This February will mark 5 whole years since I took my shahadah. Half a decade passed by so quickly, subhan’Allah.
Although there is still so much I want to learn and implement in my life and my religion, a lot has happened and changed in those five years, some of which I would like to share with you to provide some reassurance to those still at the very beginning of their journeys.
For most reverts, family acceptance is usually one of the most difficult elements of becoming a Muslim. They have known you your whole life and have a pretty set idea of who they think you are, and who they want you to be. So when you turn that completely upside down by connecting yourself to a religion they have only heard negative things about in the media, you’re going to be met with some (or a lot of) resistance.
I have been through some difficult years, with family judgements bringing out my usually dormant social anxiety. It is definitely not easy being belittled or mocked by those you love. I have been extremely fortunate in that on the most part, my family were accepting, if not very sceptical. Yet I have still faced plenty of difficult situations and conversations where my change of lifestyle clearly disappointed several loved ones.
One relationship that possibly suffered the most, was that between me and my father. I have written about his atheist views before, and being someone who can be quite dominant in his opinions, he made no secret of his disappointment in my converting. He often used to say things to me, such as “There is a wedge between us”, or “There is a line between us”, which obviously no one wants to hear from a parent. When family members would ask how his kids were, his response would be, “They’re good, but the girl is still Muslim.” It felt very clear to me that he thought it was all just a phase and that one day he’d get his daughter back.
With five years having now passed, I hope he isn’t still holding his breath. What I can say, however, in all honesty, is that I feel our relationship right now is the best it has possibly ever been. Whether he’s found a way to look past the headscarf, or if he’s just slowly accepting that I am truthfully still the daughter he’s always known and loved, we do enjoy a very strong and tight relationship these days, alhamdulillah. I wish I was able to talk to him more about my beliefs, as I’m still having a hard time convincing him that I follow the religion of Islam, not Saudi Arabian politics, but we’ll get there inshaa Allah.
Probably my biggest success story with my family, however, has to be my Nan. The older generation are often that bit harder, right? When I first told my family I had converted to Islam, my Nan, completely bypassing the fact that I had chosento be Muslim, started worrying about me being “forced into things I didn’t want to do”. I have no idea what she was referring to, but I got the impression that she had some unrealistic fear of me being forced into a burka and shipped off to serve ISIS or something. She was without doubt scared of Islam, and very scared by her granddaughter joining this weird religion she heard so much of in the news.
Alhamdulillah, as Allah decreed it, I had to relocate a couple of years after my shahadah, moving from a city in the north back to my hometown in the midlands. This meant that I ended up spending a lot of time with my Nan, and much like my Dad, our relationship now is the best it has ever been. Through a lot of patient conversations, I have been able to answer a lot of her questions and explain to her actually how similar my religion is to her own Christian faith. Of course, now her issue is she can’t understand why, if our religions are so similar, I don’t just become Christian so that I don’t have to do the ‘difficult’ stuff like praying five times a day. I know, we’ll get there one day inshaa Allah.
But I’ll tell you one thing that really let me know that my Nan was no longer scared of my religion. One day, about two or three years after my shahadah, she told me her church had a new curate, and as part of their job, they were expected to research and understand other major religions. My Nan, always keen to help, therefore invited her curate and me to her house so that I could educate her about my religion! Subhan’Allah, I honestly couldn’t believe it.
Of course, I still have difficulties. There is still friction caused by my choice of dress and the fact that I don’t drink alcohol and that I pray five times a day (what a weirdo). But it is so much better now than it was five years ago. I think, even if my family don’t like it, they have had long enough now to accept that this is who I am, which leads me to my next point:
On the day I took my shahadah, the imam said to me some very wise words that gradually emerged to be proven true. He said, “Generally, people will respect you as much as you respect yourself”. He was advising me on how to handle criticisms I might encounter from my family and peers in the face of my changing lifestyle.
At first, I found it difficult to live up to these words. I believed what he’d said to be true, but my first challenge was actually building up that respect for myself. For a while as a new Muslim, I didn’t 100% know who I was. I knew kind of who I wanted to be, but making that shift from the person I’d been before wasn’t something I could implement overnight.
I struggled to let go of the things that had been the building blocks of my identity for so many years, such as my taste in music and love of live gigs, and my tendency to have more male friends than female. My dress sense wasn’t exactly immodest as Western standards go, but it took me a long time to figure out the transition into Muslim-appropriate clothing while still maintaining a sense of my personal style.
As the years passed, however, I have thankfully managed to rediscover myself and build up that self-respect that went missing for a short while. And, what do you know, the imam was right.
People will always judge what they don’t know or understand. So when they see someone who is clearly of a faith that they’re unsure of, they begin to build up preconceived ideas on the person they think you are. When your confidence is low, you end up shrinking behind these projections and it’s very difficult to show a different picture. Whereas, when you’re self-assured and content with who you are, you bring a whole different air to the conversation. When you like yourself, you make it a whole lot easier for other people to like you too. When you’re confident in yourself, people naturally end up having confidence in you too. When you respect yourself, it is inevitable that, on the most part, other people will respect you too. Don’t ask me to explain it; it’s just social science I guess.
So how do you build up that sense of identity?
If there is one piece of advice I can give to any new Muslim, it would be: seek knowledge. Keep seeking knowledge. Never stop seeking knowledge.
That wonderful, refreshing, cleansing, massive lightbulb feeling you get as a brand-new Muslim doesn’t last forever. (I really wish it did). Faith fluctuates constantly between strong and weak, exciting and challenging. But if there’s anything that keeps you firm in yourself and in your religion, it is beneficial knowledge.
Our religion is unique in that it is not built upon blind faith. Allah has made it obligatory upon every Muslim to seek knowledge and understanding of what it is we believe in. The first word He revealed in the Qur’an was “Read!”
If there’s anything that has helped me in strengthening my family’s respect and understanding of my religion, it has been my ability to talk to them and answer their questions, which I wouldn’t be able to do with any conviction if I didn’t have any knowledge.
With my own sense of identity, my faith is strengthened with each additional piece of information I absorb regarding my religion. The more I understand my faith, the more I remember why I have chosen it, and why I have fallen in love with it in the first place. As the popular saying goes, the more you learn about Islam, the more you fall in love with it.
I still have so much to learn. Islam is such an incredibly vast subject, you soon appreciate that the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know. That’s partly what keeps it so exciting.
Whether you’re a brand new convert or someone who has been Muslim for 40 years, your journey will always be one of self-development and growth. When you’re on the path, and feel yourself connecting with Allah, it is so so rewarding, despite the potholes and difficulties you stumble into along the way.
Have strength, new Muslim. Right now you are like a child who is riding his bike without stabilisers for the first time. You feel wobbly, uncertain, and you’re wondering if your Dad is still behind you. Just keep peddling, keep praying to Allah. Once you’ve got your balance, you’ll soon see yourself gliding across that path inshaa Allah, racing towards your destination.