“Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth today” a statement we often hear from Muslims everywhere.
While this might be true.
The sad side of the story is the number of lost new Muslims who embrace Islam in predominantly non-Muslims societies, and who expect to turn to the local Muslim community for support and education, but are sorely disappointed with the lack of support, particularly if the change of religions has cost them to lose contact with family or friends who disprove their choice of religion.
I get a lot of heart wrenching appeals for help from new Muslims, they may vary in individual details, but they all have the same alarming tone, here are some actual comments I got from new Muslims in the US and Europe:
“I am new to Islam. There aren’t many Muslims in my city and they haven’t really been helpful. I don’t know where to turn for support and I’m so lost and confused.”
“I have been able to meet all the challenges of embracing Islam but now I face a new challenge: the feeling of being insolated. I have no Muslim friends or family members to share my experiences with. I have visited a few mosques and have met many friendly people there but most of them are from other countries and I have very little in common with them.”
“After I converted, I gave my phone number and email address to fellow Muslims, but to my surprise, no one has ever bothered to contact me to see how I am doing or invite me to a public function or a family meal or get together.”
“I attend Friday prayers and talk with people but that is about all the contact I have with other Muslims. They are friendly people but they seem to be caught up with their own families and friends who share the same cultural heritage with them.”
“I have emailed various Islamic websites and even to a large mosque in my area asking about any classes or activities I can attend so I can meet new Muslims but I do not receive any responses to my inquiries.”
Invariably, these sad comments are often followed by an alarming conclusion from those who had gone through such a lonely experience as new Muslims:
“I believe in Islam but these experiences have caused me to start having doubts about whether I should continue. I’m afraid I would eventually leave Islam!”
These sisters and brothers are completely justified in their sadness and disappointment. People are often over-excited to meet a new Muslim, but as time passes, their excitement wears off and they just go on with their lives.
Adding statistical numbers to the Muslim community is not an achievement in itself if those new Muslims are lost and isolated. If it is required of Muslims to spread Islam to the world, then they should be aware of the challenges of those who come from a different cultural background.
We need to realize that it is not enough to just hand someone a Quran, have them say the shahada, hug them and organize a small celebration, and then send them back into the society they came from with no support, no information, and no connection to everyday application of true Islam.
Muslims should understand that a convert who comes from a non-Muslim country needs extra support and guidance since the only world they know is not familiar with –and often not welcoming to- their new beliefs.
Without this support, how can a new Muslim be expected to stay in Islam when all their friends and family are pulling them in the opposite direction?
No one wants to feel alone and isolated, and a sense of community and belonging is very natural to us as humans. As a Muslim American puts it:
“If Islam is to spread amongst whites and Hispanics in America, Muslims will need to take a more proactive approach to reaching out and supporting these people. Otherwise, the religion will be confined to only foreigners and will continue to be seen as a “foreign” belief.”
I agree with this observation. Because while Islam is all about unity and inclusiveness, many Muslims today who live in the West don’t understand that concept, you’ll find them huddled together in groups based on their mother language, nationality or color, which are all non-Islamic classification criteria in my opinion.
I was so sad to see mosques in London only for Indians and Pakistanis, others only for Africans, and others just for Arabs; in each of those mosques lessons and sermons were delivered in the mother language, not in English so anyone could understand. This is not what Islam is all about!
The beauty of Islam is expressed in standing in prayer together in one neat line, facing the same direction and praying to the same God, with our different colors, languages, ethnic clothes, social status and ages.
Social responsibility, Islamic education and cross-cultural communication skills are things Muslims desperately need to learn at school level if they’re hoping to live up to the huge responsibility towards humanity which God had entrusted to them.
We should also begin to tap into the huge possibilities offered to us through technology and social media to address this problem. Video conferencing and virtual classes for example could be a creative option for those in distant cities without a local community.
The same tools could also offer training for Muslim youth to educate them about the challenge and coach them on supporting new Muslims and representing Islam in their communities.
Dr. Jeffrey Lang has an excellent book called: Losing My Religion, a Call of Help, it’s bout the challenges faced by new Muslims in the United States and how to combat them. The book offers a lot of valuable insights for those wishing to be part of the solution.