Some Advice for New Muslim Converts

We have received some letters from a number of new converts to Islam who are either on the verge of abandoning the faith, or have decided to leave it. Their frustrations are not with the teachings of Islam, which they find beautiful, but with the behavior of other Muslims and constant admonishment that they get from them. Islam today includes many burdensome and unnecessary cultural beliefs and practices that many Muslims the world over have accrued over the centuries and conflated them with the religion. Muslims from various parts of the world who migrate to the West are the only connection (in many cases) that converts have to their newly discovered faith, so this advice is for new converts to Islam and also for many of those who were born and raised Muslim.

New converts to the faith need to “creep before they walk,” so they need time to adjust. There is no universal Islamic or Muslim culture, every community and nation has its own unique culture that it has developed over many millennia. While the majority of Muslims seldom differentiate between religion and culture, the latter does play a very important role in a person’s life, and for western converts especially, imposing alien cultural beliefs and practices on them are unnecessary and do more harm than good. Furthermore, gender apartheid is not part of Islam, and it is unfortunate that most masajid (mosques) practice it. Even those who are born and raised Muslim are abandoning the mosque and their faith as they are under constant scrutiny by other Muslims and being reprimanded over minutiae that has nothing to do with Islam.

Converts still have non-Muslim relatives, in some cases spouses and children. It is asinine to suggest that because people have converted to Islam, they have to divorce their non-Muslim spouses and cut ties with their families, relatives, and friends. If the mosque is an unwelcoming place for Muslims, then think about what it is like for non-Muslims! Many Muslims tend to be two-faced as they have one persona in the presence of Muslims and another when they are no longer in that environment. For example, many of these Muslims dress and behave differently in the workplace, and they don’t preach and practice gender segregation at work. Moreover, these Muslims don’t refuse to shake hands and even embrace members of the opposite gender, or applaud their colleagues, all part of western culture that they’ll pretend to abhor as "un-Islamic" when they are among fellow Muslims. A Muslim’s character should be consistent irrespective of surroundings, be it the home, mosque, workplace, etc.

It was once said that Islam is the best religion with the worst followers. Apparently some Muslims are on a mission to make Islam the worst religion with the worst followers. Those who exhibit too many dogmas cannot claim to be true representatives of Islam. It is worth recalling the observation of Muhammad Abduh, the extraordinary Egyptian scholar who spent some time in exile in France in the 1880s and remarked: “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” More than a century later, not much has changed. For new converts and even Muslims raised in the West, if you find it infuriating being around and interacting with some Muslims, then disassociate yourselves from them, not Islam.

Posted June 23, 2013