Entering the fold of Islam is a major shift; one that will impact not only your own life, but also the lives of those around you.
Your friends and family will all notice changes, some simple and therefore welcome, while others frightening and complex.
They might be happy that you are finding more discipline, holding yourself to higher moral standards, or even that you are striving to be a better person and know the truth.
They also might be annoyed that your alarm goes off at 4:30 in the morning so that you can get up in time for Fajr; or concerned that you are not interested in enjoying the ham that your mother made for Christmas dinner.
In extreme circumstances, dealing with a rough family response to your conversion to Islam can be extremely negative. I personally have seen situations where people are disowned and outcast from their families altogether.
Today, I wanted to talk about conversion and give you a few important points that you can use to help shape relationships with your non-Muslim family members and friends, avoiding at all costs the most extreme of outcomes.
Honesty and Openness
Earlier this month, I spoke with you about the duty of a Muslim to be honest. This policy extends to converts to Islam, and you should strive to be as open with your family and friends about your new faith as you can. However, this must sometimes be carefully planned and managed.
The Prophet Muhammad, for example, lived for three years without announcing his message to the wider community. During this time, he only revealed his prophethood to his closest friends and family members, those whom he knew would be more understanding.
It was only when he was commanded by God that he stepped out, proclaiming that he was a Messenger from God.
For converts the situation should be dealt with similarly. Talk to the people around you; find out how they feel about Islam and converts in general. Then, when the right time comes, approach them calmly and let them know that you have converted.
Since you have discussed the issue in theory before, most people will not see this as a major shock. This is no guarantee against negative responses, however, and you should be mentally prepared to have that relationship negatively affected, even if it is for a little while.
The main goal here is that you try your best to be open; but also respect the feelings of those around you. These are the people who have been your biggest supporters your whole life; you should try your best to preserve that relationship.
Express Islam Through Your Actions
One of the inevitable results of converting to Islam – especially in a community or family that is completely unaware of the religion – is that you will automatically become an unofficial representative of the entire faith.
Every action and statement, especially if it is negative, could be interpreted as a result of you having become Muslim.
To overcome this, think about the following Quranic verse from chapter Luqman:
But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness and follow the way of those who turn back to Me [in repentance]. Then to Me will be your return, and I will inform you about what you need to do (31:15).
This verse, therefore, shows us that the only proper way to deal with situations in which what we say or do is negatively attributed to Islam is to treat people positively.
Show them the true nature of Islam and promote the religion through your positive actions.
Embrace the feeling of being an ambassador, no matter how uncomfortable it might be at times, and be patient with others.
Remain Steadfast Through the Difficulties
The final lesson when dealing with relationships as a new convert to Islam is to realize that this path is not easy. There will be times when your faith is tested, sometimes much more than even those who were born into Islam.
The first step towards passing this test is to always return to God, as the Quran tells us:
O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient (2:153).
Remember that you are not being tested with any more hardship than you can handle, and that God is always with you.
In conclusion, your conversion to Islam will inevitably mean entering a new phase with all your close relationships. Despite the theoretical doom and gloom, you might be surprised how many people will continue to stand next to you, willing to grow with you and accept you for who you are.
There might be a situation where there are members of your family and close friends who will never accept your new faith. Try to work with these people as much as possible, never let go until you are sure that there is no alternative; and treat them with the level of respect that Islam demands of you.