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The First Steps a New Convert Should Take

The doorbell rang unexpectedly.

As usual, the ringer of the bell had left by the time I put my hijab on and made it to the door—which isn’t a bad thing.

But this time when I opened the door there, on the step, was a bundle of joy. No, it wasn’t a small child abandoned by a good hearted mother who just couldn’t take care of it. It was a box of books! Books I had ordered a few days prior for my Ramadan reading list.

In my bundle of joy was the golden-leaf speckled cover of Yasmin Mogahed’s book Reclaim Your Heart. After listening to Mogahed’s lectures and reading her blog, I was eager to dive in to her book.

What I found in between the covers of Mogahed’s book wasn’t more of the same rhetoric and empty platitudes, but a practical understanding of how the heart works and how we should guard it and treat it.

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I realized this heart reclaiming process should have been the first thing I did when I came to Islam.

When I said the shahadah (statement of faith) it seemed like there were a million things that I needed to learn, and do, and change all at one moment. My questions seemed to number as the stars and I wanted to get started right way.

But looking back, I realize there was only one thing I should have focused on in those first few days, weeks, and even months—the heart, the source of faith.


Most new converts are often told that to adopt the Islamic way of life they must start with outward expressions like dressing more modestly and/or growing the beard. And yes, we must learn to guard our modesty as Allah tells us. But all too often people (new Muslims and communities) focus too much on appearances and forget that a reformation of the heart must come first.

Without knowing in our heart that pleasing Allah should be our intention, these actions are like the actions of someone who is sleep walking and does not understand what he or she is doing.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“Allah does not look at your figures, nor at [the beauty of] your attire, but He looks at your hearts and accomplishments” (Muslim)

Focusing the heart on the intention of actions is the path to all acts of obedience to Allah.


On the flip side of the same coin, the new Muslim is often told that adopting an Islamic life means getting rid of bad habits that are outwardly obvious, like drinking or dating. Yes, we must break bad habits and stay far away from things Allah has told us are harmful. But all too often people (new converts and communities) focus too much on the outward show of breaking these habits.

Without attaching the heart to the love of Allah, without that motivation, removing the habits or attachments we love in this life will seem impossible. For that reason the first thing the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to the people of Madinah was:

“O people! Love Allah with all of your hearts for what He has given you from blessings […]” (At-Tirmidhi)

Focusing the heart on the love of Allah is the path to motivation to seek Allah’s pleasure.

First Steps

Learning intention and motivation only come when we have prepared our hearts in the best way. And so those first steps a new Muslim should take into Islam should be reclaiming that piece of flesh that the Prophet talked about when he said:

“[…] if it becomes good the whole body becomes good. But if it gets spoiled, the whole body gets spoiled – and that [piece of flesh] is the heart.” (Al-Bukhari)

Changing the heart is essential to everything we are and everything we do. If the heart is full of evil and false attachments, our body will act accordingly and accumulate evil deeds. And so, the opposite is true of a heart full of goodness and piety.

To start to reclaim the heart, the new Muslims must first empty the heart.

Mogahed writes in her book, Reclaim the Heart: “To empty the heart does not mean not to love. On the contrary, true love, as God intended it, is purest when it is not based on a false attachment. The process of first emptying the heart can be found in the beginning half of the shahadah.”

The shadadah begins with a negation. Ash hadu an la illaha ila Allah: I testify that there is NO deity worthy of worship but Allah. This declaration is an oath with our true Lord to not put anything above Him, whether it may be money, our own desires, status, or a person. By making this statement, we admit that these things must be removed from the place of worship. And our false attachments to them must be emptied from our hearts.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t like or love anything in this world. We are instructed to love our family, our brothers and sisters in faith, and it is only natural that we like to have children, status, nice things and money.

Emptying the heart is not rejecting all things in this world, it is prioritizing and removing those false attachments or false gods that we think we could never give up or live without. This place of reverence is to be reserved for Allah, this attachment is the only real attachment, and everything else is temporary.

Filling the Heart

“A single moment with an empty spot causes excruciating pain. That’s why we run from distraction to distraction, and from attachment to attachment.” Mogahed writes about the emptiness of the heart.

We are not emptying the heart to leave it empty. As we empty it, we also fill it with the love of Allah. We can fill our hearts with the love of Allah—as the Prophet Muhammad instructed the people of Madinah—by realizing His blessing on us. We can look to creation and the beauty of the heavens and earth to find love for Him. We can think about how merciful He is to us by counting one bad deed as one and multiply the reward for good deeds. We can be thankful for how delicious He has made our sustenance, and how He has put love in our hearts for spouses.

When we love someone do we not wish to show the object of our love how much we love them? Do we not wish to please him or her?

Similarly we can and should, above all else, show our love of Allah and seek to please Him. Allah tells us how to do this in the Quran:

{Say, [O Muhammad], If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.} (3:31)

This verse of the Quran tells us in no uncertain terms that we can show our love for Allah by obeying Him as He has instructed us to through His Messenger. In doing this, Allah will love us, be pleased with us and forgive us. This is where intention and motivation come from—it is easy to put aside bad habits, do good deeds and acts of worship when we are doing so out of love of Allah in order to seek His pleasure above all others.

Recovering the heart from false attachments is a process that every new Muslim must navigate before any intention other than pleasing Allah sneaks in. Regaining the heart with the love of Allah is critical for the new Muslim to be motivated to do what Allah asks of him or her.

It is important to note that reclaiming the heart is not just a reality that converts have to face. This is the very foundation of what makes every Muslim a Muslim.

This step of emptying our hearts is vital for every Muslim because if we do not empty our hearts, if we love our money, our time, our spouses, if we fill our hearts with the love of the creation more than the love of the Creator, we will only cause ourselves pain in the short and long term.

(From Discovering Islam archive)

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.