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So You Just Converted to Islam

Bismillahir Rahman ir Rahim

Sean Stone’s recent conversion to Islam brought up some painful memories for me.  I’m happy that he’s Muslim, but I see him falling into huge traps right off the bat and I want to warn you about them.  For example, posing with a sword? Wearing a Zulfiqar necklace? You’re asking for trouble, Mr. Stone.  Didn’t you see what happened to Cat Stevens?

First of all, if you are reading this for the reason that I intend—because you converted—then congratulations on your conversion—for whatever reason Allah brought you to the right path.  Islam is the truth. I have been Muslim 20 years, and the conversion to Islam was a vital turning point in my life.

Just because you became Muslim does not mean that you are going to be perfect.  You have now the highest standard of behavior, and the highest standard of friends, and the highest religion—but you will not suddenly become perfect.  You have character flaws, you will make mistakes.  That’s okay, you just have to ask forgiveness and try to improve.

But I am going to give you some advice, and I hope that this will spare you some of the trouble I have lived through.

First, don’t try to convert your family.  Some of your Muslim friends will immediately tell you to convert your family.  But they should mind their own business.  Maybe they are not even practicing Islam but they want your family to become holy mosque people overnight.  Maybe instead of worrying about your family they should just start praying.  When your friends tell you to convert your family, ask your friends questions to see if they are practicing Islam.  They almost certainly have important flaws, like for instance they might not pray.  If they pray, and are really Muslim, then maybe they have never even had close friendships with people of other faiths.  Salespeople, I believe, are not successful when they are pushy.  If you want to “sell” Islam to them, then give your family whatever information you understand, let them know you are happy with what you are doing; they will be attracted to Islam from the light in your face.  Religious decisions are not really completely in human control.  Your family might never come to Islam, and you should make your peace with that fact.  But you do need to get along with your family.  Cutting off your family is a big sin—it might be justified if they are hell-bent on converting you back to whatever it is you were before.  But if they just don’t understand what you are doing, don’t go into a frenzy to bring them onboard.

If you want to convert your family and you have the opportunity—here is how you do it.  Repeat after me “Ashhadu an la ilaha illal Lah wa Ashhadu anna Muhammadan Rasulallah (s)”.  That’s it.  If they ask how to pray, you help them.  Prophet (s) said whoever says La ilaha illal Lah enters Paradise.  So you just did the heavy lifting, right? Now if you want them to practice more Islam than that they might not want to, and you can’t make them.

Now if you try to force them to convert you will likely alienate your family for the rest of your life.  I have alienated my family this way.  Partly it’s because of other reasons, but partly it’s because I pushed them too hard when I converted.  Partly it’s because they don’t like Islam.  That’s their decision.

Don’t be surprised if your family doesn’t understand the language that you speak now.  Religious people have a way of thinking that non-religious people do not understand.  “My religion says X” is not an acceptable answer to someone who does not accept a religion but wants an explanation for why you do something, but it is more than enough of an answer for someone who believes in …possibly any… religion.

Second, watch out who you get involved with.  People will gravitate towards you when you convert.  You will be in a whole new batch of people.  A quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, and some of those people are very very bad people.  Some of the people are just bad (not very very bad).  Some are very very good.  Some are good.  Some are neutral.  Some are very very bad.  Many Muslims care mostly about the fatness of their wallets and not about Islam.  Just because you see someone in the mosque doesn’t mean that he is a good person.  Look for good people, good Muslims who have good manners of humbleness, kindness and courtesy.  That is really a minimum.  If you see someone with a nasty expression on his face all the time, don’t expect him to be good to hang out with.  On the other hand, some people look good but they are not.  You may sense in your heart that some people are good although they do not have perfect manners.

A rule of thumb someone explained to me is:  if sitting with someone you are always thinking about the next world, that person is okay.  If sitting with someone you are always thinking about this world, you shouldn’t sit with them, even if they are a big scholar who just graduated from Al-Azhar and all his ancestors graduated from Al-Azhar.

Third, don’t go to extremes.  You just converted to an entirely different world view, and from your past you may believe that Islam and Christianity or Judaism or agnosticism or atheism or whatever-you may believe that there are groups who are opposed to one another and now you have to argue for this new side.  Maybe you will feel that you have to model the very combative behavior that you once feared or tolerated or whatever from Muslims.  My advice, don’t go overboard.  Okay defend yourself and defend your religion if someone lights into you over some nonsense.  But in general you have to begin to avoid intolerant people and don’t try to justify everything done in the name of Islam—because some of what people do in the name of Islam is wrong.  Don’t be combative.  And don’t think now that you have to go make jihad or complain about the mistreatment of all the world’s Muslims.  Not your job.  Maybe when you really understand more about Islam, you can start to try to help Muslim people in some way.  Maybe you can make a not-for-profit that feeds Muslims in Puerto Rico or your own country, your own city.  But don’t jump from the starting block with the weight of the Muslim world on your shoulders.  Your job is to learn to practice Islam, not fix the world. I’m not saying that applies to your entire future life, I’m just saying to learn where you stand before you get your fingers burned in someone else’s fire.

Some Muslims are devils. Islam is not at fault for this. Judas was one of only 12 companions of Jesus (as), right? So out of 1.5 billion Muslims what do you expect?

Fourth, study. One area where you can be a little bit extreme is in learning how to worship, and worshipping.  Muslims will correct you, learn from them, pray to God for guidance and instruction.  God brought you to the right way but that doesn’t mean you are done—the most difficult part is after you converted, finding a good community of people or recognizing goodness or badness in the different communities there are.  If you just go to the nearest mosque and assume the best, you may leave Islam soon after those people break your heart.  That is not because Islam is wrong, but because that is not the community you should be a part of.  You converted to Islam—I hope—so that you can worship God.  So if you want to go overboard, do it by studying worship and getting better at it.

Fifth, find someone you believe in because he (or she) represents everything that you saw in Islam that made you convert.  Learn from that person. 

Sixth, until you find a group of people that you feel is correct—and you will find that group, I promise you, if you are sincere and look for them—until you find them I believe it is not a sin for you to keep your new religion a secret.

Seventh, Muslims will definitely tell you things that are wrong about the religion of Islam.  Some Muslims who don’t even know how to make wudu will boldly advise you on how to spend the rest of your life.  Listen but take advice with a grain of salt.

The upshot of all this advice is that converting to Islam means opening yourself up to the scorn of the non-Muslims, and you have to be careful because that scorn and disdain might last you the rest of your life.  It is worth it because Islam is the truth.  But it’s not cheap.  There is a hadith that Prophet (s) said that people who love him will have difficulties rush to them like a river.  So just bear that in mind.  It is definitely correct to love Prophet (s). 

I am just saying, tread cautiously. Be careful.

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