3- “Do you pray? Do you fast?”
For some reason, many people feel entitled to ask very blunt questions about a convert’s ibaada (worship) that I am sure they would not ask of non-converts. We Muslims are supposed to assume the best of each other. We are not each other’s judges, and even if we have been Muslim for our whole lives, it does not entitle us to feel superior to a newcomer.
In fact, the hearts of brand new converts are so pure that we should all feel humbled in their presence. Their sins were recently wiped away; how numerous are ours? Unless we are spiritual advisers who have been asked for guidance, we have no business probing each other for details of our worship.
When I was extremely new to Islam, I met a sister who was of Pakistani origin. She immediately asked me, “Do you do namaaz?’
“Namaaz?” I repeated, confused. I had never heard of the term.
“Namaaz! Namaaz!” she exclaimed, making the word louder each time, as if that would ease my comprehension.
“I don’t know what that is,” I admitted, feeling embarrassed.
Unfortunately, although she was fluent in English, it did not occur to her to substitute the words “prayer,” or “salat,” which I would have recognized. More than that, though: why did she feel the need to ask me if I prayed? She had just met me!
Perhaps her intentions were good; she wanted to make sure I was off to a good start in my practice of Islam. In that case, simply saying, “Sister, if you need any help learning to pray, I am happy to help,” would have made all the difference.
4- “Too bad your non-Muslim family members will all be going to hell.”
Yes, that statement seems too horrible to be authentic, but it was actually one of the first things I heard after I embraced Islam. I will never forget it because it wounded and troubled me at a very impressionable and delicate time.
About two days after I took shahada, I was visiting a lovely Muslim family in our neighborhood. My husband and I had gotten to know them over the past few months, and I had learned to admire the generous, sweet mother and her boisterous, loving children.
The whole chattering group was expressing their happiness and congratulations at the news of my conversion when the ten-year-old boy asked me, out of the blue, if my parents, siblings, and grandparents were still Christians. When I answered in the affirmative, he said, with sincerity and sadness, “Too bad they will all be going to hell.”
All the joy of the moment disappeared. I looked to his mother in surprise. Surely this was a case of a child’s misunderstanding and lack of tact? But her eyes just filled with sadness, not embarrassment or denial.
“Yes, unfortunately, all nonbelievers will burn in hell,” she confirmed.
Talk about a buzzkill!
Whatever the scholars’ opinions are on whether Christians, Jews, or others can be admitted into Paradise– or whether perhaps they will be given the opportunity to acknowledge Allah SWT and make amends at the moment of death — there are much more diplomatic ways — an appropriate times– to discuss this topic.
My recommendation is that a convert should be knowledgeable in their deen and secure in their Muslim identity before they have to tackle such weighty issues.
Relationships with non-Muslim family members are already difficult, in many cases, for recent converts. The drastic lifestyle changes and long list of new skills to master — like all the motions of prayer and reciting Qur’an in Arabic — can already be overwhelming to new Muslims, so they should not be burdened unnecessarily.
So, please avoid talk of converts’ relatives burning in hellfire for eternity, particularly when they are celebrating their shahada.
5- “How did your family react to the news?”
This question, when asked by a concerned friend, can be an opportunity for a convert to open up about any difficulties and to seek advice and solidarity. When asked by a complete stranger, however, the query seems quite intrusive.
The majority of converts I know faced some level of resistance or animosity from family members when they embraced Islam. Some of them actually endured heartbreaking dramas that are still painful to recollect, years later. So don’t be surprised if a convert you just met is hesitant to tell you about his or her family’s reaction to The News. It might be one of the most upsetting and deeply private memories they have.
On behalf of all converts who have experienced the awkwardness of The Zone, I ask all my brothers and sisters to think before you speak. Please do not use us and our life stories to satisfy your idle curiosity.
Keep your questions relevant and respectful and do not cross lines into private topics. Please, especially, do not approach us with negative assumptions or gross generalizations. We deserve the same respect and consideration that all of your brothers and sisters do, and perhaps — because of the unique struggles we face as converts — even a little bit more.
First published: April 2017
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