dinner a minimum of six times a month. Get together with others and make sure you all put the new convert on your guest list for any sort of gathering. Top
[To find our more about induction programs now offered in both the UK and Singapore click here]
Internet - the good, the bad and the dangerous!
I would also urge new Muslims to avoid email forums or chat rooms about Islam
absolutely. There are some nasty people lurking there - self-styled pseudo scholars
preaching hellfire, doling out personal abuse and decrying sincere Muslims as
non-believers. I was left utterly demoralized at one time and very, very angry
on several occasions. I have now unsubscribed from all such forums. New Muslims
should keep in mind the Hadith: "Verily, Allah is
mild and is fond of mildness, and He gives to
There are also nice, well-meaning people who offer advice about matters of faith and practice without being in any way qualified to do so. If they get things wrong, they could unwittingly be leading the uninitiated astray and doing more harm than good. Be wary of accepting anything without a quotation from the Quran or authenticated hadith to back it up.
Having said that, if it is one of the nasty brigade who has come seemingly armed with references, firstly check the actual quotation in your Quran. Have they really only quoted what is there or have they embellished it with their own interpretation? It happens. And, if the quotation is genuine but sounds harsh to your ears, then use a commentary to become aware of the context in which the verse was revealed. Read widely. For every hard-line, unpleasant interpretation, there is usually a mild one from a serious writer or scholar. Top
Beware the Zealots!
Sadly far too many young Muslim men in England - the occasional convert and, particularly, the sons of Asian immigrants - get far too worked up about this or that political agenda and are in danger of overlooking the peaceful, spiritual core of Islam. As the writer Abdal-Hakim Murad puts it in his excellent essay British and Muslim, unsettled, discontented second generation Asian immigrant Muslims in Britain tend to locate their radicalism not primarily in a spiritual, but in social and political rejection of the oppressive order around them. Their unsettled and agitated mood is not always congenial to the recent convert, who may, despite the cultural distance, feel more comfortable with the first rather than the second generation of migrants, preferring their God-centered religion to what is often the troubled, identity-seeking Islam of the young.
Amen to that! These young radicals are prone to behave in the most obnoxious and nasty manner towards those other Muslims who do not agree with them. I would simply call the following words from the Quran and ahadith to their attention:
"Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and
argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious; for your Lord knows
best who have strayed from His Path, and who are truly guided."
"Do you know what is better than charity and fasting
and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels
and bad feelings destroy mankind."
Must we proceed at the pace of the most prudish?
"The believing men and women, are associates and helpers of each other." <Quran, Al-Taubah 9:71>
My own understanding is that what is improper is for one man and one woman to be alone together, but there should not be a problem about other mixing provided that proper Islamic behavior is maintained. I, a man, would never even have had the opportunity to discover Islam in the first instance were it not for friendships with several born Muslims (three of whom were women) prompting me to investigate the religion.
According to the prominent Sudanese Muslim scholar and leader, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi who is widely portrayed in the west as an Islamic fundamentalist, in his seminal 1973 work On the Position of Women in Islam and in Islamic Society'
"In the model society of Islam, Muslims used to assemble freely and frequently; they were mostly acquainted with each other, men and women; they conversed and interacted intensively. But all those activities, were undertaken in a spirit of innocence and in the context of a virtuous society...Islam tolerates that one may greet women or talk to them in decent and chaste language and with good intent. The Prophet used to do so." Top
"Muslim Name" and Attire?
While I respect (though do not necessarily agree with) the choice of those Muslim converts who have adopted a new name, I expect all Muslims to respect the right of other converts such as myself to retain their original name. I generally now use my "real" name, not the "Muslim name" that was initially thrust upon me. Sadly I have come under pressure from some ignorant born Muslims on this matter.
To be frank, I feel that adopting a "Muslim name", makes it easier for one's existing circle of family and friends to dismiss one's conversion to Islam as an act of eccentricity which they can brush off. By changing one's name and starting to wear, say, Pakistani clothing, one confirms in their minds the foreignness or alien nature of what is supposed to be universal Islam. I believe that these actions, or dare I say distractions, make it harder for most people from non-Muslim countries to identify with Islam, the welcoming and inclusive universal religion open to all, and see how it could be relevant to their own lives.
The spiritually motivated western convert to Islam, whose Islam is centered on God not agitation, has a golden opportunity to depoliticize the widespread negative western perception of Islam and to diminish the impression that Islam is for strange, backward, sometimes frightening foreigners - Arabs and Asians - but not for westerners. In my view, this opportunity is thrown away or at the very least is hobbled by self-inflicted damage when a western convert unnecessarily adopts a foreign name and clothing, thus only reinforcing the preconceived notions and prejudices that non-Muslim fellow westerners tend to hold about Islam. Top
Relationship with non-Muslim parents
Your Lord had decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you are kind
to parents whether one or both of them attain old age in your lifetime. Say
not to them a word of contempt or repel them but address them in terms of honor
and out of kindness lower to them the wing of humility and say: "My Lord,
bestow on them your mercy, even as they cherished me in childhood".
Indeed there was an occasion when Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) commanded a believer to care for his non-Muslim parents rather than participate in Jihad (holy war).
Abdullah ibn Omar relates: "Once a person came to
the Messenger of Allah and expressed his desire to participate in jihad in order
to please Allah. The Holy Prophet asked him "Are your parents alive?"
The man said "Yes. Both are alive". The Holy Prophet said 'Then go
and serve them well".
I felt that it was important that my parents who are both practicing Catholics should realize that I was not rejecting them, my upbringing or most of the things they held dear. It was simply that I had come to a new understanding of theology. Rejecting the name they had given me could really have been interpreted as being quite insulting to them, which in itself would be contrary to Islam. I am thinking here of the following ahadith:
"He, who wishes to enter paradise at the best gate,
In my case, I felt that abandoning for no good reason the very name given me by my loving parents would have been straining the ties of relationship, creating displeasure and certainly not indicative of showing kindness to or taking friendly care of my mother and father. Top
So-called "Islamic Causes"
Allahu a`lam. God knows best.
(Source: Michael Young, © IslamForToday.com 2000)
This article dates from November 2000. It is an abridged version
of the IslamForToday.com article.