Saying the testimony of faith (the shahadah) that makes one a Muslim is a simple step with big implications. Once we utter the words, “I bear witness that there is no god but God and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger”, we have accepted a path that will lead us to fulfilment of our purpose here on earth and ultimate peace.
But how does one go from testifying with conviction to knowing where the steps of the path lay? Panic often sets in soon after one becomes Muslim because there is so much to learn, so many details, and so many people commenting on every step the new Muslim takes.
The good news is that you, as new Muslims, are not expected to know everything right away. How could you? You are only human. Islam was revealed to the Prophet (Peace and blessing be upon him (PBUH)- the best of humankind) and his followers (the best generation of humankind) over a period of 23 years.
Take a deep breath. 23 years of revelation means that you have time to think, and breath, and learn, and grow. Islam is not something that can be implemented overnight. It is a process of coming nearer and nearer to Allah step by step. So, what are those steps of coming nearer to Allah?
Step one: Learn about Allah Almighty
The first revelations to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were not about the details of what is haram (unlawful) and halal (lawful). They were not even rules. The first revelations were about Allah; His love for His creation, His Supreme Mercy and Forgiveness.
It is so important that you as a new Muslim know Allah. This is your foundation in Islam, the reason you will want to do all that Islam entails will come from your love of Allah. But how can you love Him and wish to seek His pleasure if you don’t know Him yet, if you don’t know something of what He has revealed to us about Himself through Islam?
Take some time to learn about the names and attributes of Allah, His Mercy, His Compassion, His Knowledge, etc., and all that they mean. Think deeply about them and how they apply to you, His creation. Here are some links to get started:
Step Two: Learn the Pillars
As you interact with your new faith community, they may attempt to bombard you with lists of what is not endorsed by Islam. This might be overwhelming and give you the impression that Islam is not a spiritual connection with Allah and path to Ultimate peace, but a list of do’s and mostly don’ts.
This could not be further from the truth. While Islam creates structure in our lives and also has a structure to it, this structure does not come from a list of “no-no’s”. It comes from the pillars of Islam and iman (in English iman means something like faith, and knowing Allah (SWT) is the first pillar of iman).
So, what I recommend when facing this kind of halal vs. haram approach to learning Islam, is to set it aside, or redirect it to learning about these pillars. Haram and halal and the wisdom behind them are mostly details that will come more into focus once you study the pillars of Islam and iman.
These pillars -the 6 pillars of iman and 5 pillars of Islam- must be nailed down first and foremost. It takes time to get a full understanding of these things and to incorporate them into your life, your understanding of belief, and your view of the universe and your place in it.
Take your time and learn at your pace. If you rush yourself or someone else rushes you to learn and live by these pillars, you might feel overwhelmed and that is not the point of Islam. Islam is meant to be easy. So take it easy.
Here are some links about these pillars:
Also, know that many people hold opinions that are just that, opinions. And these opinions can be heavy on the new Muslim. So, ask Allah for guidance. We ask Allah in our prayers to guide us to the straight path 17 times a day, but it cannot hurt to ask Him at other times for this as well.
Step Three: Learn to Pray
Learning to pray will be the first action based pillar (it’s the second pillar of Islam) you need to start implementing in your day to day life. So, here is a great resource that teaches you all you need to know about performing purification in preparation for the prayer and prayer itself:
Watch it as many times as you need. These resources are great thing about coming to Islam in the information age. Back in my day, I had a very vague pamphlet (that I think was meant for children) that I used to learn how to pray.
Step Four: Read (or watch YouTube)
All these steps include reading, but reading from Islamic sources will be vital in your path to learning Islam.
Read the Quran. I recommend the “Study Quran”. It has very good explanations and commentary. Also you can watch Nouman Ali Khan’s series on Amazed by the Quran. Read the Biography of the Prophet, called the Seerah. I recommend “The Sealed Nectar”.
Read “On Being Muslim: A Practical Guide” by Asad Tarsin. This is a book is for new Muslim and goes into great detail about all the practices of Islam. Read Yasmin Mogahed’s “Reclaim Your Heart”. Or check out Yasmin’s lectures on YouTube.
Read Idris Tawfiq’s (a fellow convert) “Gardens of Delight: A Simple Introduction to Islam”. While I have not read this last suggested book, I have full faith it is amazing since I have read many of brother Idris’ other works and they are always stellar.
Also be on the look out later this year (2017) for “The Field Guide for New Muslims”, a new book I coauthored with Kaighla Um Dayo just for you, the new Muslim. While it discusses many of the pillars and resources to learning how to live Islam, it also gives real advice for the problems converts face when encountering conflicts of culture, identity, and romance.
Please note that while I call these items “steps” and label them by number, I am not trying to say that they should be done consecutively. The number labels I am assigning should be seen as the level of importance not steps in a recipe. They should be learned at the same time at your rate of learning.