Each of us who have embraced Islam have our own stories. Some of us easily embraced it, quickly and without hesitation. Others ran towards it, only to cringe back in fear, then tried to ignore it for years before finally submitting themselves. Still others struggled for many years in denial, not wanting to change, not wanting to accept what they had discovered. Each person holds a unique story in their journey to Islam, but most all of us share one thing in common – internal struggle.
While my own personal story took me through many ups and downs, I remember that I had to experience most of it on my own. There were few who could understand the deep emotions I was going through, vulnerable experiences mixed with tumultuous feelings with each step I took towards this new religion. I didn’t want to face it – I wanted to turn away. It was too much of a challenge at times.
While I cannot offer my readers much help through such a difficult period of their lives, I do want anyone who has finally accepted Islam to know that you are not alone and there are many, many others like you. Finally acknowledging your beliefs in Islam is like removing a heavy burden from your shoulders. The uncertainty will vanish and instead will come about your resolve. You have taken that first step down the right path. From this point on, you can be sure that Allah is with you – and many other Muslims are there to help you along the way.
This series is titled “Am I Muslim” because this was an issue I had struggled with for many years. After accepting Islam, I still didn’t understand what made someone a Muslim. What makes a Muslim a Muslim? There are many things to learn about being Muslim. Faith is not just in your words – it takes belief AND action to truly follow the path. But Allah is patient with us. Allah knows what is in our hearts. So for now – in answer to the question “Am I Muslim” – if you believe, deep in the very depths of your heart, that there is only ONE God, if you believe that all of Allah’s prophets came to deliver the same singular message, and if you believe in the Qur’an as being the final one of those messages delivered to us straight from Allah Himself – then you are Muslim. Believe in Islam and strive every day to be better than you were the day before.
After taking shahada, often new muslims are eager (and encouraged) to dive head-first into Islam and learn all there is to know. This is important, but still, you are ultimately going through a very deep and meaningful change in your life. Each step down the path to Islam should be taken carefully with much understanding. It is not necessary for you to run full-throttle, as you could trip and fall and not want to continue. Take your time, get to know your new faith. There is no hurry, as this can be an overwhelming time in your life, and Allah is patient with us.
Khurram Murad reminds us in “Making the Most Out of Ramadan” that Allah “says that if you walk to Him a foot, He will walk to you two feet; if you move towards Him walking, He will come to you running.” Another well-known description of the process in which we learn our Islam is as follows, taken from Advice to a New Muslim from the islamdoor.com website:
“Islam is not something that you just gulp down in one swallow. It is a lifetime of daily meals to be enjoyed, savoured, tasted, digested. If you eat too fast and try to take it all in in one huge bite, you will get indigestion and probably it will come right back up again and make you sick so you don’t want to try another taste. If you eat too slowly and in tiny portions, you will always feel hungry and never be satisfied and if someone comes along offering you sweets and junk food (el shaitan does this) you will perhaps be tempted by that, so you won’t feel like eating any more of the good meal. But if you have a well-balanced meal (studying the Holy Writings, association with fellow believers, putting into practice what you learn) you will feel satisfied and healthy and in peak condition of life.”
However, from my own experience and after speaking with many other new muslims – the prayer is very important. Learning your prayers can be one of the most important things you do as a muslim, which is why most encourage it to be done immediately after you take shahada.
With myself and my own experience, it took years for me to finally begin my prayers (which I have started this past month – alhumdulilla.) The whole time I had a strong desire to learn the prayer, and I would study it online, but I would never take the step to finally perform my prayers. I constantly feared that I would fail, that I wouldn’t do them right, that I would not be strong enough to do all five at the proper times. It wasn’t lack of knowledge; it was lack of strength, lack of confidence that held me back.
It wasn’t until I visited the masjid that I finally started to pray. Praying in congregation is what gave me the strength to finally take the first step. Feeling the power of other muslims beside me performing the prayer made me feel I could have the strength to do them, too. Having someone show me, step by step, the postures, the words – helped me to understand and appreciate the prayer. Getting to know other Muslims from the masjid, them approaching me, greeting me, offering to answer questions, inviting me into their homes – all of these things gave me the sense of community that I so desired and helped me to build the confidence in myself to fully embrace Islam and the prayer as I’d wanted to for so many years.
So this is why my first encouragement to any new muslim is to find their means of support, from wherever they can. Meeting other muslims, surrounding yourself with people who share your beliefs in islam, can help you to be a better muslim and to follow the pillars of Islam. Sure, you can do it on your own. But for my own experience, the process went much smoother and faster when I had others around me. In my path to Islam, after many long years of deep internal struggling, finding support from others like me was what ultimately helped me to take my next step down the right path.
Help! I Need Support!
1. Online discussion forums: Try the discussion groups offered through modernmuslima.com for a list of online forums, discussion groups, and email connections with other muslims just like you.
2. Read about Others’ Stories: Personal testimonies of converts to Islam. New muslims tell their stories. New converts stories, includes some videos.
3. Contact other muslims through blogging: here are some other muslims who blog. Search their blogs for lists of other muslim bloggers.
–Daughter of Guidance
–Cool Guy Muslim
–Writeous Sister Speaks
4. Find a Masjid in your area: http://www.islamicity.com/orgs/
And visit their website (if they have one) to find out if there are any groups or meetings for new muslims. Masjids often have lots of activities, and if you speak with the Imam, he can help you to set up someone to meet there who can welcome you.
So while the path to Islam may be difficult, know that there is help and support out there for a new muslim who may be struggling with their new identity. Other muslims are out there who are going through the same things, same emotions and struggles – and finding a connection with them through Islam is one way to help you through this time.