Converting to Islam is often not just a religious conversion, but also entails learning the culture(s) of your local Muslim community. Learning about a new religion and possibly new cultures can be daunting to the new convert. Hence, this article is here to help!
Connecting to Community
Often one of the most challenging parts of converting to Islam is connecting with the Muslim community to find a sense of belonging, which is normal, natural and healthy. Often, this can be frustrating as many mosques do not have up-to-date websites and often do not answer their phones. The key, frankly, is just to show up. Mosques (Ar. sg. masjid, pl. masājid) are very open and welcoming places. Many mosques are integral to various immigrant Muslim communities and therefore, one may experience a sort of culture shock dealing with a foreign culture and language. Nonetheless, most Muslims are very nice and welcoming people. But remember, Islam is not a monolith, and one does not need to become Pakistani, Arab, Somali, etc. to be a proper Muslim. Often dealing with the immigrant community’s foreign culture can be daunting and frustrating, as some – for instance – do not acknowledge mental health issues as real. Take care of your mental health and refer them to the article by Djavad Nurbakhsh, “Sufism and Psychoanalysis,” where he argues that often mental health is related to real medical conditions and only in extremely rare cases to Jinn or other spiritual matters (footnote below.) In other words, keep seeing your regular therapist. Also, if you live in a place where there are no other Muslims, such as a small rural town, then find Muslim and Islamic groups online on social media. There are plenty out there. The important thing is to be connected. Even during Ramadan people are breaking fast together virtually over Zoom!
Why did you convert to Islam?
In Islam, one must always revisit their intentions behind their actions. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: Actions are [judged] by intention, so each person will have what they intended (Bukhari). When I was an Imam of a mosque, I saw many people convert to Islam without understanding their own reason for converting, they merely felt compelled to do so. And while that is wonderful, in order to maintain long term faith, one must contemplate why they became Muslim. Why? Often, I have heard new converts say the following, “I thought Muslims were going to be this or Muslims were going to be that.” Muslims are imperfect human beings striving for perfection, but imperfect, nonetheless. The Prophet, peace be upon him, also said: Every son of Adam makes mistakes, while the best of the sinners are those who repent (Tirmidhi). In other words, we must have a foundation for our faith: the miraculousness of the Quran, the proofs of Muhammad’s prophethood, the belief in the Oneness of God (tawḥīd), and so on. That way, if – and God forbid – a Muslim mistreats a new convert, they know the truth of Islam and see this as an individual’s shortcoming. If you converted to Islam for the purpose of marriage, or to propel your rap career, I just beseech you to learn about the linguistic miracle that is the Quran or read the Prophet’s biography or learn about Islamic theology, etc.
One of the most important things in your journey of studying and practicing Islam is balance. There is a famous hadith known as the hadith of Gabriel, where the Angel Gabriel explains the Three Pillars of Religion. Namely, Faith, Practice & Spirituality (Imān, Islām & Iḥsān). Faith (Imān) refers to Islamic theology & creed. Islām, here, has the technical meaning of “Islamic practice.” Last but certainly not least is Islamic Spirituality or Iḥsān (also known as Islamic psychology, purification of the heart, Sufism, etc.). Some mistakenly spend all their time learning about Islamic creed and practice (fiqh), but neglect purification of the heart and the study of Islamic manners & character. This leaves a person coming off as a rude zealot and pushes non-Muslims further away from Islam. The Prophet, peace be upon him said: I have been sent to perfect good character (Muwatta). Therefore, we must have a balance in studying and implementing the Three Pillars of Religion.
