Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Undercover Converts

American CrescentWe have a problem...

Americans are embracing Islam. African Americans, Latino Americans, White Americans--they are researching the faith and embracing the deen, integrating into the Muslim community by marriage and activism. They add a unique voice and contribute to the diverse community present in the country.

Okay so that's not the problem... the problem is that many of these converts are young people, forced to hide their Islam from family, from friends, for fear of a very negative reaction. A lot of times it will keep them from joining the community - and Shaytaan will attack the lone Muslim like a wolf attacks the sheep away from the flock. The fear they face is real.

MuslimI was a Muslim for 6 months before I so much as started to pray. And I was practicing Islam for a good 4 months before telling my parents. My relationship with them got progressively worse. I am not allowed to visit my niece and nephew, scarce can see my sister, and my brother-in-law is simply not talking to me. My parents kicked me out of the house. I'm not saying this for any kind of sympathy, but simply to illustrate that it does happen, and it's not so rare as we might like to believe.

Converts are sometimes counselled to just tell their family, that they will accept it. They aren't given such counsel by other converts, I think, but by born Muslims who fail to comprehend the magnitude of such an announcement. The widespread hatred of Islam only grows in America, conditioning the general population to adopt an increasingly intolerant opinion of Islam, and Muslims. That's what converts face, but for their families, the imaginary "over there" fear is brought close to home when a son, daughter, sister, wife, brother, or husband makes a choice against the family upbringing, and embraces what might seem at first to be a fanatical foreign faith. Brainwashed! is probably the immediate thought.

And while I'm sure many converts encounter families who can easily accept this decision, others face a family that may want to lash out, and attempt to punish the person for this decision by kicking them out, threatening divorce, or in other ways excluding them from the family sphere (excommunicating?) So the "undercover converts" have a legitimate fear. Trusting in Allah is easier said than done sometimes for someone who said shahadah a month ago, who has to that point relied entirely on parental support.

With a predominantly immigrant Muslim community, that "new shahadah" might not know to whom he or she can turn when their family fails them. In 2007, anyway, it's not exceptional for new Muslims to look to the internet for support - from other converts, and also knowledgeable and compassionate mentors who can sympathize with their situation and offer advice. I

MuslimI've seen some new converts on YouTube, and was troubled enough to consider this post. For one thing, YouTube is a pretty nasty place, and viewers who leave comments say despicable things I think they haven't got the courage to say to a wall much less a real person. But hiding behind their computers they are suddenly 'ulema, priests, apostles, rightly guided holier-than-thou know-it-alls. I've been a Muslimah who was afraid to tell her parents she was Muslim. I've prayed in a closet. I've hid my Islamic websites on the computer, my Qur'an, my rug. I became an expert at putting on hijab in the car... and taking it off while driving, before arriving so nobody would notice. And I came out on the other side, alhamdulillah, and I wish I could tell you my family accepts it... but they don't. I couldn't tell a new Muslim, "Oh, don't worry, they'll understand..." and "It'll be okay..." because the truth is it might really suck, and people are tested in different ways.

A sad thing on YouTube is to see a new muslim sister, young, who has hardly any Muslim friends to advise her, hiding Islam from her parents and too afraid to cover in public... it's sad to see how she is criticized. Called a hypocrite for not covering her hair in a video, called a disbeliever for limiting her practice of Islam to what she can do without being discovered. To watch someone who so badly needs support receive only criticism really hurts. Yeah, yeah, I know what it feels like, I've been in those shoes and I hated it.

MERCY FOR THE WORLDSAnd let me tell you this, when you are looking to Muslims for help and it's Muslims who think you're not good enough, Muslims who belittle you and your baby steps in faith... how can anyone expect you to trust Muslims? And many a convert have left Islam for that reason alone. Our brothers and sisters. Would you let someone treat your baby brother or baby sister this way?

