An important subject that many sisters who attend our circle want to discuss is when they should declare their Islam.
This can usually be broken into three main stages: When should they take their Shahadah (Testimony of Faith) and declare that they have embraced Islam?
When should they tell their families or close friends?
And when should they make it open to everyone?
For some people the answer to this question is easy and doesn’t need to be discussed; they know their own minds and are confident in taking the steps without any discussion.
They either feel that they know it is the right time and they won’t face any specific problems, as their environment is safe and accepting or that they are confident in their ability to be able to manage any possible challenges that may come along.
The following suggestions aren’t aimed at these people, although there may be some food for thought that they haven’t considered up to now.
Stage One: The Shahadah
When should you say your Shahadah?
My general answer to this is ‘when your heart feels at peace with your decision’. That will be the time that God has opened your heart and allowed it to know that you are ready to do it. At this time you will be surer than you’ve been of anything that this is the right time.
I would however like to add a voice of caution to this, as we do see some people at the circle who feel it’s the right time for them to do it, but their understanding and knowledge of the implications of what it means to take this step are not clear at this stage, and they can be the most vulnerable to lapses later on.
If someone comes along and wants to take their Shahadah, we accept it from them, as we can’t truly know what’s in their heart and that is in line with the Sunnah (way) of the Prophet. But I would caution people to make every effort that they can in these days to meet the following criteria before they finally take the decision to say their Shahadah.
For a Shahadah to have any meaning, you should understand the meaning of the words:
(la ʾilaha ʾilla Allah, Muḥammad rasulu Allah) There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
You should be able to say the Shahadah with no doubt and be certain of its truth. You should accept the implications that saying this will have on your life and the way you will have to try to live it from that moment on. Being a ‘Muslim’ means that you are one who submits to God and His commandments and also to the commandments of His Messenger; so you should be ready to surrender in your thoughts, deeds and actions.
When you say the Shahadah, you should say it truthfully, with sincerity for the Sake of Allah and with love for the Creator, denying all other objects of worship and intending to live as a Muslim for the rest of your life. These all sound very heavy conditions, but it is a serious step that is being taken and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But once done, it will be the best thing you do for your life and for your Hereafter.
Stage Two: Declaring Your Islam to Family and Close Friends
Telling family and friends is an easy step for some people who are close to their family and friends and have been sharing their journey with them and are supportive of it. They may already have known that the step was going to be taken or expected it to happen.
If we take a look at the Biography of the Prophet, we can gain some valuable lessons through the way he declared his conversion to Islam and when he started his Da`wah (calling to Islam). In the early days of Islam, he only talked to the people who were close to him, who trusted him and would support him.
Despite the fact that he was known as a trustworthy person and people would leave their belongings with him in trust and often asked for his advice, he chose not to tell everyone straight away, just those he trusted. He would meet secretly with those people taking the time to build up their faith and knowledge, encouraging them to meet in small groups to support each other and avoid detection. They would even go up into the mountain passes above Makkah to pray, so they wouldn’t be disturbed.
These examples illustrate that secrecy and caution is permitted in Islam, especially if you fear for your life or serious negative consequences. They also indicate that it may be necessary to build up your knowledge and strengthen your faith before you tell people, especially those close to you, that you have accepted Islam.
Stage Three: Declaring Your Conversion to Everyone
When we look at the Biography of the Prophet, we see that it was only after Umar and Hamzah had accepted Islam, six years into the Prophet’s mission, that the Prophet and the other Muslims came out of hiding and began to circumambulate round and pray openly by the Ka’bah.
Umar and Hamzah were both powerful men whose strength and bravery was well known among the Quraysh. Their conversions made the other Muslims feel brave enough to worship openly, knowing that, as well as God, they also had these two men supporting them.
Because the early Muslims felt in danger, they kept their faith hidden from those who were a threat to them. Some may argue that in these times, when there is so much antagonism towards Muslims, that new Muslims should also delay a public declaration of their faith until they have the support of others.
I would argue that the general level of threat in the UK and most places in the West is not to the level that it was in Makkah. There are some inner city areas and other isolated places where it would be safer to bide time before making a public declaration of conversion to Islam, but in general these places and situations are limited.
My personal advice for most people would be to take it steadily, and gradually. The priority should be to learn how to pray as soon as possible and work out how to integrate that into your daily routine even in secret initially, and as your faith gets stronger and your knowledge grows, gradually change the way you dress, behave and who you associate with, to make it obvious that there are changes going on in your life.
This way people may have been prepared for an announcement and you will also be in a stronger position to defend your actions and answer some of the questions they may have about Islam.
May God make it easy for you and take you through the steps in the best way to strengthen your faith and keep you safe!