Almost a year ago, I received an email from a good friend who was, at that time, studying Islam.
In this email, she asked me if I could promise her that she would be entering a community of good and sincere people, if she were to convert.
She said that one of the reasons that she left Christianity was because of all the hypocrisy she witnessed from Christians.
I was surprised by this at first. Then I told her the cold hard facts.
“No, I cannot and will not promise you any such thing. Islam is perfect, but many people who call themselves Muslims are seriously messed up. And all Muslims, including myself, have our shortcomings and faults.”
I continued to respond that if she was seeking or even leaving a faith because of the failings of others, then it was not from a place of sincerity that she ascribed to that faith in the first place.
Religion should be about seeking God sincerely, not about who are the coolest people to hang out with.
When we look to other fallible human beings around us to act out for us the doctrines of a faith, we will be sorely disappointed.
This was the role of the prophets (peace be upon them). We have the last Prophet’s path available to us. But he is dead now. No one will even be a better example.
The thing is that people have free will. It is every person’s prerogative whether he or she follows the principles lain out by a faith or not.
That doesn’t mean that the faith changes just because people ignore it, or don’t practice what they preach, or worst of all manipulate it for their own gains.
I told her, bluntly, that if she hopes to find some utopia in the Muslim community and this is the motivating factor for her to convert, then she won’t find what she is looking for.
I went on to say, however, that Islam has the power to transform people into the best versions of themselves, if they sincerely love and seek God, study Islam’s principles, and incorporate them into their life.
There are many Muslims who do this and are well-rounded, kind, wise, and just amazing people. But there are many more who don’t and who are not sincere in their faith. There are for sure Muslims who are hypocrites and Muslims who will use the faith for their own gains.
Not a Magic Pill
This email exchange reminded me of a conversation we had a few months prior. I told her something I had wished Muslims would have told me before I converted: Converting to Islam does not mean that life turns into rainbows and ice cream parties.
I was made to believe that along with the forgiveness of my sins, converting would make life so much easier.
And this was true, but not in the way that it was sold to me. The tests kept pouring in. The trials broke me down and made me question the very core of who I am, what I had been doing, why I believed what I believed, and what I had to do to get what I sought.
God tests those whom He loves. This was a statement that made absolutely no sense to me for many years. I trusted it was true, but I didn’t understand it. But looking back at my life, I can honestly say now it is true and I know why.
As Danielle LoDuca writes, Islam is not a magic pill. There might even be more tests after one converts. And this is an extremely good thing. Have you ever seen a child who has never been told “no”, never been disciplined, and has gotten everything he or she has asked for and more?
It’s a sad sight. The child has not been corrected and directed to what is better for him or her. The child is not prepared for life. He or she is inconsiderate, selfish, impatient, and has inaccurate expectations of what he or she is entitled to.
But more than that, the child is out of control and unless corrected, he or she will continue on a bad path spiraling toward disaster.
There is a saying in my family that is repeated about people who are doing wrong in their life and won’t listen to sage advice: ‘Let ‘em roll on’. It means to just let that person do what they want and if they roll long, they will eventually crash into something. And the longer one rolls, the harder, the more disastrous the crash will be.
Allah (SWT) loves those He tests because those trials are saving His beloved from that disastrous crash.
He is putting the speed bumps in the path so the one He loves CAN slow his or her roll, as it were.
If God loves us, then He will send tests to direct us away from things that are bad for us, to grow us into better versions of ourselves, and to humble us and our expectations.
Looking back on my life, I am so utterly grateful for the tests. They have been a mercy from God because they taught me something valuable.
Each test brought me back to the reality of what life is about and what really matters. Each trial prepared me and kept me from disaster.
We sometimes get caught up in the thinking that this advice about tests and trials is from people who don’t understand how incredibly hard life can be.
The Prophets’ Tests
To that I say, who has suffered more than the prophets (peace be upon them)?
The Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) parents died when he was very young. His first wife, and several of his infant children died during his lifetime.
Job’s (Ayyub PBUH) very name is synonymous with trials.
Jonah (Yunus PBUH) lived in the belly of a whale.
Joseph (Yusuf PBUH) was sexually assaulted and then sent to prison to cover up the crimes against him.
Mary (Maryam PBUH) was a young, single mother in a time in which that was a death sentence.
Abraham (Ibrahim PBUH) was literally thrown in a fire by his own father.
And the reason we say ‘peace and blessings be upon them’ when we say their names is because they have been in the trenches of life. They suffered in patience, clung to faith, and saw to it that this message of God would reach us so that we might have hope.
Tests, trials, pain, and suffering are part of life with or without Islam. But the reason Islam makes life easier is not because it turns everything into a fairy tale full of helper mice and fairy godmothers.
The reason Islam makes life easier is because it gives us the tools to deal, the perspective and spiritual maturity to understand pain’s function, and the focus to achieve an amazing goal – Paradise, an eternal home where pain and tests will be a distant memory and the most joy we experience here will pale in comparison.
So, when converts (or even heritage Muslims) don’t understand the reality of the life of this world and are sold on a picture of an Islamic life that looks more like Paradise in the hereafter, aren’t we just setting them up to fail?