Islam is an extremely complex religion and often there are differences of opinion and tolerance for ambiguity. In other words, pace yourself and take time learning the religion and implementing it in baby steps. Islamic scholars dedicate decades of their life to study and still are not the senior most scholars, who have studied their entire lives and are now elderly. Don’t be arrogant or haughty as arrogance is the cardinal sin that sent Satan to hell as he was too arrogant to bow to Adam. Find an Imam, Shaykh(a) or student of knowledge to be your mentor. And lastly, Islam is not a monolith, and one must find their own path to God. Don’t let people make you think you must be Maliki, Deobandi, Ikhwani, Ash’ari, Salafi, Sufi, etc. in order to be a proper Muslim. Just focus on yourself and your personal spiritual journey of attaining Islamic knowledge. The rest will naturally fall in place.
And lastly, I would like to recommend some wonderful books to help you begin your journey for Islamic knowledge:
- Asad Tarsin, Being Muslim: A Practical Guide (Sandala, 2015).
- Fahd Salem Bahammam, The New Muslim Guide (Daar Samaa’ Al-Kutub Publishing And Distribution, 2012).
- Theresa Corbin & Kaighla Um Dayo, The New Muslim’s Field Guide (CreateSpace, 2018).
- Mustafa Umar, Welcome to Islam: A Step-by-Step Guide for New Muslims. 2nd ed. (CreateSpace, 2011).
- Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Place of Tolerance in Islam (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002).
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr et. al., eds., The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (New York: HarperOne, 2015).
- Mokrane Guezzou, trans., A Treasury of Hadith: A Commentary on Nawawi’s Selection of Prophetic Traditions (Leicestershire: Kube Publishing, 2014).
- Muhammad Akram Nadwi, The Garden of the Hadith Scholars: Bustan al-Muhaddithin: Clarification of the books of Hadith and their splendid authors (Turath Publishing, 2021).
- Omar Suleiman, Allah Loves… (Leicestershire: Kube Publishing, 2020).
- Samira al-Zayid, A Compendium of the Sources on The Prophet Narrative: Abridged. 2 volumes. Translated by Randa Mardini, Susan Imady & Tamara Gray. (Minneapolis: Daybreak Press, 2018).
- Ibn al-Jawzī, Disciplining The Soul. Trans. by Ayman ibn Khalid (Daar Us-Sunnah Publications, 2011).
- Ibn Taymiyya, Commentary on Revelations of the Unseen: Sharḥ Futūḥ al-Ghayb (Al-Baz Publishing, 2010).
- Hatem al-Haj, trans., Stations of the Travelers: Manāzil as-Sāʾireen (Independently published, 2020).
- Rami Nsour et. al., IHSN 101: Introduction to the Purification of the Heart (CreateSpace, 2018).
- Hamza Yusuf, trans., The Creed of Imam al-Taḥāwī (Fons Vitae, 2009).
- Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, The Divine Reality: God, Islam and The Mirage of Atheism. Revised Ed. (Lion Rock Publishing, 2019).
- Tim Winter, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
- Peter Adamson, Philosophy in the Islamic World (Oxford University Press, 2018).
- Faraz Fareed Rabbani, The Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and The Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2008).
- Asadullah Yate, trans., Al-Murshid Al-Mu’een: The Concise Guide to the Basics of Deen (Diwan Press, 2013).
- Tashfeen Ekram, The Shafi’i Manual Of Purity, Prayer & Fasting (White Thread Press, 2014).
- Musa Furber, trans., Hanbali Acts of Worship: From Ibn Balban’s The Supreme Synopsis (Islamosaic, 2016).
- Sherman A. Jackson, Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering (Oxford University Press, 2014).
- Sherman A. Jackson, Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
Footnote: Javad Nurbakhsh, “Sufism and Psychoanalysis” International Journal of Social Psychiatry 24, no. 3 (September 1978): 204–219. https://doi.org/10.1177/002076407802400309 & https://doi.org/10.1177/002076407802400310.
Hamza Dudgeon converted to Islam in 2010 and is currently a doctoral student at Emory University’s Islamic Civilizations Studies (ICIVS) program and a history instructor at Mishkâh University. In his spare time, Hamza enjoys building custom PCs and he is a Black Lives Matter activist from Minneapolis.