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Converts’ Stories of Hilarious Misunderstandings About Islam

Coming to Islam from a Western upbringing presents a steep learning curve. Looking back at my own knowledge base before I converted, what I have learned and unlearned is staggering. And I don’t even know that much.

But it is funny to look back at myself and remember all the misconceptions I held and the miscommunications I stumbled into on my way to Islam. Here are some stories of hilarious thoughts, incidents, and misinformation converts have tripped over on their way to becoming Muslim.

The Lingo – What Sara Thought of the Salam

In college, my whole class really bonded over how much stress the program put on us all. I got especially close to a few Muslim classmates. But one thing that stuck out to me about the Muslim classmates was that one would say, “A salmon! I like him” a lot. And then the other would respond, “Well, I like him- salmon.”

I could not figure out why they would make such weird statements about fish with strange usage of the pronoun “him”. Finally I had to conclude the pronoun usage was just a misunderstanding of the English language. But I could not figure out why in the world they were so enthusiastic about eating salmon.

I never asked them when we were in school. I guess I figured it would be rude. But years after graduation, I ran into one of my old classmates and finally, finally asked her. She explained -after laughing for several minutes at me and then apologizing to me for laughing at me- that it is a Muslim greeting, “Assalam Alaikum”, meaning, “peace be with you”. And the response was “Walaikum Assalam”, meaning, “and peace be with you”.

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Then I laughed at myself for several minutes. I am still laughing at myself especially now that I am Muslim and use these phrases regularly.

What John Thought about Al hamd

I worked for several years at a gas station owned and run by Muslims. It was tough work but my boss, the owner, always encouraged me and worked alongside me. I admired him a lot. I eventually started talking to him about his faith and became a Muslim myself. But before that, I was so confused when he would say, “All ham do la la”.

He said it so much and I didn’t understand why or even what he meant by “All ham do la la”. I thought, does he think ham sings “la la”? But why ham? I knew he didn’t eat pork. And ham is only one type of pork.

I wondered was this a way of reminding himself not to eat pork because it is capable of song? Did he crave ham so much that he was constantly having to remind themselves of this?

I asked one of my non-Muslim coworkers and he told me it’s not English. What he’s saying is in Arabic and wasn’t about ham at all. I felt so dumb. I looked up online some Arabic words that Muslims say. And found “Alhamdulillah” and what it means, “all thanks and praise are due to God”.

After learning that, I respected my boss even more and started saying, “Alhamdulillah” myself.

The Women – What Rachel Though about Hijab

Growing up, I lived near an all girls’ Islamic school and every morning, my mom would drive past the Islamic school to get to my school. And every morning I would see all the girls outside playing or talking, waiting for school to begin. But I couldn’t figure out why they were all dressed in long skirts and shirts and had their hair covered.

I didn’t have uniforms at my school, but I had heard some schools did have uniforms. I had never seen uniforms like these girls wore. I asked my mom what were all those girls dressed like that for. She said simply that they were going to religious school.

So, I assumed they were all there for training to become nuns, or that they had been naughty and their parents sent them there to straighten them out and become part of a religious order of some kind.

It’s funny because now I send my daughter to that very school and I giggle when I think that there might be a child passing in the morning who thinks my daughter is being trained to become a nun or that she is there because she is naughty.

What Ramon Thought about Muslim Women Drivers

My mom always would tell me stories of driving her mother around because Grandma never learned to drive. Mom explained that Grandma was very short (not even five feet tall) and was afraid she wouldn’t be able to see over the steering wheel or reach the pedals.

So, when I heard many, many years ago that Muslim women aren’t allowed to drive, I just assumed it was because they were all too short.

Of course, I now know that Islam has never barred women from driving and that it was just a law in Saudi Arabia, which has recently been abolished, Alhamdulillah. I also know that Muslim women come in many heights. My wife is almost 6 feet tall and an excellent driver!

The Prayer – What Randy Thought about Prayer Times

For a research paper in high school, I had to write about Islam. So, I was searching the web for information and I read about the five daily prayers Muslims do. I thought prayer had to be done at exactly the time it came in. Like at 6:05 on the dot you had to be ready and waiting to pray and you also had to pray in that one minute. This really stressed me out to think all Muslims had to be so on point in their five daily prayers. I knew for sure I would never be able to do that.

When I actually met a Muslim, years later, I asked him about the prayers and how stressful it must be. When he explained to me that it is not a very precise time, but it’s more like a very wide window of time, I realized that my high school research skills left much to be desired.

I continued researching Islam to see what else I had missed, and I found that I missed the point of life. I converted shortly after.

(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.