If someone close to you has recently embraced Islam, you might wish to support them in their new lifestyle, but have no idea where to begin. While your loved one will retain most of their fundamental traits like their quirky sense of humor, or their thoughtful, quiet nature, or their spunky attitude, they will also form some new habits and transform themselves in ways both noticeable and subtle. It is important to recognize that these changes often take self-discipline, courage, and time; they don’t happen overnight or without sacrifice. Acknowledging their challenges, motivations, and goals are a great first step towards supporting them. If you want to offer maximum help to the person you love who has chosen Islam, here are some more tips:
1. Listen to them, effectively.
Effective listening requires more effort and thought than many of us are used to exerting in day-to-day conversations, but it is a wonderful technique for truly supporting others. This kind of listening requires us not to interrupt the speaker with our own anecdotes, opinions, or solutions. It requires empathy and patience and puts the focus on the person who is speaking. Taking the time to truly hear what a new convert has to say will be an invaluable gift to them. This article offers excellent tips on effective listening.
Personally, when I converted to Islam 20 years ago, I found it extremely stressful to explain and defend my choice to some friends and family members who were disapproving, judgmental, and presumptuous. The few people who actually listened to my rationale and made the effort to consider my point of view were refreshing and essential to my wellbeing.
2. Make whatever accommodations you can.
In accordance with their faith, Muslims avoid certain things that may be commonplace in some non-Muslim cultures. For instance, Islamic rules prohibit the consumption of alcohol, recreational drugs, and pork. If you are going to invite a Muslim to your home, it is extremely thoughtful to avoid serving any alcoholic beverages or pork products. This article offers more information on Muslims’ dietary guidelines. An easy solution is to serve fish or vegetarian dishes, which Muslims are allowed to eat without question. If you are unsure of their needs or restrictions, it’s always fine to ask! They will probably be grateful for the questions and the fact that you care enough to try to accommodate their needs. In addition, Muslims perform ritual prayers five times a day at designated times. To make ablution (a ritual cleansing called wu’du in Arabic) they will need access to a sink. For prayer they will simply need a small, clean area and a few minutes of privacy and focus. Allowing a Muslim time and space to worship in your home is a wonderful gift. If you feel any hesitation about this, it might help to remember that Christians, Jews, and Muslims often share prayer spaces harmoniously and protect each other’s right to worship.
Additionally, your accepting attitude will mean a great deal to converts who are starting to dress modestly in accordance with Islamic principles. This might be most noticeable in women who start covering their hair with a headscarf (also called khimar or hijab) and wearing loose clothing that covers their body. However, Muslim men must also dress and act with modesty as their defining characteristic, and you will likely notice changes in their clothing and behavior, too. Although the Islamic dress code might challenge your ideas of what is normal or appropriate, your open mindedness and supportive attitude will help you maintain a positive relationship with the convert who is, after all, just striving to please their Creator.
3. Do your own research.
While it is fine to ask a convert questions, keep in mind that they are new to the faith and don’t have all the answers. You can save them precious time and energy by looking for some of the answers on your own. Consider reading reputable books, visiting a local mosque, or talking with knowledgeable Muslims in your community. There are also innumerable resources available online. The WhyIslam website has a great deal of information, as do these sites: www.muslimmatters.org, www.aboutislam.net, and www.islamicity.org.
4. Keep an open mind.
Most of us are biased towards the culture, faith, and traditions of our upbringing. It is only natural to feel instinctively that the way of life we’re most familiar with is the right way to live. When we think about it objectively, though, we will realize that there are billions of people on earth with a variety of traditions, languages, religions, and practices. What seems strange to us is normal to them, and vice versa. Your new Muslim friend might start doing things that are unfamiliar or in opposition to their native culture. Just because some of their practices are different doesn’t mean they’re wrong or inferior. If you find yourself judging or feeling superior, check and make sure this does not stem from a place of bias.
In my own family, some relatives told me they felt I was “less American” when I started wearing a headscarf and celebrating Muslim holidays. I reminded them that Muslims have been part of the fabric of this country since at least the 17th century, and that Americans come in a variety of faiths, colors, traditions, and lifestyles. There is no one way to be American, and in fact our country is better because of its diversity.
5. Ask questions with tact.
You might want to know why your female Muslim friend has started wearing a headscarf, or why your male Muslim friend won’t date anymore. It’s fine to ask, but be polite and make sure your tone reveals that you are seeking information, not being condescending, judgmental, or accusatory.
6. Look for the positives.
You might feel disappointed that the new Muslim in your life has given up some things you used to do together. It’s normal to feel a little worried about the changes they’re undergoing and how that might affect your relationship (and if you do, here’s an article that addresses this). But if you choose to focus on the positives, you will undoubtedly see many good things that come from your loved one’s conversion. Chances are they have conquered some bad habits, improved their health, committed to high standards of morality, and become more self-disciplined. If you can see any of these examples of progress, celebrate them and make sure to congratulate the new Muslim.
If we truly love someone, we want them to be the best version of themselves. We can support the new Muslims in our life by encouraging their growth, attempting to understand their decisions, learning about their faith, and being thoughtful of their feelings and needs. Undoubtedly they will enhance our lives in return, by teaching us a new perspective and sharing exciting new facets of themselves.
Raised in a Midwestern Catholic family, Laura El Alam became a Muslim in 2000. She is a prolific writer whose work has been published in various magazines. Laura is the founder of Sea Glass Writing & Editing www.seaglasswritingandediting.com and runs the Facebook page The Common Sense Convert which aims to provide a beneficial online forum for Muslim women.