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Converts to Islam – Balancing Between Religion and Family

I remember the last meal I had with my father.

I came home from college and joined him for dinner at his favorite restaurant.

The conversation followed the same pattern it always had, “how is school?” he inquired.

Fine”, I answered.

But this meal was different. I had converted to Islam and wanted to tell him. I wanted to stand up on the table and shout it to the entire restaurant that I found this amazing path that made my life incredible.

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Despite my feelings, I had wisdom enough to know that approaching such a topic would need to be done delicately. So I tested the waters by asking him if he knew any Muslims, what he knew about Islam, all framed in such a way that he would think it pertained to a religion class I was taking.

His answers came as a shock. My framing the line of questions from an academic standpoint hadn’t worked. He saw through it and informed me that no one can change their religion: That I was born and raised a Catholic and would stay a Catholic. It was a matter of tradition.

This answer was such a shock to me because my father was not even Catholic. He was not even the snake handling Pentecostal he was raised. He was an agnostic who throughout my childhood voiced his strong oppositions to Catholic doctrines.

As I sat in shock over a meal I no longer had an appetite to eat, he continued to declare that if I ever converted he would disown me. I didn’t have the heart (or the bravery) to tell him that I had already converted to Islam.

When I drove home that evening, I planned on giving him some space in the hope that he would soften on his position. I never got the chance to tell my father about my new faith. He died two months after our dinner.

Family Pressure to Leave Islam

Many converts go through similar heart wrenching situations. They convert to Islam after serious thought and consideration and then they have to tell their family about the choice. This is a daunting task and much dread doing it because they fear they will be rejected.

Sometimes families surprise us and are open to the choice and want to learn more. Other times, it is a struggle and families take it hard. And in some cases, families try to do their best to make the new convert leave Islam.

It is never an easy thing to be rejected by your own people. But the good news is that if you are, you are not the only one who has suffered such a fate. You are in good company.

The Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham, peace be upon him) own father rejected him and his people threw him into a fire. Jesus (peace be upon him) was sentenced to death by his own people. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was humiliated and threatened by his tribe.

Being rejected by loved ones is a very painful experience. The Prophets, the Prophets’ companions, and many pious people have gone through the same thing many new converts today face. And these noble people held firm to their faith despite this intense pressure.

We can take lessons from those who came before us who were rejected and tempted to turn from their faith.

One particular case was that of Mus’ab ibn Umair. He was wealthy, well dressed, and beloved until he embraced Islam.

When his family found out he was a Muslim, his mother tied him up and tortured him. When he would not give up his faith, his mother took away his clothing and wealth and kicked him out. Mus’ab later became the first ambassador of Islam to Madinah.

Likely none of us will suffer the torture that Mus’ab and many other companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) underwent. But some will be faced with the same rejection. And it can help knowing many went through so much more than we will ever face and remained firm in their faith.

We must remember at the end of the day, each person has to lead his or her own life. At the end of life, God will not accept the excuse that we followed what we found our fathers (parents, family) following. Family pressure should be seen for what it is, for what the Prophets and their companions saw it for – a test.

The Holidays

This same family clash can often increase during the holiday season. It is a time where families gather and practice traditions that are un-Islamic.

As you struggle to hold fast to your religious principles, it might also occur to you that as your family gathers during this time of the year, gathering with them is a good way to keep the ties of kinship.

Most converts dread the sticky situations the holiday season brings. And many families of converts are made aware of the difference in your behavior as a Muslim because of your likely unwillingness to participate in traditions of your old religion.

Sometimes families can feel like your rejection of their traditions is a rejection of them, leading your family to feel hurt and angry.

And because of this, your family may want to take you out of your beliefs, especially at this time of year. To them leaving Islam means you will come back to them, while you feel like you never left the family.

Be Patient

Armed with the knowledge that your family may take the rejection of their religion, traditions, and some cultural practices as a rejection of them; you can approach your family with understanding and patience.

You must be very clear in telling your family that the decision to convert to Islam is in no way a rejection of them or your upbringing. And you must help your family to see that you are the same old person they know and love.

But at the same time, you must make your family aware that you are not interested in going back to being a non-Muslim. Help your family to see that you have new faith and traditions and that some of the family’s practices and traditions contradict with your beliefs.

This will take time, so you should continue to explain your position with patience, and understand if it seems to go in one ear and out the other.

Be merciful to them as your family adjusts. But be firm and clear that you are a Muslim and that is not going to change.

(From Discovering Islam’s archive)

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.