The Michigan Muslim community has been blessed to witness several individual revert to Islam throughout the span of a few decades. However, most of us born into Islam are unable to understand the struggles that reverts undergo and are further ignorant towards how to properly assist them through their lifelong journey in unlearning to learn.
“There are several [concerns reverts discuss with me] — including social changes and learning/absorbing new information,” said director and founder of the Muslim Enrichment Program (MEP), Imam Saleem Khalid.
The MEP aims to connect people across Michigan, with a focus on new and returning Muslims and other individuals who are interested in Islam. The non-profit organization provides a holistic transition to Islam by collaborating with other organizations and initiatives to provide hands-on exposure. This is done through educational support, social support, a mentoring system, and referrals to enable connection to other resources and communities.
According to reverts like 20-year-old Joseph Figlioli from Hamtramck, the social changes that are difficult to accept include informing family members and friends of a one’s new faith, or adopting Islam without an open declaration to family.
Reverts also experience difficulty in meeting new Muslim friends and acquaintances, while still adjusting to their new lifestyle and practices. As the founding director of MEP, Imam Khalid has also witnessed a segregation amongst the revert and non-revert communities in varying degrees. He says the Muslim community is a subset of the larger society, human and full of the same nuances.
There are certainly cultural, language and ethnic differences that impact relationships. Implicit and perceived bias, and unrealistic expectations from both sides also contribute to separating our communities.
“We need a more hands-on approach with converts, with ‘established’ members of Muslim communities working closely in conjunction with reverts/converts to ease their transition into the broader Muslim community,” said Imam Khalid. “The mosques and Islamic centers should provide strive to provide welcoming and friendly atmospheres.
Reverts like Figlioli agree, saying that there are several cultural differences and language barriers which come in the way of meeting new people.
“A lot of times, reverts are seen as outsiders when it comes to the Muslim community,” he said. “Because of this, they won’t go out of their way to greet us. This is probably the hardest thing that reverts face — [feeling unaccepted amongst one’s own people.]”
When it comes to Muslims born into Islam and Muslims who later returned to their faith, both are responsible for bringing similarities to attention to bridge together gaps, while defying differences. We need more initiatives that bring groups of Muslims (reverts and non-reverts) together, talking to each other and sharing their stories. The issues faced by reverts are often the same issues that our youth face. These issues include attempting to understand, discuss, and find solutions to common problems. According to Imam Khalid, we need to realize that the future of Islam in our communities depends strongly on how well we accommodate reverts/converts and the youth.
MEP’s volunteer training sessions address many of these issues. The organization is looking for more volunteers committed to spending time in being buddies, helpers, and mentors for new converts. For more information, visit www.muslimenrichmentproject.org.