Monday, March 22, 2010

Compass: A Guide For New Muslims

After finding and choosing Islam, many new Muslims are left with a community ill-equipped to help them fully embrace their new faith. Instructions following their shahadah might include tips on where to buy halal meat, or how to tie a hijab, which to the giver might seem like practical advice.

But stepping into the world of Islam can be overwhelming, with questions arising at every turn. These questions--from simple things like how to pray, to more complex issues about marriage and Islamic law--need answers, and explanations. To a new Muslim, even a simple khutbah (Friday sermon) might be misunderstood without the ability to recognize common Arabic words. Imagine someone mistaking "Rasoolullah" for "Allah," and the implications of that mistake.

Some communities of Muslims might have ongoing organized programs to accommodate new Muslims, by educating them in the religion and providing social resources, while others might have a loose social network that new Muslims might find shy to penetrate. When I was a new Muslim, I really wanted to be able to learn as much about the religion as I could--scattered bits of information were difficult to put together. I've seen other converts struggle with similar problems, and without having access to a basic guide about Islam to launch them towards their goals, and prepare them for the challenges they might face as a Muslim.

So I've given thought to the idea of classes specifically for new Muslims, or at least geared primarily towards new Muslims, and am hoping to implement one such class here locally in the coming months. I have some other ideas about providing resources for new Muslims, particularly in conjunction with the planned class--including a blog devoted to the project, podcasts, and maybe even a mobile app. Right now the project, which is going to be called Compass (logo above), is just getting started. But for now and in the future, helpful ideas and guidance from others who are approaching similar issues will be invaluable.

I have high hopes for this project--that inshaaAllaah it can continuously benefit new Muslims across the country, available as a resource and a path to help them understand and implement Islam.

8 comments:

Asharaf said...

assalamu alaikum,Amy,may Allah bless you in this great endeavour that u r taking for the new Muslims,it's really a nice and good thoughtALL THE BEST,MAY ALLAH BE WITH YOU ALWAYS.

mezba said...

mA!

And a goodm catchy name too!

Tim said...

I apologize for a long comment! Something that has made me rather discouraged about the prospect of converting is this lack of coherent support and guidance for new Muslims. This is particularly acute for people like me, whose personal situations are such that we CAN'T simply pop down to the local Masjid or Islamic Society or what have you, and can't overtly research and consult and have phone conversations about the process.

There are indeed a plethora of resources out there, but as you say, it can be almost impossible to sort it all out. While I have no doubt that many of the sources are both accurate and well-meaning, there are also like as not sources that are simply junk, some that while well-meaning are very inaccurate, some that present wrong views on Islam, some that advocate very narrow sectarian viewpoints, and so on. Some of the better programs seem confined to a specific geographic area or simply don't respond to request for information, assuming they are even still viable despite a continuing web presence. This only compounds the issues of the cultural gaps outsiders face.

For someone considering converting without a life spent in the faith, without a Muslim peer group, and without a reliable guide to what is correct and what is incorrect, it's overwhelming and frightening. For something this important, you don't want to get it wrong! You'll make enough mistakes on your own at first without compounding them with bad information. The usual exhortations to convert and sort these things out later is something of a non-starter for people like me, particularly as it can be very difficult to overcome initial bad habits.

Beyond this, I don't CARE about Sufiism and Salafism at this stage, about the minutiae of fine technical gradation of opinions among the various Sunni schools, and so on. That knowledge can, and will, come later. While it is important for new Muslims to understand the whys and hows, you don't just start with differential calculus when you study mathematics. You need the 2+2=4-level resources first; you need to crawl before you can walk before you can run.

Even of the good resources out there, so many of them are dependent on platform-specific software. I use Macs at home, and many of the introductory materials are Windows-only. Many others rely on Flash, which my iPod and Blackberry can't handle. This greatly limits my ability to quietly research.

I would love to have access to a good, coherent, comprehensive web- and/or app-based guide. This project would fill a gap for people like me, for sure. Helo give us the basics, give us reliable interpretations of the Qur'an and reliable hadith, give us sound principles and a good foundation in our early formation, and we will have the resources to handle ourselves better when we do make our conversions public.

Amy said...

Tim,

Thanks for the long comment, it gave me a lot to think about actually. One idea floating around in my web of ideas is an app for iPhones and other mobile devices but I wasn't sure if enough people would really make use of it. I'm also thinking of a blog to categorize some resources, and maybe podcasting--does that sound like it might be useful for you or folks in your situation?

I do think that resources restricted to a single geographic area are flawed (including my compass class) because converts in areas without substantial Muslim populations are probably most in need of information and support to help them on their journey.

Thanks for dropping in.

Tim said...

Amy,

Glad to provoke some thought! I'm actually not newly dropping in, but more on that below. Consistent, reliable information about Islam for seekers or new converts that's geared toward new Muslims and serious seekers would be very welcomed. I believe you could provide a good service in that space. I don't know how much money you'd be able to make with such an app to fund your other activities, but there's a need as far as I can tell.

I find the podcast situation to be similar. What's out there seems to be geared toward the established Muslim community, and the same difficulties as exist with other resources apply as well.

The recent contraction in the part of the Muslim blogosphere I'm familiar with leaves a gap there as well. I've read your blog for a good while as it addresses the convert experience, and resource recommendations from a fellow-traveller that's a bit farther along would be tremendously helpful.

Local programs are definitely important as well, but there are probably a fair few people like me that wouldn't be able to attend during the critical formation phase.

In my own case, there is an Islamic Society here in town but I can't reasonably go down there as it's right down the street from a local Orthodox Church where many of my wife's friends can be found on any given day. I used to follow your blog openly (it would show up in my Blogger profile but I would rarely comment and then tended to do so anonymously) and a few others, but that led to some tension at home when a relative noticed and mentioned it. My office climate is similar - positive discussion around Islam is rather difficult, as even the non-Christians are afraid.

There's such FEAR of Islam in the circles I travel in, and I'm not grounded enough to be able to offer much beyond, "But that's NOT what it's about!"

Not a persuasive counter-argument! Even though I know that the majority of people wouldn't ever come around, having had their minds made up for some time, I would still like to be able to offer a coherent defense of the faith. Having a good resource, reliable, vetted, and orthodox, geared toward converts and inquirers would be very precious indeed. I would be able to get over the hump myself more easily.

rahma said...

Assalamu Alaikum,

Fabulous idea. I'll make abundant dua that this succeeds. If you would like some helpers or people to bounce ideas off of, I've grumbled about the lack of help for newbie muslims for years, so I've thought a lot about it.

Tim, although I don't have anything slick and ipod ready to offer, I do collect resources that may be helpful to those interested in islam here -http://umms.wordpress.com/converts/

Tim said...

Thanks, Rahma! I'm looking them over.

Amy said...

MashaaAllaah, Rahma!

That's a great list of resources you've compiled there. I probably will take advantage of your offer--jazakillahu khayran!