You’ve heard it before: Islam is far more than just a religion, it is a way of life. Being a Muslim therefore means not only adjusting your belief structure, but also immersing yourself into new patterns.
You must find a way to cope with the daily grind. Find a place to pray at work, haul yourself out of bed to make it in time for fajr, or cope with no water or food when everybody else around you is enjoying their lunch.
Additionally, you also must make friends and develop relationships in a community that is populated by Muslims from different cultures.
All said and done, being a Muslim means walking what is mostly a very lonely path, particularly in the West. That path is particularly lonely for new Muslims (like me) who have spent most of their lives outside of the Muslim world. We must make serious adaptations just to correctly perform the most basic of Islamic obligations.
In my own journey into Islam I found that having a mentor, a friend, or a guide was critical to my continued growth in the faith. This article, therefore, attempts to outline the main contours of searching for a mentor.
Is a Mentor Necessary?
My own mentor throughout the years has been my first major Islamic studies teacher from Cairo. No matter where I am in the world, I always find the time to speak with him and learn more from his years of experience and guiding wisdom. Although I began as his student, our relationship has grown over time to the point that we are now good friends.
Some might ask the question: why do you need to keep in contact with someone whose experience in Islam is so divergent from yours? After all, he has never left his home country and spends most of his time teaching to others. I, on the other hand, have had the privilege to travel extensively throughout the Muslim world and study in numerous environments. Surely I would know more? That could not be more wrong.
Having a mentor as a new Muslim is far more than just speaking to someone in your community or someone who shares similar experiences. Most importantly, having a mentor helps you find your way when you are lost.
Islam is an ocean, filled with treasures of knowledge, culture, and experiences. It is also filled with dangers and pitfalls waiting just below the surface. Those who are not experienced in the intricacies of the faith and their application in daily life can easily sink, or worse, drown.
Having a mentor, therefore, helps to fulfill the Quranic commandment:
And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers… (Quran 3:103)
This verse is typically cited to call for unity of the general Muslim community. However, speaking to a mentor is like having that “rope” in the middle of the ocean. You need to grab onto it and use it to pull you forward and save you.
In my own experience, my mentor saved me after watching the slow and painful death of a close friend who had suffered from years of chronic illness. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that a Merciful God would ever allow this to happen to someone who was such a good and pious person.
By speaking with my mentor and seeing his patience, his understanding, and his submission to the realities of life, I learned how to cope with that loss. He taught me that, no matter what happens, everything is within the control and scope of God Almighty. It is not our job to understand everything, but rather to accept what happens when it does.
6 Tips to Find Your Mentor
As a result, I learned how important it was to have a mentor as a new Muslim. To close, here are a few points that will help you both choose and work with your mentor.
1- Find someone who puts God first.
This doesn’t mean that they will be insular. Quite the contrary, those who put God first realize that serving creation develops a greater relationship with the Creator.
2- Find a friend before a mentor.
Don’t approach someone who is a mentor to others (like a scholar or community leader) and think that they will automatically take you in. Find someone who is open to be a friend just as much as your mentor and you are on the right track.
3- Don’t look too far.
Some of the best mentors are already right there next to you. In fact, you might already have a mentor without even knowing it.
4- Don’t blindly follow anybody.
Your mentor is not going to be an expert on every topic, and sometimes will give you bad advice. The point is not that you follow everything that your mentor tells you, but rather that they act as a sounding board for your ideas and a balance to your own understanding.
5- Accept that your mentor has their own life.
They will be there for you when you least expect it – and sometimes don’t want them around – but will also be absent when you think you need them the most. This is not always their fault and you must understand that they have their own lives and needs.
6- Understand that your mentor is also human.
They go through their own trials and make mistakes. Don’t think that they are perfect and be there for them just as much as they are there for you.