I embraced Islam at the age of 20, Alhamdulillah, and that was a turning point in my life. It was only a few months before my 21st birthday.
Now that I am approaching 40, I have spent almost half of my life as a Muslim; and looking back on my journey, I wish I would have done a few things differently. I decided to write a list of 7 things I would tell my 20-year-old, new Muslim self:
1- Learn the Quran
If I only had enough time to give myself one piece of advice after I converted to Islam, it would be: Make the Quran your priority.
There are so many narrations about the virtues of learning and reciting the Quran that I did not stumble upon until years into Islam. For example:
It will be said to the companion of the Quran (in Paradise):
Recite and rise in status, recite as you used to recite in the world, for your status will be at the last verse that you recite. (Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi)
Whoever recites one Word from the Book of Allah will be rewarded for a good deed and ten more like it… (At-Tirmidhi)
2- Learn Arabic
Learning Arabic goes hand in hand with the study of the Quran. Merely memorizing Allah’s book is not enough, we need to understand the meaning of the words we are uttering.
I spent many a Ramadan night joining sobbing worshipers during the tarawih prayer, not knowing the meaning of what the Imam was reciting. I used to cry because I wanted to understand, but during the early years of being Muslim, I only picked up common Arabic phrases.
Even if your day begins in a way that makes you frustrated and overwhelmed, remember to take a few deep breaths, center yourself, and remember your intentions for the day. You don’t have the power to control every single thing that happens to you, but you can control how you react to it and what type of energy you will bring into each moment.
It was not until I was Muslim for six years that I was finally able to take steps towards learning Arabic. By that time, I was already on the verge of having my first child, so my time was limited. In short, take advantage of your youth and free time to learn the language of the Quran.
3- Your Family is Still Your Family, Even if They Are Not Muslim
Muslim or not, your family is often your greatest support; this is especially the case with parents. We should never abandon or disrespect them. Allah even stresses this in the Quran:
And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.
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… (31:14-15)
Sometimes our own family or friends have a completely distorted view of Islam and Muslims, so it is our job to teach them about Islam through our example. We did not learn Islam and practice it overnight, and we cannot expect that from others.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
Whoever would like his provision to be increased and his life to be extended, should uphold the ties of kinship. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Although the Prophet’s own uncle and caretaker, Abu Talib, did not embrace Islam, he supported him and protected him until his last breath.
4- Keep Your Heart Attached to the Mosque
The masajid are known as the houses of Allah, where the believers gather, and Allah’s name is mentioned. Being in this environment can help us recharge our batteries when we are tired of the chaos of the outside world.
Praying side by side with other worshipers is a reminder of our purpose to worship Allah alone. It keeps us grounded and hopeful for the Hereafter.
Make a habit of attending the masjid as much as possible to renew your faith continuously.
5- Do Not Expect Anything From People, Expect Everything From Allah
I have often heard other converts say: “Had I known Muslims before I knew Islam, I would have never converted!”
As believers, we must remind ourselves that human beings are not perfect. Only Allah is perfect.
People will disappoint us whether Muslim or not. We cannot blame Islam for their shortcomings. We should do good unto others and hope others will do the same, but never expect anything from other than Allah. Whenever we feel lost, we can always turn to Him for help. He said:
So remember Me; I will remember you… (Quran, 2:152)
6- Do Not Worry About Marriage, it Will Happen When it Happens
Too often, converts think that marrying a Muslim will solve all their problems, but it could make things worse. There are so many intricacies surrounding marriage in Islam that are blurred by cultural traditions.
A new Muslim is still learning the basics about worship and Islamic manners. Entering a marriage at this stage may complicate everything. If marriage is one of our goals, then it will come in due time. Our two biggest tools in seeking a successful marriage are prayer and sound knowledge, and that includes knowledge of self, as well as knowledge of Islam. Find yourself first, then find a spouse.
7- Take Everything One Step at a Time
I would advise my younger self, and anyone looking into Islam, to study it deeply; I’d advise it to pray to God for guidance, and to embrace it wholeheartedly, but to take things one step at a time.
Just as the Quran was revealed in sections over a period of 23 years, so should we try our best to learn things slowly. Islam is a lifelong journey, and we are all constantly learning.
Last, but not least, as a reminder to myself, then and now, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) left us with a great advice:
Take advantage of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death. (Al Hakim)