Feeling Lost as a Convert

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (although it is second in number of adherents). This is partly because of the growth of Muslim families, but it is also because of an increasingly large number of converts. However, what many Muslims don’t realize is that many of these new Muslims leave the faith after months or even years of being converts.

See this article, “Why Are New Muslims Leaving the Faith?” from Islam21c.

I’ve been a Muslim for three years now and I can relate to much of what is written in this article. I haven’t been tempted to leave Islam, but I’ve sometimes wondered if I have what it takes to be a Muslim. I know that all it takes to become a Muslim is the statement of faith (the Shahada). But being a Muslim (a “good” or practicing Muslim) is another thing altogether.

Here’s where I think things go wrong for many converts:

  1. Muslims are not completely honest beforehand about what is expected of the new convert.
  2. Muslims bombard the new convert with all these rules that he is suddenly supposed to live by.
  3. Many of the rules have no basis in Islam, but are cultural conventions.
  4. There are so many differing opinions about some issues, the new convert becomes confused.
  5. Born Muslims have no idea how hard it is for the convert to completely change his or her life.
  6. Most new converts are handicapped by the fact that they don’t know Arabic.
  7. Converts are often isolated from other Muslims and find it hard to break into new groups.
  8. Muslims expect too much too soon and get impatient with converts who take a long time to adjust.
  9. Muslims expect converts to just “pick up” how to be Muslims on their own.
  10. Converts are afraid to admit how much trouble they are having and don’t know where to go for help.

I was very fortunate that when I became a Muslim, I had a lot of born Muslims who befriended me and whom I saw every day. They always asked how I was doing and were ready to help in any way they could. They invited me into their homes and went with me to the masjid. It was a wonderful introduction to Islam and I will forever be grateful to Allah for bringing these people into my life.

But things change. Now most of these friends have moved away. I have no one to go to the masjid with or to ask for advice. The only consistent fellowship I have is on Facebook. I’ve begun to slip in my commitment to pray and to wear the hijab. Eids have become a lonely time for me. Ramadan seems pointless.

Much of this is my fault, I know. If I need help I should ask for it. I should do all I can to increase my iman and develop my deen. I need to pray more than ever and ask Allah to help me. I should keep in touch with all my Muslims friends and be honest with them about how I’m doing. (This is really hard!) I don’t have to do this alone.

But I think we all feel that we should be able to. That there’s something wrong with us if we can’t. However, speaking for myself, I feel so overwhelmed by all I don’t know that I just don’t know where to start. Should I learn Arabic? Memorize the Qur’an? (In English??) Force myself to go to the masjid (which, by the way, is doubly hard for a woman)? Watch YouTube videos about Islam and how to be a better Muslim? Sign up for forums and ask strangers for guidance? Bug my Muslim friends with complaints and questions?

What makes it even harder is that I live in a predominantly Christian nation. People just assume that everyone is Christian (unless told otherwise). I was raised as a Christian and most of my family and spiritual memories revolve around Christian traditions and rituals. Being a Christian comes as naturally to me as breathing. Being a Muslim does not.

It’s also hard when Muslims form groups and cliques according to their ethnicity or nationality. If you don’t belong to their group and speak their language, you’re the odd man (or woman) out.

You know what my greatest joy is? When someone says “Asalaam alaykum” to me when I’m out running errands. Those are the times when I feel like a part of the great big wonderful community of Muslims. Those are the times when I feel like I belong.

Another convert weighs in on this issue here.

Taking Care of Converts

The Islamic Center at New York University (ICNYU) has a program called Conver(t)sations, which is designed to facilitate communication between born Muslims and converts. The Imam of ICNYU is Khalid Latif and in this video he is moderating a panel of converts who have come together to share their stories.

Born Muslims love to hear conversion stories, but are not so interested in hearing how the convert is doing after he or she becomes a Muslim. Oh, they’re willing to give converts books and pamphlets, maybe even teach them how to pray and the basics of the faith, but my impression is that few born Muslims are aware of how hard it is to assimilate into the Muslim world if you were never part of that world before your conversion.

It is evident in this video that Imam Khalid Latif has a genuine burden for Muslim converts and their difficulties and I for one was glad and encouraged by his sensitivity and empathy. I strongly encourage born Muslims and converts alike to watch at least part of the video. (It’s two hours long, but can be watched in segments.) Imam Khalid Latif makes the excellent point that the Muslim community is too often divided by various factions and that it is imperative that we talk to and try to understand and accept one another if we are to show the world the kind of community Allah means for his followers to develop.

For a written version of the Imam’s message, “Taking Care of Converts,” check out this article which appeared in the Huffington Post on the 20th day of Ramadan.
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About Khalid Latif:

In 2005 Imam Khalid Latif was appointed as the first Muslim chaplain at NYU where he began to initiate his vision for a pluralistic future for American Muslims rooted on campus and reaching out to the wider community. Imam Latif was also appointed as the first Muslim chaplain at Princeton University in 2006.

Spending a year commuting between these two excellent institutions he finally decided to commit full time to NYU’s Islamic Center when his position was officially institutionalized in the spring of 2007. Under his leadership the Islamic Center at NYU became the first ever fully established Muslim student center at an institution of higher learning in the U.S.

Imam Latif’s exceptional dedication and ability to cross interfaith and cultural lines on a daily basis brought him recognition throughout the city so much so that in 2007 Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York nominated Imam Latif to become the youngest ever chaplain of the New York Police Department (NYPD). [Source.]