Monday, 14 April 2014

We Should Be Ashamed of the Way We Treat Our Converts

    **Trigger warning**: confrontational language that may make you cringe. The intention of this entry is to make you feel uncomfortable. So if you are, don't stop reading.

     So, you're at a conference or some local mosque and a shy and nervous unfamiliar man or woman approaches the imam and says that he/she wants to convert to Islam. Suddenly, the crowds are whispering and on their toes thirsty and patiently awaiting to hear the words of the shahada come out of his/her mouth. As the imam addresses the man or woman and begins reciting the words, the prospective convert is anxiously trying his/her hardest to mumble them and is careful to do it as perfectly as possible. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Women are smiling and some are even holding back their tears and as soon as the shahadah is done, the crowd erupts in a loud "Allahu akbar" and begins clapping. Tissues are passed around. The men quickly roam around the new convert and exchange their warmest salaams if it's a man. Women approach the woman and give hugs, congrats and some recipes for the full conversion to really take precedent in this "naive" man or woman's "new life".

     I wonder if these people take one minute to think about what happens after this ritual?

     Absolutely nothing.

     Poor man or woman. Not because they are new to the faith or anything. Heck, they could have better akhlaq and knowledge than all of us. But because of this show we put on for them. Because of this fasad we put on to lead them to believe that they might just be included in our circles.

     I wonder if us Muslims ever once think of what the newly converted brother and sister faces after that event? Have we thought of what it's like to have to face family with this new faith? And not just any faith, a faith that is to most seen as a "cult for terrorists". A faith that is termed by some non-Muslims as "satanic" at times among other horrible associations. In these families, the convert quickly realizes that they have chosen to alienate themselves within their own families. They may have to deal with having to hide their prayers, hide their higab, hide their Quran and even conceal their Muslim friends in some cases. So, naturally what happens then? As humans, we look towards family or support elsewhere and try to replace them with people who might accept us. Perhaps not completely replace them, depending on the situation, but the convert inevitably looks for a safe space.

     Now, where do you think the convert will go?

     To that fantasy we created. He or she will indefinitely go back to that mosque. But what will they find there?


     Everyone is too busy. We might give him or her some sources, books, a Quran. But do we really believe that that is what they are looking for? We are in the age of mass communication. Information is cheap and can be found everywhere. They look for a home and help. An avenue and a place to feel needed and accepted. But instead they are met with "busy" Muslims who appear to care but are no where to be seen when real help and action is needed. All they wanted was a listening ear and a helping hand. Instead, they find themselves alienated further within this new faith, facing discrimination within and outside their communities. The Muslims are too busy coming together on the basis of race and ethnicity, they forgot the converts among them. They might have been invited to a dinner or some event, but were they really included in conversation? or did everyone speak in their foreign tongue and then proceed to providing fake apologies met with more alienation?

I have a serious problem with the word "convert". I prefer to say so and so "embraced" Islam. The word convert has connotations that are very difficult to live by. It means, "now, be like us." It does not mean, "welcome to our faith" or "let's get to know one another." As soon as the new Muslim makes that shahadah, they are told by countless other older Muslims to "make up" all of the prayers they've missed, wear higab and do multiple deeds which are probably neglected by those people themselves. I found it beautiful when a Sheikh once told a new Muslim to make dua for him. It was a sweet way of saying "we are equals and your dua is just as valid as mine".

     The saddest part is when those who embraced Islam decide to consider leaving it. And it's not because of the faith itself, but because of our treatment.

     My fellow Muslims, do not look down on each other. Do not forget who guided you and who made you born a Muslim. Teach Islam in the softest way you can. Leave the rest to Allah.