In The Name Of God The Most Merciful, Most Compassionate

The struggles of Muslim converts

by Mohamed Ghilan

Filed under: Featured,Islam,Islam Today,Mohamed Ghilan,MV Media |

There are many Muslim converts in the West who leave Islam on a daily basis for various reasons. Sometimes it is the lack of education, while other times it is the nostalgia for their pre-Islamic lifestyle and friends. But there are times that a legitimate doubt about the validity of Islam itself enters the heart, which drives converts to leave their adopted faith. The sense of confusion they thought they would finally have resolved through becoming a Muslim persists and the answers they thought they would find turn out to have been a mirage. The end result is that not only do they remain confused, but also now they have adopted a faith that seems to be changing their identity into something alien to them. They are now confused converts with identity crises.

The news of a popular figure in the Muslim community that they have left Islam creates a shock wave. Several statements like:

“Are you sure?”

“Are you serious?”

“But why?”

“But they travelled to Medina and Mecca”

“It must be some joker using their name and lying”

“How can they when they are surrounded by all these scholars?”

are made in an effort to come to terms with the personal existential crisis each Muslim feels as they find out that someone they looked up to had left Islam. It is as if this figure’s leave Islam makes Islam somehow less true. What seems to be missed is the utter humanity of these popular figures, and the fact that they go through existential crises of their own, which they have to deal with in some way. Their popularity does not grant them any special quality of self-assurance or certainty about what they are doing. If anything, their popularity might be a catalyst for their self-doubt and confusion.

Many converts have a similar story to tell with respect to their personal journey to Islam. The external material events that unfolded during their respective journeys may be different. But the personal struggles and battles with the questions about existence and why they are here and not somewhere else, where it is all going, what does it all mean, and what is the purpose of life are all very similar. They might all come from different backgrounds, but they are all asking universal questions that are central to our humanity.

In the midst of these struggles, Islam appears to be the Way, the Truth, and the Light. It is the one religion that seems to have all the answers to their questions. Their confusion is dissipating bit by bit, until the final point of arriving at a conviction that this religion could not have come from anyone but the Creator of this universe, and without it life is very confusing. That is the point they finally decide to make the commitment and convert to Islam. At the beginning it is the most peace they have ever felt. They finally feel settled, and they are no longer confused – for now.

Soon enough, as the initial period as a new convert loses its blissful effect, reality hits. That image that was presented in the mosque or the Muslim community center of peaceful coexistence, brotherhood and sisterhood solidarity, and heightened spiritual states was just that, an image. Because once they walked outside and started interacting with the Muslim community as a whole, reality hit. Islam is no longer the religion with the answers to clear confusion, as it once seemed from what they had read. On the ground, Islam seems to be the religion to create confusion. Unlike the image of unity and solidarity that was presented, in reality Islam seems to be the religion of division, separation, and segregation. Moreover, what were previously non-problematic activities such as listening to music, taking photographs, and greeting a member from the opposite sex all of a sudden became major hot topics for debate. This is of course not to mention who to trust as a source of knowledge in the religion and which Islam is the “true” Islam starting from whether it is Sunni or Shia, and then going down the various groups within each branch.

As the convert navigates their way through this maze in the middle of a forest, they realize that in trying to clear up their initial sense of confusion before becoming a Muslim, they have put themselves in a more confusing position. To add insult to injury, in addition to associating with a particular version of Islam, they have to become exclusivist and reject the others as misguidance leading to the Hell Fire. Even if they do not want exclusivity, they are forced into it by experiencing an “excommunication” judgement against them from those who do not agree with the Islam they follow. So now all of a sudden the same Muslim co-worker who they had no problem with before converting, becomes an enemy simply because they do not belong to the same branch, the same group, and even the same mosque as them.

This raises the question of the relevance of Islam to reality. Is Islam a utopian religion with a set of unrealistic and unreachable expectations? Are Muslim teachings not able to address the human condition? These are legitimate questions to be asked, because if it does not improve society, and in fact seems to make matters worse, Islam should be something studied as a theory but not attempted on the ground. At least for the convert, the pre-Islam confusion they were going through was much better than the one many go through after converting. On the one hand, they know through the theology and worship that they have finally reached the Truth. But on the other hand, as a religion in society, Islam seems to fail to fulfill its claimed role. Hence, some converts who leave Islam make statements like, “I’ve spiritually outgrown Islam”.

