Saturday, July 28, 2007

Helping Newbies

Naeem recently made a great post on his blog, compiling some information from different blogs about problems converts face in the Muslim community, especially sisters. I made a post recently about the particular issue of finding a mahram as a convert and some other small troubles.

What's written below I left as a comment, but it was extensive enough I thought I'd post it here as well.

The unwelcome feeling sisters have at their local masjid has a lot to do, I think, with the particular make-up of the community... and the fact that women can be very clique-y. Especially when the masjid is made up of one predominant ethnic group, it can be very difficult for a newcomer to fit in, convert or not! Alhamdulillah that's not a problem I struggle with, the community here is very diverse, mashallah, and actually very welcoming to convert sisters. The women running the "Women's Committee" are a make-up of converts who have been here for a very long time, but also Arab women, Pakistani women, Indian women, and we actually pretty regular hold events even specifically for converts (as example, an annual 'New Muslimah Dinner' and an annual 'Sisters Iftar' geared towards new members of the community).

The wali issue... I could go on for days. How is a woman supposed to adopt a wali? I really don't understand. I've asked the man to whom I said my shahadah to be my wali, just because I feel confident he knows me better than any other man I could ask, because he spent a lot of time giving me da'wah. Some sisters do the same, but there is also a situation there which might hold a conflict of interest for the new wali, who might be looking for a bride for any of his friends or relatives and might not act the best on the sister's behalf. Many sisters ask the imam, and giving all credit to the imams for what they do, how qualified are they, really, to do that for a sister--I wonder sometimes--since they might not even know her. It's just an opportunity, like you said, for a woman to be abused in the name of Islam, with someone who isn't really looking out for her interests, but someone else's.

The other case of convert women, though, is women who converted after getting married. I think they don't have quite so many of these adjustment issues, because by being married, they don't have to worry about finding a husband (let's assume he's decent though and not abusing her, and is very happy she became Muslim.) They have an easier time getting involved in the community because it's on a smaller scale--through relatives of her husband, and their friends, the wives of some of his friends, and so on, gives her a few people to go to right away to help introduce her to the rest of the community. She usually has immediate support when adjusting her lifestyle (adopting hijab, refraining from pork and alcohol, leaving certain holidays) as opposed to other converts who might face only criticism without any support at all. I don't mean to make it sound like it's always easier for married converts--sometimes they have a harder track.

I know the community here does have a program (for those who seek it out and can very cleverly find it) to support new brothers and sisters. It pairs each convert with a mentor to support him/her. And alhamdulillah, all the "mentors" that I know of are active in the community, well-rounded in their knowledge of the deen, and usually married, so they can help the convert to get involved in the community, learn about Islam, and in some instances even help with marriage. But the community here is pretty well-developed. I think the idea, when it is applied (and most converts aren't informed about it, regrettably) works very well.

All the same, it is sad to see converts (brothers and sisters) falling out of the community because they can't find support. There are many more women converting than men (a figure estimated at 4:1 I believe) and since women typically aren't involved in the masjid in the first place, there is a gaping hole for the people who are aware of this problem to step in to make a difference. (Another reason I think women should be involved, btw.)

At any rate, revert-helping should be a priority for mosques just like da'wah, with a path for people from one to the other. From getting da'wah, to help as a revert. Especially with the internet, it's more common for converts to learn about Islam through other ways than by talking to people who are already active in the community (which might have been how people received da'wah primarily in the past.)

1 comment:

Umm Yusuf said...

Nice post! Truly, finding a wali and trusting him for muslim converts can be a huge ordeal. I have heard a few stories of sisters' walis trying to take liberties with them. AstagfirAllah! It's definatley hard to believe that a stranger is going to have your best interests at heart. However, a couple things I can think of makes the process go a bit more smoothly:

1.) Don't be alone with your wali without another brother present.

2.) Before you pick a wali interview him.

3.)Remain present in the marriage negotiations so you know he is looking out for your interests.

4.)Let him know what you want in a potential husband and what you will not tolerate.

My wali, I dare say, was as protective of me as if I were his own daughter. Alhamdullilah, I was blessed. I knew that brother for months but still He put my husband through rigorous questioning and meticulously laid out the details before my wali and I agreed that he was a good match.

Five years later and I have to say I'm still grateful to have had that wali.