Telling my family that I had converted to Islam was received as warmly as if I had told them I was a crack dealer. My mother was horrified. My dad didn’t mind so much, he had really good holiday in Turkey in the 90’s, so Muslims couldn’t be that bad, could they?
My granny? Well, she was one of those old generation Irish Protestant ladies and anything that wasn’t Christianity was foreign.
That’s exactly the word to describe how my conversion felt to them.
“But I’ll still be me!” I reassured them.
Then I proceeded to pray in a foreign language, marry a foreign guy and give my kids funny (i.e. foreign) names.
In spite of my assurances that Islam was a continuation of the message brought by Jesus (peace be upon him), and as such, it would feel more familiar than they could ever imagine, I’ll admit that I did feel like a duck out of water among other Muslims.
So if you’re a convert, a potential Muslim, or just curious… I’ll embarrass myself here by recounting these early experiences so you don’t have to.
Let’s talk about going to the masjid. I know, ‘Kissing’ is a funny heading for this section but bear with me.
Everyone knows the basics of visiting a mosque; dress modestly, men and women in different sections and no shoes. Simple!
But no one warned me about the kissing!
I’ve lived in France, so “la bise” was not unfamiliar. But in the mosque it’s a slightly more complex issue. One kiss? Two? Three? With a hug? Just a handshake?
The margins for error were huge!
I’ll admit it, there were some awkward moments. I did bump faces a few times. I even got another sister’s earring caught in my hijab. Cringe!
The trick is to laugh it off. Most mosques are a big melting pot of cultures anyway.
If we want to follow the Sunnah, then the best thing to do is shake hands. So stick your hand out soon enough so the other person knows you don’t fancy a peck (or two) on the cheek.
2- Smile and Nod
You will soon realize that everyone loves a convert. In fact, you may feel like a minor celebrity for a while and attract a lot of attention. This can be a bit of a nightmare if you are a bit of an introvert.
People will want to know your conversion story, what your family think, if you’ve read the Quran and if you’d like to marry their nephew in a country you have never heard of.
This is all done out of love and genuine interest.
You will find that (most) Muslims are incredibly generous and kind. I was very well cared for at my university mosque and very well taught Alhamdulillah.
If all the attention gets too much, just smile and nod.
3- What’s Your Name?
Let’s be fair from the outset; this problem works both ways.
As an anglophone, if your name has a ‘kha’ anywhere in it, I will sound like I have something stuck in my throat. So apologies to the Khadija’s, the Khalida’s and Khawla’s but I will make your beautiful name sound funny. It’s not my fault, my mouth just can’t make those sounds.
However, my name (Trudi) is equally difficult to pronounce for many of the Asian or Arab sisters I’ve met. After several attempts to pronounce my name correctly they give up.
I am of the opinion that I do not need to change my name to something “more Muslim” but people have given me an Arabic name because they can’t say Trudi.
So in the past, I’ve been Fatima, Aisha, Tayyeba… whatever comes to mind at the time.
The only name I will strongly object to is “Auntie”. I am still a young thing, thank you very much!
Funny, I’ve never said, “Sister, I can’t pronounce your name so from today I shall just call you Jane.”
So, I wish you well with your many new names at the mosque!
4- Has He Fallen out with Me?
Gender segregation is a funny one for Westerners. We don’t really think of gender segregation unless it’s concerning changing rooms, restrooms or hospital wards.
As we discussed earlier, it’s expected that men and women will be apart at the masjid, but sometimes it goes further than that. Yes, really.
I was at the university masjid and I wanted to borrow a book from the library. It just so happened that a brother kept the key and I had to ask him to let me browse the books.
As I spoke to him he just would not look at me! I was baffled! A million different things went through my head; did he dislike convert Muslims, was there spinach in my teeth, was my awkwardly wrapped hijab wonky?
Alhamdulillah, it was nothing like this. Some brothers avoid eye contact out of respect, MashaAllah.
Also, be prepared to eat in separate rooms when you have guests to dinner or attend a wedding.
5- Is That the Toilet??
Right, let’s talk about toilets. I feel, as your older sister in Islam, that I should prepare you for this.
If you are blessed to attend a modern build masjid there will be a selection of toilets.
“A selection of toilets?” I hear you say. Yes! There are ‘normal’ sitting down toilets and then there are The Other Ones.
For The Other Ones you will need thighs of steel. It is also helpful if you have good balance.
I think now would be a good time for me to stop!
But really, these are the trickiest situations to navigate when you are very new. Your new sisters or brothers in Islam will want to make things as easy as possible for you but I hope that in some way I have prepared you for what may lie ahead.
And feel free to share your own embarrassing experiences.
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