I would hope that anyone who is about to offer "advice" to a new Muslim, especially "advice" that involves behavior that the convert might especially fear (i.e., "you must tell your family," or "you aren't Muslim unless you wear hijab,") remember the following two ahadith:

1) Ruined are those who insist on hardship in matters of the Faith. [Muslim]
2) The religion (of Islam) is easy, and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him. So, follow a middle course (in worship); if you can't do this, do something near to it and give glad tidings and seek help (of Allah) at morn and at dusk and some part of night. [al-Bukhari]

How's the saying go, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions?" I see how some people behave and I think they would rather see the revert leave Islam entirely if they refuse to immediately conform to the rigid manners they exhibit themselves. Astaghfirullah. Our brothers and sisters deserve a better reception than this.

SalaamSo I feel for the undercover convert--I've walked that path and came out on the other side, alhamdulillah. The peculiar difficulties of a new and young convert often find little sympathy from the born Muslim community; support can be scarce so is ever more precious. For us all, the goal should be to grow in taqwa, to increase iman, so that we all but especially the undercover converts can face their fears, pass their tests, and find peace (that is, salaam) in Islam which they lacked in any other walk of life.


Yusuf Smith said...

As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

I know exactly where you're coming from. I was only very briefly "undercover", but I never really summoned up the courage to tell my mum about my conversion; she worked it out from my change of eating habits and books I'd acquired. She's not religious at all (although she was raised Catholic, and attempted the same with me and my sister), but a lot of non-religious people are suspicious of Islam because they regard it as rule-ridden and repressive.

I understand how some Muslims are judgemental of converts who can't practise everything straight away. I notice that Muslims simply don't make much effort to integrate newcomers, even when they are able to. I would support the establishment of boarding houses for converts, and funding for courses such as teaching English and other skills which could get them employment in a Muslim country - even if not for permanent emigration, then for long enough to get them grounded in the deen.

karim said...

Assalaam Sister.

Nice to hear from you. I just want to tell few things as a born muslim. We too face tough conditions to practice Islam in right sense. But, reverts like you face much worse. Be patient.

Next, is the thing which i really get upset everytime i meet any new revert is about the comments they get from muslims just as you mentioned about someone telling young women to cover-up etc..

It becomes gr8 disappointment to reverts., though they have in mind to do that and are waiting for right time.

Just a simple word, don't get discouraged by such comments.

May Allah guide us all. Do keep me in ur prayers!!

-Karim, India.

Muslimah876 said...

Assalamu 'alaykum sister,
I feel you... and it makes me very sad as well...and what's even sadder is that maybe it's people that are not complying with their own obligations who are pointing the fingers outside instead of inside...I've seen it happen many times.
I don't know who the sister you're talking about is, but if you want, you can tell her to contact me through my youtube account, Muslimah876, where she will get support and a sister's love.

Manas Shaikh said...

It was very well-written and touching piece.

I have seen many brothers who have a hardened heart. Absolutely no compromise about anything, and my-deen-is-better-than-yours. In fact I am at loss about how to handle these guys. Very often they make my community experience hellish.

I wish you all the luck, my dear sister in faith.

Manas Shaikh said...

yusuf smith says
"non-religious people are suspicious of Islam because they regard it as rule-ridden and repressive."

they are right, in a sense. the 'torchholders' are really like that. most often. where is the feeling of compatriotship and the soft heart?

unless they do not mend their ways, either Islamic societies will never recover from the current welter, or it will by stripping off Islam.

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foreverloyal said...

Good post. While on my vacation I read "Losing My Religion" by Jeffrey Lang, about american muslims (born here and born muslim) and american converts having trouble holding on for some of the reasons you've described.

fathima said...

that was an important read. thank you for posting it.

therehman said...

Mashallah, it’s nice to see many Americans embracing Islam. Here, an important thing to remember is that in early days of Islam when Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) started inviting people of Arabia towards oneness of Allah, only such verses were revealed that sought to change people’s heart and mind, not verses that laid out divine law from outset. In other words, the emphasis was to strengthen the Imaan first and Prophet's approach was always such that people accept the mores of Islam by their own choice once they realize the maslahah behind the rulings. So, we hope that newly reverts can see past the nesciency of certain few(?)