Islam is not a utopian religion. It is a religion that deals with the reality of the human condition. But it needs to be practiced before it can exert its effects. When a doctor gives a prescription, and the patient does not follow the instructions, the blame for lack of health improvement is placed on the patient, not the medication nor the doctor. Similarly, Islam is the prescription for spiritual and societal illnesses, and if Muslims do not apply its teachings both inside and outside their mosques, the blame is not to be placed on Islam. The problem is with us. Furthermore, just as prescription medications have contraindications that make it harmful to mix them with certain foods or medications, Islam also has its own contraindications, including ego, caprices, and sometimes our own cultural influences. When a convert says, “I’ve spiritually outgrown Islam”, they are making an inaccurate assessment of their state. Islam is much bigger than any individual to make the claim that they have outgrown it spiritually or otherwise. While it can be accepted that other factors might have been at play, such as the Muslim community itself that successfully manages to push converts out of Islam, statements such as these are indicative of an ego that has not been conquered. The search for spirituality outside of religious bounds is nothing but a search for increased activity in the temporal lobes of the human brain that gives the illusion of spirituality.

Unfortunately, Muslim converts are in the unfavourable position of having found the answer to clear their confusions that requires them to face the consequence of having to accept becoming part of a community, which is going through a major crisis of lack of traditional Islamic education. On the path to becoming a Muslim, converts have typically done enough research to place their Islamic education level above their born-Muslim counterparts. This in turn results in their intellectual isolation from the community they had joined, which in the West results in a dual negotiation they may not be equipped for; the negotiation of being Muslim in a non-Muslim environment, as well as the negotiation of practicing Islam among Muslims who, despite holding the highest degrees in secular fields, barely have the most basic handle on their own religion’s teachings.

Given the struggles that Muslim converts face, it becomes pertinent for them to be consciously aware of what they are getting themselves into. Islamic teachings are not unrealistic and not utopian, and the proof of that is attested to throughout history. When Muslims lived Islam and applied its teachings with knowledge as individuals, the Muslim community flourished as a whole. Despite the setbacks and struggles new Muslims might have had, the truth of Islam was not questioned in the way it seems to be currently, because of the certainty they had in their hearts. Certainty is now something that sadly seems to be tasted by converts for brief periods, but not truly experienced everlastingly.

May Allah preserve our faith in Him and give us an unshakeable certainty in our hearts that can withstand the intellectual and spiritual turbulence that many of us go through during these times, and return our ex-Muslim brothers and sisters to the Truth and educate our greater community as a whole so we do not become a cause for someone rejecting or leaving this beautiful religion that you brought to us through the most beloved and precious of your creation, our Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him.

NabeelAlKaff 5pts

I'm not a convert.I'm muslim since I was born.I believe most of muslims these days do not represent islam.Alot of cheating,lying,bribing and injustice.My advice don't belong to any named group as a follower.Search the truth by reading and asking different teachers.

Shahidah 5pts

I believe I am a convert to Islam. However, I still have not announced the shahidah in public. At present my faith is strong and I believe in the truth of Islam. The problem  am having is, that I have both Shi'a and Sunni friends whom I love equally. They all would like me to be the same as them, but I, in my heart, cannot make the division. I just want to be Muslim and worship the same Allah, who is the one and only for us all.

I come from a strong religious catholic background and one of my sisters has attempted religious life as a catholic nun. Now, she and I are spiritually very close and I can discuss Islam with her because the concept of the one true God, and the beliefs, and the way we live is very close.

However, I cannot speak to my Sunni friends about Shi'as because it seems to provoke a feeling of anger and non-acceptance of one to the other. They both give me valid reasons for following either code, which makes me feel like I don't want to be either. I JUST WANT TO FOLLOW THE TRUTH OF ISLAM. Everything else is individual human differences.

If my Catholic sister can accept me for following Islam, why cant our Muslim brothers and sisters accept each other in Islam? 

In the Holy Qur'an, it  talks about how Christians and Muslims both follow the original teachings of Abraham, so why do we differ about minor things? 

I continue to pray to Allah for guidance.

zeeby 5pts

I think Islam should reflect in a person's attitude towards the general public. Good morals is a tool that every muslim should have and portray.

