Becoming a Muslim means opening a door to a new worldview: A life centered on the commandments of God and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Approaching this and the vast collection of Muslim heritage – all 1400 years of it – is a daunting task; one that requires learning new languages, engaging in years of study, and dealing with people from walks of life.
At the same time, the rest of the world is not keen to leave you alone to explore this new religion by yourself. Family, friends, and even the wider community of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike bombard you with questions; and even sometimes criticisms that you are not always prepared to answer.
How can we, as new Muslims, already burdened with so much, answer questions that others pose about our faith and practice with confidence?
Here is some advice from my own experience that has helped me deal with questions and absorb new experiences, turning them into opportunities to better myself and strengthen my faith in the process.
Learn How to Say “I Don’t Know (Yet)”
The simplest answer to any question posed is also one of the hardest to learn how to say. We are always supposed to have the answers. Seriously, how could you have entered a new religion and changed so much about your life without knowing every detail about it?
The truth is that for each of us, there is something special that brought us to Islam. For me it was the story of Mary the mother of Jesus (PBUH).
Like the initial story of Moses, the focus is not on the prophet himself but rather on the person that was the closest to and impacted the most by the coming of prophethood: the prophet’s mother.
God acknowledging her pain, providing her comfort, and promising that her dedication was not in vain showed me that her role was important enough for God to remind us all about.
This showed me a sense of justice and that, using the terminology of the Quran, the person who has done the smallest amount of good (or bad) will eventually see its consequences come to bear.
That might be interesting to me, but it might have been some other aspect entirely that brought others to Islam.
For example, during those first years I was asked constantly by others why I would choose a faith that is so often associated with violence. I had to learn to not answer directly or blindly defend without knowledge, but rather to say: “I don’t know (yet), but this is what brought me to Islam.”
Listen to Each Other
With the above point in mind, it is also important to realize that you are not alone. Our collective stories, as new Muslims, and the new knowledge that we gain is an important resource that we must learn to use to our advantage.
Speak to other converts about their experiences; realize that they might be very different from your own, and use what others have learned. This means growing as a person to accept different viewpoints and perspectives.
In addition, born Muslims have an equally important wealth of knowledge and experiences to share. They might have been born and raised in a far-away country or in a different culture and family; and those experiences have come to shape who they are as Muslims.
Although they might not have the experience of what it means to change faiths, they still know quite a bit about the stresses of being a Muslim in today’s world.
Listen to these stories and incorporate their advice into your own collection of knowledge. Understand that how they live comes from a particular experience; but don’t dismiss what they have to say just because they bring into their faith their own national and cultural baggage. You are in the same situation with an equal amount of baggage.
Questions as a Key to Answers
Finally, as you are exploring your new faith, use the questions that you face from others as a gateway to explore more about Islam.
For example, I was always approached about the issue of violence. “Your religion has so many violent people, is the subject of so many wars and so much violence. Why is Islam like this?”
Quite a dangerous question, one that could lead me away from my faith.
I took this question to heart and began to read more about Islam and the issue of violence. What I discovered was that while Islam does not embrace violence, it at the same time does not ignore its necessity.
Islam is a faith that is meant to speak to humanity at every level and deals with questions about the individual, the family, and society.
War and violence are unfortunately a fundamental part of humanity and something that we cannot avoid. It would be inappropriate to assume that the All-Knowing God who created us would be ignorant of our nature. Instead of ignoring violence, God and Islam do everything possible to encourage humans to better themselves and find a better path.
In those instances where fighting is inevitable there are rules; no killing of innocents or those who cannot or choose not to fight; no destruction of land; and no poisoning of water sources; proper treatment of prisoners, etc.
In the end, the questions designed to criticize my faith ended up further grounding my knowledge; and exposing me to a new level I had never considered before. This is just one example; but as each of us as new Muslims face questions and even criticisms about our faith, we should use them not as sources of doubt but as opportunities to learn more.
Say, “I don’t know (yet);” and then seek out those answers with the necessary courage of someone who takes to heart the idea:
This is the Book, about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah. (Quran 2:2)
Find more answers at Ask About Islam.