(But hope without action is futile, so here is a thought, perhaps you can put together a collection of essays describing your experiences that can serve as unofficial guide and/or source of inspiration)

brnaeem said...


Nice post sis!

But onto more important matters, you've been TAGGED!

Amy said...

Jazakumallahu khairan - everyone - for the wonderful comments. I've been on vacation since Saturday and haven't really had the time to respond to the comments (though I tried to get them published asap even if I didn't have time to reply.)

Wa'alaikum as-salaam. I tried to give some thought to the boarding house idea... it might be a nice idea as an option, possibly. Then again, it might give the impression that converts are asked to abandon all their previous lifestyles. But if they wanted, opportunities for them to emigrate at least temporarily would be fabulous, because at present Islamic education for adults is sorely lacking in the west. Thanks for the comment.

Walaikum as-salaam, thanks for writing. It is difficult for anyone to fully practice Islam, and indeed the only person to perfectly practice was our prophet, saws. Everyone faces trials, and God only guides but I hate to see people leave Islam because they weren't welcomed in. When people are overly critical of those with small faith anyway, what faith they have is actually belittled. Advice is good, but more important is providing an environment which makes it possible for them to revise their habits. One gift sent to me upon converting, by WhyIslam (an organization I have immense respect for) was a hijab. You know, for a couple months I didn't even know it was a hijab, but was confused about the piece of fabric along with the rug and the books... but when I wanted to start wearing hijab, I had one. And rather than people stuffing it down my throat I could do it when I was ready. Likewise, gifts of jilbabs have made it easier for me to incorporate looser clothes into my wardrobe. Someone else made the comment that as Islam was revealed the first point was to increase people in faith; the example of alcohol is usually given, by the saying of Aisha I think, that if it had been forbidden upfront people would have objected not only to the prohibition but also to Islam. Please keep coming back and keep me in your du'a too.

Once again jazakumallahu khair everyone for reading and commenting; I'll try to respond to the rest of the comments later!


zanjabil said...

Please spare a thought for the converts in Russia! The Russian authorities make no pretence at mulitculturalism or religious tolerance. Here's an article about a new wave of Russian converts:

The Spread of Islam to Russia

Wa salam

LivingHalal said...

Assalam alaikum,

Arab has a saying: Ask someone who tried it, not someone who is an expert in it (e.g. PhD, imams, ...)

But, don't regret. The fact is there is no one set of rules for how converts should deal with their families. Every family differs. So, in-sha-Allah khair.

Burgundy said...

I understand what you are talking about. and I think 'born Muslims' should be way more supportive in words and actions if they are indeed saying such harsh things to new Muslims.

However, I did want to point out one thing. Whenever we use evidence, it has to be on target and authentic :-)

The evidence you cited failed the on-target mark because these ahadith are talking about making something harder than it HAS TO BE. Meaning going beyond what is required. (Remember the hadith about the lady who was praying in the mosque holding a rope cuz she couldnt stand by herself anymore and the prophet saw directed that she not do that ... ?) That's a clear example of getting into hardship and making the deen hard.
Or the hadith of the 3 people one of whom said he won't marry, and the prophet saw basicaly said its his sunnah to marry. and the two others with him made other such promises to themselves while the Prophet showed them this is not the way, because it is not REQUIRED by faith and they are simply making matters DIFFICULT.

If someone tells a muslim convert sister to put on hijab, the problem isn't necessarily w/ WHAT they are saying, but MORE SO in HOW they are saying it and their TIMING/WISDOM. Perhaps this person is still dealing with many other basic issues, so to be so bold and in your face w/ this person who may be going through a LOT, THAT'S THE REAL PROBLEM.

Do you see my point? Like we can't someone who tells us to pray that look yur making things hard! :-) Cuz already, our faith tells us WE HAVE to pray :-)

However, if somenoe were to tell you to PRAY DAY AND NIGHT, constantly, uh yeh they have a problem :-0)