By: Idris Tawfiq
Muslims believe that Islam has existed since the beginning of time and that it is the natural religion of mankind. Its message is for all people.
All people born into this world are born with the knowledge deep within them that there is a God, one God, who speaks to His Creation.
Muslims similarly believe that it is the actions of a person’s parents, and of the society and culture around them, which make him or her Christian or Hindu or whatever, by going through ceremonies to make them part of those religions. Left to their own devices, people would naturally believe in one God. (Muslim, 6423)
This is why, as Muslims, we don’t talk of people “converting to Islam”. According to Islam, when a person freely chooses to accept Islam he or she is coming home, returning to that original state in which he was born. You can’t convert to something you originally were.
New Muslims or Reverts/Converts?
The problem comes, then, in deciding what to call these people who accept Islam later in life. If we are not to call them “converts”, what are we to call them?
Unfortunately, in rightly rejecting the word “convert”, many Muslims have settled for using another word which is quite unsuitable and, to many who have accepted Islam, quite offensive.
In the English language, we usually use the word “revert” to mean taking a step backwards in life. People can revert to a life of crime, for example, or they can revert to smoking. In English usage, we don’t usually revert to something good. It has a very negative connotation. So how can we possibly refer to those who embrace Islam with their hearts and minds as “reverts?”
The one who first coined this term to refer to New Muslims was probably not familiar with English as a first language. The idea is correct, that people are returning to Islam, but the word is not – and it can do more harm than good.
As Muslims, we need to realize that New Muslims (my term) are not a problem. They are not some inadequate addition to the Muslim Ummah who will one day get to learn all there is to know about Islam and until then we all just have to put up with their shortcomings and lack of knowledge. No! God Almighty calls whom He Wills to Islam. We don’t. And we don’t get to choose who they are.
First of all, we need to realize and accept that they are full Muslims. They are one hundred per cent Muslim, not people in the process of becoming Muslim. By taking Shahadah with full knowledge and a free will a person becomes a Muslim, not a half Muslim or a not quite Muslim yet.
There are many who accept Islam and declare Shahadah after many years of questioning and reading. Many of them know far more about Islam than some Muslims who have been Muslim all their lives.
There are also many new to Islam who very quickly become involved in the work of Dawah, telling others what Islam is really like. Their stories of coming to Islam are often the very catalyst for others also to become Muslims. Their commitment and passion are an inspiration and, indeed, often show up the rather lukewarm practice of many who have been Muslim since birth.
New Muslims’ Rights
New Muslims have rights. They have the right first of all to be accepted fully into the Muslim community without question. As they grow in the knowledge and practice of their faith they will be able to contribute more and more, but right from the start they have a contribution to make and it calls for wisdom from the community’s leaders to ease them gently into the life of being a Muslim and maybe find roles for them to play suitable to the gifts and talents they possess.
New Muslims are also entitled to all the support they need for them to grow as Muslims. God Almighty has given these new brothers and sisters to us and it is our duty to help and care for them, like tender young plants, as their faith becomes stronger.
We all make mistakes from time to time. New Muslims are often terrified of doing something wrong in front of their new brothers and sisters and it is terrible for them when a member of the community points out their mistake in front of others.
Not performing wudu (the ablution before prayer) properly or perhaps entering the mosque with our left foot rather than our right are things we get to learn about with time. Just as babies can’t be expected to know everything at birth, neither can New Muslims be expected to know everything about Islam right from the start. They need to be corrected in a very gentle way, away from the gaze of others so that it doesn’t cause embarrassment.
And those new to Islam are surely entitled to be taught properly right from the beginning. One of the reasons many new to Islam fall away from their new faith is that they find the wrong Muslim companions or even no companions at all and so have no one to teach them.
The community needs to ensure that someone is responsible for each one who accepts Islam. It isn’t enough, after four weeks, asking: “where is the brother who accepted Islam one month ago?” It is hardly any surprise that no one has seen him if no one showed any interest in him during those four weeks.
The best system, of course, would be for the Muslim community to adopt a mentoring program, where one person in particular is responsible for one new Muslim in particular. This might just be asking how she or he is from time to time or it might involve walking with them to the mosque or even having sessions to discuss the practice of Islam.
Islam is a faith of brothers and sisters. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) didn’t just wake up one day and decide it would be nice to call each other brothers and sisters. We do this in Islam because that is what we are. We really are brothers and sisters to one another. And brothers and sisters are committed to help each other.
So, instead of being concerned to point out that our brothers and sisters in Islam are new to Islam and instead of pointing out that they still have much to learn, we should try, instead, to make them feel welcome and as part of the community as any other member.
If we need to use a special term at all, why not talk about “New Muslims?” My own preference is to talk about those who have embraced Islam. It might take a couple of seconds longer to say, but it is a much friendlier term and it certainly shows that these brothers and sisters are welcome.
Whatever term we do use, let us stop talking about reverts and, instead, let us help those new to Islam to see how really beautiful, gentle and sweet Islam really is and how blessed they are from all the people in the world to have been called By God Almighty to be Muslims.