A week after I converted to Islam, I entered the masjid to pray.
I was shy to go because I was wearing a shalwar kamiz (a traditional Islamic dress); it was donated to me by the masjid since I didn’t have any modest clothing that was appropriate to wear.
While already feeling like a fish out of water, a woman approached me and said:
“Who are you? Why are you trying to be like us?”
This was my first time to be measured as a Muslim from the Muslim community. I thought it was an isolated incident with just me since I was the only one that was different. Although it hurt my feelings, I brushed it off and went about my life.
Later on, after meeting many other new Muslims, I discovered they had similar remarks said to them on various matters. It turned out that many feel ‘measured’ on how much or how little Muslim they were.
This can be very damaging to the iman (faith) of a new Muslim. Many are able to brush it off, while others take it as an ostracizing sentiment that make them feel like an outsider. Some feel they will never be ‘good enough’ to be Muslim no matter what they do.
I asked a group of new Muslims about their experiences, and approximately 50 new Muslims provided their feedback. Let’s review some of these measurements of faith.
‘My’ Clothes vs. ‘Their’ Clothes
A commonality, about clothing and appearances, runs through majority of experiences new Muslims face. Many are told that they must dress like those of various nationalities, while others who do dress like them, are made to feel like they are trying to be like them. It seems that no matter what they do, they get judgments either way.
To my surprise, a whopping 46 new Muslims shared my experience of the ‘my clothes vs. their clothes’ situation. Sister Jill was told that she had to wear Asian clothes to even be part of the community, while brother Stegall expressed that the length of his beard is a constant issue he faces, under the assumption that the longer the beard he has, the more Muslim he is.
Always remember that we, as Muslims, are told to dress modestly… Whether that happens to be like those of the Arabs, or the Asians, or the Indian and Pakistani communities, or whatever else, that as long as we dress according to the requirements ordained by God we should ignore any ignorant comments made by others who wish to pick on the new Muslim guy/girl.
If you are pleasing God, that is all that matters. You didn’t become a Muslim for the purpose of donning a new style of clothing. If you have purified your intentions, over time, you will naturally choose modest clothing, whether it is a traditional shalwar kamiz or an abaya or thoab, or modest western clothing. Whatever you choose, it is between you and God, just make sure it fits the description of hijab and modesty according to Islam.
Labeled “Not a Real Muslim”
I was once told “You will never be a real Muslim just because you dress like one.” Sister Veronica stated that she was called a “Wannabe Muslim” by people at her local masjid.
I have also eye-witnessed others being told they are not a real Muslim by others.
The last time I checked, anyone who said the shahadah was a Muslim, and anyone that tried their best to obey the commands of God and follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was a practicing Muslim.
There are people out there that are Muslim by name only; they do not practice Islam fully. However, we see they are sometimes given a higher status at times over that of a new Muslim that tries his/her best to do everything properly; and labeled a “wannabe” simply because they were not naturally born and raised by Muslim parents inheriting their parent’s faith.
In Islam, we are taught that we (all mankind) were naturally born in a state of purity and submission to God, and were raised by our parents to be Christian, Buddhist, etc. No one has the right to say that another is not a real Muslim based on any external factors.
A real Muslim is anyone that declares the Shahadah, and implements and practices Islam in their lives, regardless of the fact if they were born and raised Muslims or accepted Islam later in life.
Islamic Name vs. Given Birth Name
Many new Muslims feel that they are expected to change their name to an Islamic name, either by their own desire to start a new life, or for being pressured to do so by other Muslims as if it is a requirement.
I’ve been told by people that “Shannon” is not a “Muslim” name, and that I must change it. When I express that I will keep my name, I’m faced with remarks stating that I’m not a real Muslim if I continued to call myself Shannon. That is not true.
We are allowed to keep our names as long as they do not have bad meanings or connotations or represent a deity of another religion. The name Krishna, a deity of Hinduism, is an example of a name that should be changed, but names like Moses (Musa in Arabic) is an acceptable name since it is the name of one of the Prophets of God.
One revert sister Aisha, stated: “I am of those who chose an Islamic name because my past is something I want to disassociate with, and have taken on a new identity. Islam has transformed my life, so I chose a name to reflect my transformation.”
On a side note, we should never change the family name of our fathers as commanded by God in the Quran.
Level of Arabic Fluency
When a new Muslim doesn’t understand an expected level of Arabic they tend to be judged accordingly.
New Muslims are not all at the same level. Some just reverted a few days ago, while others may have been Muslim for decades. However, even if they are veteran reverts, that doesn’t automatically mean they understand Arabic.
Some people simply cannot learn new languages, while others may have no exposure to it. Only God can judge people, and the level of fluency of Arabic is nothing that mankind should judge others over, about their level of faith.
True, we should all try our best to understand the language that the Quran was revealed in, but don’t let others bring you down because you are not fluent. Remember that even many Arabic speakers don’t fully understand the Quranic formality of Arabic called Fus-ha (formal); so don’t be so hard on yourself.
Sister Ruth was told once that: “If you are a real Muslim you should know the Muslim “lingo” by now.”
I just feel I should not be repeating phrases if I don’t fully understand their meaning.
When we go to school, assuming that English is your native tongue, the subject of science will be in English not Chinese. Learn it first in your language, then move on to learn it in Arabic to ensure you truly understand it first.
Other Common Measurements Used
Another trend we see is that some women who accepted Islam, are treated as if they became less Muslim if they were to divorce. Is it appropriate to rate one person on something due to an act of another person?
Sadly, there are ignorant people out there that believe that you can only be Muslim if you are Arab. Sister Amy says it best when she says: “The Quran doesn’t command us to be Arabs, being Arab does not equal Islam”.
The majority of Muslims around the world are not Arabs at all! Prophet Muhammad was sent to mankind, not just to the Arabs.
Nationality and skin color has nothing to do with Islam or how Muslim someone is. The Prophet said in his last sermon:
… an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white except in piety and good actions.
There are always going to be things that people are measured by to rate their levels of faith; but don’t let their opinions dishearten you.
There are people that fill the outward appearance of a Muslim, but they are empty on the inside. They may pray all their prayers, go to Hajj, pay Zakah, etc. but they may commit horrible sins and forget God at all other times in their lives. Appearances are only skin deep, while faith cannot be known to anyone except God.
So, if you are criticized by how perfect your prayer is; or how many Indian or Arabic dishes you can cook; how much Quran you have memorized, or by how you dress, take it with a grain of salt. We face criticisms all the time from people of all faiths, about all sorts of things, and Muslims are not immune to it either.
Have you ever felt measured on your faith? Please share with us in the comments. I look forward to reading about them.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)