Umm Fulani
Umm Fulani 5pts

As-salamu alaikum. As a convert of 14 years, Alhamdulillah, I have never once thought to turn away nor have I met anyone who has done so. However, many of us have experienced negativity at the masjid because we don't fit the particular cultural mold or speak the majority language or our dress is different. Brothers generally won't marry us if we are of color; sisters generally won't marry us if we aren't the same culture...On balance, many of us stop searching and learning after shahadah. Most of us make excuses to stay uncovered, keep smoking, socializing with non-mahram people of the opposite sex, etc, A few of us don't know other Muslims, preferring our comfy, unchallenging set of non-Muslim friends. Some of us uphold useless isms deeply tucked in our naffs (feminism, nationalism, etc.) saying, "I'm a Muslim but..." So there is a lot of work to do on both "sides." But cheer up, this life is a test, and we could be tested with hunger, homelessness, war. Let's all adopt the Prophetic mode of accepting everyone, assuming everyone is secretly better than us, and serve Allah (swt) in the best way.

Rahma 5pts

Agree with Nicole here. Reverts get ostracised (perhaps unintentionally) by fellow muslims. It is a sad reality when you get a phone call on the Eid from a fellow revert only. I believe this could play a major role in them leaving Islam.

Fahmida 5pts

May Allah guide us all.

Jibril 5pts

My expeerience as an Anglo-Saxon revert to Islam was fantastic at first but I was soon dropped by the people who led me to the faith. I did not feel accepted at different mosques, with hostile looks that I was perhaps an ASIO spy. I felt that I was not accepted as being a real Muslim. The only place where I felt accepted fully was at a university masjid in Sydney. The khutbah was in Englsh and at a level which I and other university students could understand. Students went out of their way to make me feel welcome BUT the university (at which I was not enrolled) banned outsiders from coming to Friday prayers (you had to show your university card at the door!). I find the Islamic community in Sydney to be very splintered (e.g. celebrating the beginning of Ramdan on 3 different dates and seeminly different cultural practices according to which country the Muslims have come from). If I asked a Lebanese Muslim  question, I would get one answer. If asked the same question to a Turkish Muslim (for example), I would get another version. It is very confusing. I gradually drifted away from going to mosques as I felt alienated. From what I have read elsewhere, this seems to be a common experience for Aussie reverts. I want to come back but I don't know how or where. I live in the city and not in the Muslim suburbs, so that adds to the sense of alienation as well. Any advice or similar experiences by other reverts? John

Abdul Rahman Reijerink
Abdul Rahman Reijerink 5pts

Anyone who doesn't have sympathy for them has a serious problem with their imaan. Converting isn't easy and it's self-righteous attitudes displayed by some commenting that are a part of the problem.

Mansoor Ali
Mansoor Ali 5pts

Islam is a simple religion to follow...the only reason people get a strayed from the right path, bcoz of what they see others say and do. If we read the Quran and seek guidance from Hadees then there is nothing that can deviate us from the right path. We have left both thats why we are what we are today - in a sorry state. A hadees of Prophet SAW says: There will be a time when muslims will be in plenty and in huge number all across, but their strength will be next to nothing. Strive to improve yourself as a person and seek and share the right knowledge with others. InshaAllah Allah is Great.

Nicole Briggs-Elgammal
Nicole Briggs-Elgammal 5pts

I dont think reverts expect life to be easy once they revert, however, I think people are missing something very valuable from that article. Reverts get ostracized from the family and culture into whih they were born, but feel things are manageable because they not only have Alah swt, but their fellow brothers and sisters. What they find out is just what the article stated- they are oftentimes ostracized by their muslim brothers and sisters as well. I used to suffer feeling out of place or unwanted because I am a revert but alhamulillah, Allah has created such love for Islam in my heart that no human being could make me feel unwanted in Islam. Please brothers and sisters- be guides for reverts. All you`ll get are rewards from Allah swt and possibly a new friend!

Aysheh Ibrahim
Aysheh Ibrahim 5pts

I agree that those who revert to Islam are often stronger in their Iman than those born Muslim. Insha'Allah we can all learn from one another to be better Muslims.

Castro Nkoma
Castro Nkoma 5pts

I think converts are betta muslims than born muslims who think they know everything.

Michelle Grant
Michelle Grant 5pts

Insha'Allah, perhaps our converts will bring us all back to pure Islam, and overcome the cultural Saudi Islam, or Paki Islam, or Malay Islam, or (put place name here Islam). 5pts

I think you guys are being a little bit unfair with those sentiments.

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