One of the biggest issues most new Muslims have to cope with at some point is a feeling of isolation.
They are in-between worlds; they no longer fit comfortably in the non-Muslim world and they haven’t yet found their place in the Muslim world.
The process to find a place in the Muslim world that a convert feels comfortable in, can be quite complex; it can take varying lengths of time and is influenced by many different factors.
These factors include matters such as where they live; their local community; the availability of local support for new Muslims; whether they are married (to a Muslim or non-Muslim); how they came to Islam, their understanding of it and their expectations; and crucially their own personality.
God brings everyone to Islam on the path that suits them best and He then sends them tests to confirm their faith. So there is no one right way to make the adjustment to the new life as a Muslim, but there are some general suggestions that could help to make the journey smoother.
Having Realistic Expectations
It is important that a new Muslim has realistic expectations of the community that they are joining.
Although Islam is the ideal way of life, Muslims are human beings like everyone else. There are good and bad among them, there are some who try to follow the religion’s teachings to the best of their ability and there are some who are nominal Muslims – as there are also nominal adherents of any other religion – who may take some parts of it and leave others.
If a new Muslim can approach the community with this understanding, it will help to reduce their disappointment when the community doesn’t meet their idealized expectations.
One of the strangest things that happens to many new Muslims when they convert is that they suddenly expect all the followers of Islam to follow it to the letter. They think that Muslims are like the Prophet’s companions and should be ready to open their homes and hearts to them, just like the Ansar (the helpers) did for the Muhajirun (the followers) in Madinah. There are a few Muslims in the community who may have the capacity to do that, but most of them are just ordinary human beings doing the best that they can.
That being said, that’s not an excuse for the Muslim community to sit back comfortably. It really needs to take a good look at itself, especially in terms of the way it regards new Muslims. The classic ways that new Muslims are seen is on one hand that they are viewed with envy, as their past sins have been erased through their conversion, and yet on the other hand they are treated as inferior, because they don’t have the personal history, knowledge of Islam and Arabic, and in some cases the same lineage as those born into Muslim families. They also often seen as tainted by their past lives and culture, and this influences the way new Muslims are related to.
The community needs to take a good look at the religion they are following and see what lessons it can take in relation to the lessons it gives about welcoming new Muslims from whatever background they come from, and not just on the day they convert. They need to work out ways to include the new Muslims in activities and make them feel welcome, to speak in the common language in their presence – particularly when that is the language of the country they are living in – and to accept that many parts of a new Muslim’s culture may be more Islamic than parts of their own and embrace those elements.
Joining a Convert Community
As a new Muslim, you will face many challenges, most of which will have been faced
by others who have trodden the same path before you. So try to seek out local new Muslim support groups in your area, so you can meet people, share experiences and ideas and have some social time with others in a similar situation.
Many towns now have some type of support group, which may or may not be connected to a mosque. An internet search may reveal where your nearest group is or if you’re in the UK, you could try contacting organizations like Muslim Now or the National New Muslim Project.
If you don’t find a group that meets regularly near you, keep looking for any other way you can to make some connection, even if it’s by phone or Skype with other new Muslims. Both the groups I mentioned above have activities; i.e. retreats and Eid gatherings where you could meet up with other new Muslims. It may take a while to find a group or people that you feel comfortable with, as others will have taken different journeys to you, be at different stages or even have different understandings of Islam, but keep trying. There will be people similar to you out there somewhere.
Meeting other new Muslims will be more important in the earlier stages after your conversion, and this will certainly help in your transition into the Muslim world. After that, people go on different journeys; some prefer to remain within a convert community; some assimilate completely into one or other Muslim national community, usually those who marry or emigrate; and others prefer to have links with both. There is no one right way for everybody; as long as the path you choose helps you to be the best Muslim you can take it, the choice is up to you.
Finding Local Islamic Groups
It will be up to you, as a new Muslim, to make many of the first steps to seek out different mosques and Islamic groups in your area. It may be confusing at first as you may hear people saying different things and worshipping in different ways from the way you originally learned, but this is just part of the rich diversity in the Muslim community; some of which is permitted by the different schools of thought and some of which is cultural. It may be tempting to wade in there and criticize people – which some new Muslims have been tempted to do in their initial enthusiasm for the deen – but in the early stages, it’s better to keep an open mind and just try to understand the differences.
It’s also good at this stage to find a teacher or someone whose opinion you feel happy to seek. This may be someone from a new Muslim group, the mosque or the person you talked to when you were first learning about Islam. The differences in the community can be confusing; it would be so much simpler if everyone was the same, but this is the way the community has grown and developed over the years.
As you too grow and develop in Islam, you will find certain groups more comfortable than others, certain people’s understanding will be more aligned with yours and you will eventually find your own path. And that’s fine, as long as you stay within the fold of Islam and your beliefs and practices are in accordance to the teachings of Islam; there is room for some differences of opinion today, as there was in the early days of Islam.
Becoming Part of the Mosque Community
Depending on where you live, going to the local mosque can be a real challenge, especially if you don’t have anyone to go with and aren’t sure how to pray yet; brothers usually find this easier than sisters. You may be faced with people who all seem to know each other, who are all speaking a variety of foreign languages and eye you suspiciously when you first arrive.
So before you go into the mosque, take a deep breath, think positive thoughts and walk in with a smile; your reception will be very different if you walk in with this frame of mind than if you go in looking nervous and shy.
Before or after the prayer or Khutbah (Friday sermon), try to find at least one person to talk to, about anything. Initiate a conversation by asking simple open questions, about them, the community or the mosque. This will be easier if they are on their own, as they may also be hoping someone will talk to them too. It may take time to develop relationships with people in the mosque, but if you keep going and keep on engaging people in conversation, insha Allah you will eventually become part of that community. This may seem difficult and it would be easier if the regular people would make the first move, and it will be great if they do, but don’t expect it to happen that way.
Keeping Good Relations with Non-Muslim Family and Friends
It is important to try to work out the best way to maintain a good relationship with your non-Muslim family. We have the example of the way the Prophet always treated his uncle with the greatest respect and accepted help from him, even though he refused to accept Islam.
We also have examples of Prophet Muhammad trading with non-Muslims and caring for their welfare, especially his neighbors, even when they didn’t show him any respect or kindness. You can never tell whose heart God may open one day and it would be better if you could have been part of that by your example.
Your non-Muslim family and neighbors have so many rights on you, so it’s important to treat them kindly, as long as they don’t encourage you to do anything that would be against God’s commandments. And there are so many things that you can still do together if there is good will on both sides; you don’t have to forsake everything from your old life once you accept Islam, just make some modifications.
Coping with Serious Challenges
Sometimes though, no matter how hard you try, how careful you are or much support you have, you can still come up against serious challenges that you can’t deal with on your own or that your local network can’t or isn’t willing to help you with. Sadly these situations occur so often that are being identified nationally here in the UK, and organizations are being established to help new Muslims in difficulty.
There are three that I know of in the UK and I’m sure that there are many local initiatives too. The three that I know of are: SOLACE, which offers a support service to revert sisters in difficulty, Nour DV which helps victims of domestic violence and the National Zakat Foundation, which is providing financial support and building shelters for those who have been made homeless. I would be happy to hear of any others that you may know of.