I am extremely fortunate to live in a place that is jam-packed with converts to Islam. One day, I was one of three identifiable Muslims in my town, then, next thing I knew, there are eight Muslim converts (most newly converted) living in my small southern city.
It’s wild. But the number of Muslim converts are growing across the West. At a recent gathering with my newly Muslim sisters, we got on to the topic of mistakes new Muslims make. Ok, so I brought it up so that I could use their input for this very article. Sneaky, I know!
We talked about some embarrassing moments new Muslims unwittingly stumble into. We all laughed, poked fun at ourselves, and each other because we had all been there.
But in our effort to hammer out a list of nearly universal convert “mistakes” in that Taco Bell on that fateful day, I was not convinced that these little technical missteps even qualified as mistakes.
Do we say a baby learning to crawl, toddle, or walk is actually making walking mistakes (maybe we should-babies are way too confident)? No, we say he or she is learning, growing, and developing a life skill.
Similarly, new Muslims are not making mistakes when they are developing a base of knowledge in Islam. Learning to live an Islamic life is learning a skill, building faith, growing. It is not a series of mistakes.
After I had bullied my convert comrades into conceding to this concept, we started talking about miseducation. Why epiphanies often occur in Taco Bell, I will never know. But among those wrappers of half-eaten bean burritos, we dug deeper to decipher what can legit qualify as a mistake a convert makes.
These amazing converts—some only Muslim a few months, some a few years—at my side, talking over the bad pop music and soda, shared painful and hard-learned lessons.
We decided that there are four mistakes new Muslims make: being too hard on themselves, letting other Muslims make them feel less than, believing that everything every Muslim says about Islam is fact, and changing their identity.
And we believe that these four pitfalls are mistakes because they are miseducation that are not only hard to unlearn, but they have also led many-a-convert to build faith on a shaky foundation.
Being Too Hard on Yourself
Just don’t do it! Do not expect to change, and grow, and learn everything overnight. I cannot count the number of times I have written this sentence: Islam was revealed by God to the best of humanity over a period of 23 years.
You, as a new Muslim, should take it slow, start learning the salah, survey the land, study the pillars of Islam and iman, get a sense of how you want to grow, and understand the names of Allah at your pace.
Do your best for your circumstance, and that is all that is required. If you find yourself overwhelmed, take a step back. If you find yourself feeling more confident in your knowledge level, take a step forward.
Don’t Let Other Muslims Make You Feel Less Than
You cannot let others’ judgment influence your relationship with Allah (SWT). The opinions of others do. Not. Matter. In. This. Faith. No one has the right to say you are less than. Ever.
If you find yourself doing something because it is what others expect or so that you are not thought of as a “bad Muslim”, then don’t do it.
Think about gaining a better intention. In the end, if you are doing an act of worship for the creation instead of the Creator -the only One worthy of worship-, then you are defeating the purpose.
You know what you are capable of. Allah (SWT) knows you better than you know yourself. Everyone else should be encouraging you, cheering you on, and celebrating your growth.
If you can, walk away from people who demean you. If you can’t, ignore them, and ask Allah (SWT) to guide them to better hobbies than having permanent judgey-face.
Know that Not All Muslims Have Knowledge
Coming from a faith, such as Christianity, where questioning is as encouraged as adultery, I assumed the same rules applied in my new faith. But I found out the hard way that as a Muslim, I have a right and an obligation to question things, and that it is not truth just because a Muslim says it.
Some heritage Muslims do not know much about Islam outside of what their parents taught them. Much of their knowledge of Islam is mixed with their culture and even the religious info can often come from weak sources.
But I am here to tell you to demand proof, research, and question to find out what the source is, how authentic it is, if it is being taken out of context, if it does not apply within your context, or if it is being badly translated.
The great thing about Islam is that we actually have the unadulterated original source in the Quran and the Sunnah. While we should respect the scholars, we don’t have to take any ole Muslim’s word as truth. We are encouraged to explore, discover, and think deeply.
Keep Your Identity
Along with a lot of heritage Muslims’ confusion over what is culture and what is religion, many heritage Muslims will insist that you adopt their cultural identity. After all, so many of them believe that it is the only way to be Muslim.
But you need not be an Arab or Pakistani for example to practice Islam. Islam is not culturally predatory. As long as a tradition is not haram (and some of them are), then you do not have to get rid of the baby with the bath water so to speak.
This means that your very own cultural identity and the core of who you are as an individual does not have to change. There is a high likelihood that you will have to change your bad habits, but bad habits are not who you are. Islam should improve you, not rewrite who you are.
Look for more advice like this in my book “The New Muslim’s Field Guide” coming to an Amazon near you in Feb 2018.