Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tips for Converts

Yesterday a great post appeared at the suhaibwebb.com blog, including a list of 12 Tips for the Convert Muslim by brother Alex. I wanted to expound on some of the brother's advice. If you haven't yet read that article, I would encourage you to do so before reading this post, to gain perspective on my comments herein.

To start with, I think points 1 (Practice Islam as much as you can) and 11 (Stay away from extremism) might need to go hand in hand. The over-zealous convert is a common story, where a person dives head-first into Islam and leaves everything else behind, and adopts rigid opinions about food and clothes. But like the brother says, "Keeping up with your devotional practices is something that will strengthen your faith immensely." So in the practice of Islam, especially in the beginning, I'd qualify the first tip by saying focus more energy on the devotional practices--prayer, reading Qur'an, fasting if it's Ramadan--and less on external things like food and clothes.

His second point (respecting parents) was one of my crucial mistakes as a convert--I really wanted to debate my parents, instead of just trying to improve myself. It's now one of my biggest regrets--thankfully, my relationship has been improving now that I've backed off and just tried to be a good daughter.

As for his third point (finding a teacher), I'm afraid it might not be practical for everyone, and I suspect that it's probably much easier for brothers than sisters, and might be harder in some communities than others. Sometimes an imam might offer classes for sisters, or even open classes for the community, which are important, but a sister can't visit socially with a male teacher. And finding female teachers is sometimes difficult--not that the women are lacking in knowledge, but are usually busy taking care of their families. And finding time to visit with a teacher on a daily basis isn't something that most people will be able to do. So I would advise for sisters especially to try to find any ongoing classes at the masjid--especially ones geared towards sisters, if available, where they can meet other converts or other women in the community. Finding a casual halaqah might also suffice, if no teacher can be found. Here in Dallas there are tons of programs for Muslims at every stage, and plenty of teachers as well. Not everywhere has that advantage, and sometimes taking classes online (not just reading websites and watching videos, but real classes with a remote teacher) might be another alternative for Muslims in more isolated communities. (Or living in areas where the nearest mosque is hours away.)

For his fifth point (learning Arabic), I'm thinking it might be easier said than done. Being in a full-time Arabic study program myself, I know it's not easy to commit to learning Arabic. Finding a good class locally might be the best way to go, I think, and not putting too much pressure on oneself. For a new convert, especially older converts, things like learning how to pray can be really overwhelming, with just that small amount of Arabic. I might advise not to rush if Arabic seems intimidating, and find a class moving at a comfortable pace. I do think Arabic is important, but not a priority soon after converting.

As for his seventh point (maintaining identity) I think this is much harder for sisters than for brothers. In fact, it's something I still struggle with. I don't even know for sure what my "identity" really is. When I converted to Islam, I was active in a sorority and hanging out with my friends frequently included alcohol. That's not an "identity" that can be preserved inside Islam, I think. But for a sister, donning hijab will inevitably cause identity issues. Whereas a brother can cover himself, and even grow a beard, without it becoming obvious to anyone that he's a Muslim. When a woman starts to wear hijab, her entire wardrobe (which for me, is also a reflection of my "identity," I think) is going to change. What she can wear in public might be drastically different than before, and the scarf itself is an obvious indicator of her conversion. It might even make her feel isolated from her friends and family--they might not want to spend time with her, if she dresses that way. I don't mean to sound all doom and gloom for anyone considering adopting hijab, but these common fears are based in reality.

So maybe it's correct to say to a convert that he/she doesn't have to abandon his/her culture entirely, and to try to find ways to incorporate the good parts of their non-Muslim lives into their lives as Muslims, and to find a balance in their identity. Because some things are going to change, at some point or another.

As for his eighth point (attending the masjid) I know this is definitely going to be easier and more worthwhile for brothers than sisters. With women frequently marginalized at the masjid, and rarely in attendance, praying at the masjid regularly is going to take a long time to pay off, for a sister. She won't be joining a row of regular musalleen* but might be one of only a handful who happen to have stopped by the mosque on the occasion. She won't see regular faces, and might not even be able to benefit from talks after the prayer. (At one mosque I've been to, for instance, the brothers will turn off the mic and sisters have no opportunity to hear the short lecture after the salaah, as they're in another part of the building.) She might even find brothers (or sisters) who discourage her from attending, or criticize her. Attending on Fridays will have a greater benefit, but it might take a while to see it. It's true that the more one visits the mosque, the easier it will become. But for women, I would advise they try to attend classes and lectures as much as they can, and try to find other women in the community who can assist them.

I heartily agree with the remainder of his points. It's a great post (if you still haven't read it, you should) and offers some practical advice. Converting to Islam might be hard in the beginning, but Islam as a way of life is for our benefit and the reward is beyond imagination.

(musalleen--people who pray salaah)

1 comment:

Um Abdullah said...

MashaAllah, sister. You made such great points! If I were you, I would forward this to suhaib webb himself and maybe he will revise the article to apply more to sisters as well.