Short Answer: My best advice to converts: find other converts to befriend. This does not mean that you should not get involved in your mosque or that you should not make friends with people who were raised Muslim. But the best way to satisfy that innate need to fit in with a group is to find others who share something with you.
Salaam alaykum! Thank you for your question. I, myself, am a convert of ten years alhamdulillah. Insha’Allah I will be able to help you out somewhat.
Fitting in with your Muslim Community
It is an innately human instinct to try to fit in with a group. It is built into us biologically. I know the feeling of going to a mosque and seeing everyone mingling and longing to fit easily into that group of people who know one another.
There are some basic things you can do when you are in a community setting. These might seem obvious to some, but for those who are new to Islam or not already a part of the Muslim community around us, it may be difficult.
-Give salaams to those you see. Shake hands with those of your same gender. Ask how the people you greet are doing. Salaams are basic and expected, but they might also serve as an “in,” so to speak. Follow your salaams with polite conversation. Compliment someone’s outfit or their child’s behavior (always following with masha’Allah, of course). Open the door for socializing.
-Follow the protocol of the mosque. Of course, you cannot be expected to know all the rules of each mosque the first time you go. And of course, you wouldn’t automatically know what to do if you are a new convert. Generally, though, you will be expected to remove your shoes, women will be in hijab, men and women will be separated.
-Get involved in the community. One of the best things about Western mosques is that they tend to be community centers of sorts, rather than just a place to go pray. Almost always there are youth programs, halaqas, weekly or monthly dinners, etc. I especially recommend finding one with Arabic lessons for adults, as well as a group for converts. These groups are centered around learning, where all the participants come from a more basic level.
Do Not Lose Yourself
Trying to fit in with a Muslim community can be stressful, especially because, as converts, 99% of the time our local mosque is dominated by a culture that is not our own. Oftentimes, converts assimilate into the dominant local culture in order to fit in better.
As I mentioned at the top, this is truly natural. And as long as one is not appropriating culture inappropriately, there is nothing wrong with this. However, it is important as a convert not to lose yourself.
Converts are often told that our culture is un-Islamic and that we must leave semblances of our Western-ness behind when we become Muslim. But this is not true. While there are some things common in Western culture – drinking and dating, for example – that we have to let go of when we become Muslim, the vast majority of our culture is perfectly in line with Islam. I am American and Muslim and have made minimal changes to the way I comport myself and participate in my culture.
Your question was regarding fitting in, so why am I advising you not to fit in all the way? Because I have seen convert after convert after convert get sucked into a culture that they think is Islamic, only to become “burned out” along the way. Trying to fit in is natural, but do not lose who you are in the process.
Find People Like Yourself
My best advice to converts: find other converts to befriend. This does not mean that you should not get involved in your mosque or that you should not make friends with people who were raised Muslim. But the best way to satisfy that innate need to fit in with a group is to find others who share something with you.
And what greater thing to share than the journey that one takes to actively choose Islam? This is a deep part of all converts and it is something we all have in common. My closest Muslim friends are almost all converts. We understand each other in a way people who were raised Muslim just can’t. Similarly, those who were raised Muslim understand their culture and how it interacts with Islam in ways that we converts cannot understand. And this is okay!
The Muslim Ummah is an incredibly diverse community. It should be as easy as possible to embrace and appreciate that diversity, but also try to find a group to fit in with.
I wish there were a simple answer I could give that would make it easy for you to fit in socially with all the Muslim communities you interact with. However, such a thing does not exist and the problem you pose is something I still struggle with to this day. In the absence of a quick and easy solution, I hope I was able to provide some guidance, insha’Allah.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
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