So, you took your shahadah, and found you became bombarded with things to learn! What to do?
It can seem extremely overwhelming as a new Muslim when you are pumped about embracing your new found faith, and then hit a brick wall of information that leaves you dumbfounded.
The most important thing all new Muslims need to remember is “steady but surely wins the race”.
We must strive to learn as much as we can, slowly, but steadily, and always keep our intentions to implement what we learn as we learn it. If you try to be a perfect Muslim from the beginning, you will quickly find yourself becoming “burnt out”.
Always remember that the Quran was revealed over a span of around 23 years and the early Muslims were given time to soak in what they learned, and were easily able to implement what they learned almost immediately.
Babies don’t jump out of the womb and immediately start running and talking, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to know everything and implement it overnight.
Take baby steps. Of course everyone wants to be a good Muslim from day one, but God knows we are in a state of learning, and you are not held responsible for what you do not know.
This, by no means, means that you should “not learn” to avoid being held accountable for it, because God knows our hearts as well as our minds.
Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim (male and female). (At-Tirmidhi)
Frustrations of a New Muslim
I’ve witnessed many new Muslim grumping over every tiny issue, and feeling like they will never be able to practice Islam, or be able to learn everything they need to know. It can be quite disheartening.
When I was at an Islamic center in the USA once, I was waiting for new Muslims to arrive so that I could assist them, and before I found them, another sister met them outside in the parking lot.
They introduced themselves to each other, and the new Muslim sister (that just took her shahadah the day before), told the woman that she just took her shahadah and was coming to learn more about Islam.
When she reached me, the other woman had left to pray, and the new Muslim sister had this awkward expression on her face.
I asked her what is wrong, and she said (pointing to the woman) that the woman started telling her “you must say this dua’ (she recited it in Arabic), when entering the masjid, and forcing her to say it (in Arabic) at the front door before she allowed her to enter.
She even tried to make her memorize it before she left. She told the woman she had to go, and then came to me. The new Muslim woman was already feeling stressed, because she felt she had to know Arabic, and say certain things immediately.
She was having anxiety over the matter, worried because she had no idea what she said and wasn’t able to remember it. So, her first visit to the masjid left her feeling overwhelmed.
All I can say to these sorts of things is to focus on the key aspects, and don’t sweat the small stuff in the beginning.
Make a Learning Plan
Inshallah if you make a game plan for your learning, you will succeed. We must be adamant in our learning process, as Islam is a way of life, not just a belief we hold and then neglect implementing it into our lives.
What knowledge to seek first, and what to avoid? This is the big question.
Muslims should have a clear understanding of the five pillars of Islam, and articles of faith, with an emphasis on prayer and tawheed (oneness of Allah). Once you have these fundamentals covered, move on to other topics.
The next suggested things one should learn is about living as a Muslim, such as manners and other things that involve your everyday living.
Reading the Quran is vital, since it is our guidebook for everything in our lives. When you are reading the Quran, you may find verses that you get hung on.
If you have the tafsir (explanation about the history and circumstance surround verses at the time they were revealed), then it can shed a lot of insight on confusing or unclear verses. You can read the tafsir of the Quran here.
The seerah (biography of the Prophet Muhammad) is also an excellent source of a vast amount of knowledge.
You will find almost every topic in it, and it will also give you the understanding behind certain aspects of practices. Otherwise, you will just be reading, or told a bunch of rules and feel that it is too complicated to remember it all.
If you know the history behind things, you are more likely to remember things, and implement them naturally and easily. The book called “The Sealed Nectar” is widely known, and is the most recommended especially amongst English speaking Muslims.
What Should you Avoid?
Avoid sectarian issues. It will only confuse you in the beginning. If you are not knowledgeable about mainstream Islam, you will never be able to comprehend the sectarian divisions and make sense of it all, and will be left confused and lost.
Study mainstream Islam according to Quran and Sunnah until you have developed vast knowledge before delving into such matters, otherwise, you will not be able to identify things that are incorrect.
Another thing that is not of urgent importance is learning Arabic. Islam is not about how well you can read, write, and speak Arabic.
The Quran was revealed in Arabic, so it should be a long term goal we have to learn it, but focus on the major aspects and then gradually start learning Arabic. You will not be “more or less Muslim” if you don’t know Arabic. The Quran is available in practically every language of the world, so start with that.
Handling Advice and Instruction from Others
As a new Muslim, nothing is worse than a bunch of people shoving information down your throat faster than you can absorb and implement it. It is bound to happen, so be prepared for it, and take it with a grain of salt. Most people are just over-excited to know a new Muslim and want to make sure they learn as much as they can.
You will always encounter some people, what Muslims have coined “the haram police”. They often forget you are still learning the basics, and don’t know many things. They tend to spout “haram, haram” about small things frequently, and don’t realize how it can make a person feel judged and criticized. Ignore it, and take their efforts as sincere intentions, and don’t let it bother you if you can’t adhere to everything they tell you immediately. They are usually just wanting to make sure you do your best.
Lastly, you have the people that have the “holier than though attitude”. These sorts of people are the ones that have the most damaging affect on a new Muslim.
They will tell you something, and if you question it, or can’t bring yourself to implement whatever it is immediately, they will turn their nose up at you and tell you things that make you feel like you are a bad Muslim, or not good enough to be Muslim.
Ignore this because it is easy for people to criticize others than to criticize themselves, and more often than not, they have lots of work to do on themselves. Don’t let these people bring you down.
Structured and Non-Structured Forms of Instruction
In non-Muslim societies, finding sources of instruction can either be fairly easy to find, or extremely difficult depending on where you live, and if you live in a densely populated area, or a rural location. The more densely populated cities tend to have masjids, or Islamic centers, while the rural areas do not.
If you have an Islamic center or a masjid in your area, it is very crucial that you go as soon as you are able.
Once you go, inquire about classes and lectures they may offer, whether it is for new Muslims, or the general Muslim community at large. There is usually regular study circles called “halaqas” that you would never know about unless you asked.
I advise not to depend on just sending emails or making phone calls, because more often than not, you may not get a reply or answer.
Take action and make the effort to go in person. The times of the day where you are most likely to find the correct people to inquire about these matters is between maghrib and isha’ prayers, or on Fridays just before, or just after Jummah prayer.
Speak to the Imam or the office administrator to get the most information, rather than just random visitors of the masjid.
Don’t despair if you are in a rural area! Many new Muslims in rural areas tend to learn about Islam at a much slower pace due to resources available to them locally.
If you are in a rural area, the most advisable thing to do is move to a larger city where there is a Muslim population if you are able to.
If not, there is still hope for you! You should contact Muslim organizations like WhyIslam in the USA and iERA in the UK. They can send you information, books, CDs, DVDs, and many other things to help you. They usually have operators taking phone calls from people as well if you have questions.
The internet has lots of information, but make sure you ask a respected scholar, or an Imam at a masjid (even if it is just a phone call made), to ask them what websites and books they recommend to you to learn about specific topics.
An excellent website I recommend is NewMuslims. They have a syllabus that is structured with the important matters in a go-at-your-own-pace structure that is highly effective in teaching you what you need, and in the order you need it.
Stay positive, and stay steady in your learning process, and you will find yourself gaining knowledge without realizing it inshallah.
For him who embarks on the path of seeking knowledge, Allah will ease for him the way to paradise. (Muslim)
Over time, you will find all the pieces of the puzzle we call Islam, falling into their appropriate places.
O ye who believe! persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear Allah; that ye may prosper. (Al-Imran, 3:200)
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)