The stomach tightens, waves of fear, nausea, and dizziness descend up anyone thinking about telling his/her family he/she has come to Islam. In fact, many have delayed their conversion for the simple fact that they had no idea how they would break the news to their families.
It’s a gut-wrenching feeling. The new or prospective Muslim often feels as if it is them and the truth about Islam against a world of myth, misconception, and campaigns of hate, when it comes to letting their family know about their new faith.
How will the family react? Will they disown me? Will they stop speaking to me? Will they yell, call me names, disrespect me or my faith? How do I navigate the politics of it all? These are often just a few of the thoughts going through the new or prospective Muslim’s mind.
Abu Issa* experienced much of this once he broke the news of his conversion to his family. He was just 16 years old in high school and still living at home when he converted to Islam, after having read about it in his history textbook and visiting the masjid.
When asked what he thought his family’s reaction to his conversion would be, he said:
“I honestly didn’t think it would be a big deal. My family had always been very open-minded. Or at least that was the image they portrayed to the world. But it was a huge deal when I told them that I had converted. I could have been selling drugs to toddlers and they would have been less angry and more supportive. It was a nightmare. I was very hurt.”
Abu Issa continues to say:
“My sister began screaming and crying and shouting that I was going to hijack a plane. She was very emotional, and I couldn’t even get a word to console her and tell her Islam had nothing to do with terrorism. That some Muslims are just bad people who do bad things. Just like there are bad Christians who commit crimes.”
He narrates that his sister convinced his mom that he had been brainwashed, had joined an evil cult, and that he needed to be “saved”.
Despite all this, Abu Issa remained patient. He says:
“They would sneak pork in everything I ate, thinking—for whatever reason, I don’t know—that if I ate pork it would make me ‘snap out of it’. They would bust into my room while I was praying and start yelling and try to distract me from prayer. They even turned the ‘Salam’ into a very disgusting phrase in English. They even would beat me horribly for no other reason than I was one of ‘American’s enemies’”.
Abu Issa recounts that he never wavered in his faith, but he also never retaliated. He says:
“I never got mad at my family even though they would do horrible things to me. I knew they were only doing it because they thought I was in danger and they loved me. That is nothing to be mad about. So, I just treated them better than I had ever dreamed, as Islam instructs us to do.”
“I took over all the chores of the house so that my mom and siblings would see that I was still their family and still loved and cared about them and that Islam was nothing to be afraid of.
It wasn’t something that would change me for the worse.
I would work late into the night every day, even on school days, just to get all the cleaning and yard work done. I asked my mom if she would teach me how to cook for a few reasons. It gave me time to talk with her about Islam, to make sure she wasn’t putting pork in my food, and to help ease her load.
I did this for a few years. I slept very little, but I tried my hardest to remain patient and show them what Islam taught me about discipline, good manners, and faith.”
Abu Issa says that he got to know his family members better and became very close with his mother because of all that he did around the house. He learned many life skills in this time, but most of all, he helped his family see exactly what Islam teaches.
When asked if there was anything he wouldn’t have done differently when telling and teaching his family about Islam, Abu Issa said that he wouldn’t have “been so strict about small details, like celebrating birthdays or other things that my family enjoyed so much and weren’t explicitly haram.”
Abu Issa says:
“I think they got the impression when I was a new and very zealous Muslim that Islam is very strict and inflexible. I regret being so harsh with the rules and listening to people who couldn’t possibly understand the convert’s perspective.
I think if I had showed my family that Islam is flexible from the start, they would have been more willing to accept Islam themselves. Maybe they will in the future after the damage has worn off. It is hard to get over that first impression.”
Today, 15 years after Abu Issa converted to Islam, he enjoys a closer relationship with his family than he did when he lived at home as a 16-year-old.
His older sister, who became panic-stricken when she learned of his conversion, tells people today that she respects her brother more than any other man she has ever met for sticking to his principles and beliefs. She claims that Abu Issa learned how to be a good man through Islam and that she can’t believe she ever got upset about his conversion.