Friday, July 19, 2013

My Ramadan Blog -- Day 10 (Converts and the Muslim community)

by S.N.Smith

I am continually struck by how much Muslim converts are ignored and disrespected in the Muslim community. In fact, it is so bad for many converts that they feel they are not seen as real Muslims at all by many Muslims who were born into Islam. At best, they are looked upon as being suspect by many of their fellow Muslims and that they have only signed on temporarily.  Speaking from first-hand experience -- being a convert to Islam (I despise the word revert) myself for the past 20 years -- I can say this really deeply hurts to the point of bringing one to tears. 

Converts are seen as being perpetual primary students who have to be continually taught how to make wudu and say the kalima properly. Their opinions on anything are rarely sought, and when they do give an opinion it is brushed aside as if it were coming from a child. That's it! Converts are children and, as such, are never seen as being anything other than in a perpetual state of spiritual and religious immaturity. Furthermore, converts even feel patronized [i.e. you are better than us born Muslims], which is totally infuriating. 

Muslim Converts, for the most part, do not feel a sense of being part of a larger community and look on with longing, and even a sense of envy, at people who are born into Muslim families and who have a wide circle of support and Muslim friends around them. Converts can only dream of experiencing such luxuries as they spend most of their time alone, isolated from the wider community. Eids and Ramadan are particularly lonely times

Most of the options offered to converts by the Muslim community include sitting in on halaqahs and being exposed to what amounts to extremist doctrines which transforms them negatively into something they are not. Many actually burn out and, as a result of being exposed to such teachings, leave Islam with a bitter taste in their mouths. I almost left myself when I was a newbie as I totally burnt-out after a year and a half.   
The Muslim community is very good at establishing dawah initiatives and inviting people to Islam, but very little is done to fully integrate new Muslims into the wider community so that they feel they truly belong. Converts are given a hug and a handshake on the occasion of their initial embracement of Islam and then left on their own, or become exposed to extremist ideology which is presented as the "real and authentic" Islam, when in fact such teachings are the exact opposite of what Islam actually teaches.

Born Muslims simply don't understand, or even care, how hard it is to become a Muslim and what it's like to face opposition and rejection from one's family and friends, while at the same time being ignored and even rejected by their coreligionists in the Muslim community.  They need and want the support of their fellow Muslims, but are not receiving it. 

It is very difficult to form one's Islamic / Muslim identity in the absence of a supportive community. Everything I have read and learned about Islam in these past 20 years tells me that Islam was never meant to be practiced in isolation, but rather it was meant to be practiced in the context of a larger community which offers a network of meaningful support. In the absence of this support, one's Iman becomes weak and the isolated person is vulnerable. But, in fact, many converts are being forced to practice their faith in isolation because the Muslim community does not really care about or understand their needs, which are human needs -- a need for a sense of community and belonging. 

I don't know if this problem is ever going to go away, or if in the context of all the issues facing the Muslim Ummah that it will ever get any real serious attention, but here is a shout out to my fellow Muslim converts that I understand the hurt, bitterness and bewilderment that many of you are going through. For after 20 years of being a Muslim, I still don't feel like I am fully accepted as being a real Muslim and perhaps that will never change. But the most important thing for me, in this stage of my life, is that Allah accepts me, for that is all that really matters.