By Shaylene Haswarey
Recently, I was at a restaurant with my Muslim friends when a convert remarked, “That smells so good! I remember drinking that drink at gatherings, and I miss it.” A waiter had walked by carrying alcoholic drinks. My convert friend added, “There’s simply no replacement for that.”
I truly empathized with my friend. Coming from a Mormon background, my conversion to Islam didn’t require me to relinquish many things. Alcohol, gambling, premarital intimacy, and adhering to a particular dress code were not new rules I needed to adopt.
I admit I had a weakness for pepperoni pizza. A few weeks after I embraced Islam by taking the Shahada, I went to my mom’s house. She offered me pizza, and I removed the pepperoni and ate it. Looking back, I chuckle at myself, realizing that the pork extract was still on the pizza. Fortunately, there are halal alternatives available that taste nearly identical to pork pepperoni. When it comes to alcohol, there are no real substitutes. Halal stores sell their version of nonalcoholic beer, Muslims enjoy drinking Martinelli’s, but every convert I have talked to said it’s not the same. I admired my friend for giving up something she loved, without a substitute, for the sake of Allah.
Debunking the Assumption Islam is Strict Without Alternatives
There are many other examples of activities converts may have enjoyed before becoming Muslim. For example, an activity I used to enjoy before my conversion was attending church dances. However, when I was new to Islam and my friends invited me to such an event, I explained why I couldn’t attend. I was in the ‘honeymoon’ stage of my conversion, and I didn’t feel any regret about missing it. I was incredibly excited and happy about being a Muslim, and nothing else seemed as important at the time. Alhamdulillah, I met my husband, got married a few months later, and the idea of going to church dances became a distant memory.
There is a misconception that Islam is an overly strict religion that does not allow fun. Islam is not opposed to fun and entertainment; it simply emphasizes that they should be pursued in a healthy and controlled environment. Unlike many dances that often occur in clubs where men and women freely interact, Islam provides a more modest and structured approach to such activities. When my husband and I moved to Orange County, California, a group of Muslim sisters and I discussed how we love dancing, and we decided to host sister-only dance parties. Monica McNeal Boddie was one convert who enjoyed the parties. Before her conversion, she performed traditional West African and Afro-Brazilian dances. She missed dancing after she converted. She looked for options and started roller skating. “When I saw I could still have fun, self-express, and move with joy through roller skating, I breathed a sigh of relief; this one experience went a long way to saving my religion; I verified I could still be in my job. I had not consigned myself to a necessarily dull life after all!”
Victoria Caldwell was a runway model before her conversion. She told herself she could become a Muslim if she did not have to wear ‘those clothes’. She explained that Muslim clothing available in the early 2000s was not attractive. Part of her identity was the way she dressed. She enjoyed her fashion and did not want to give it up. Six months after her conversion, she decided to wear a hijab and loose clothes for the sake of Allah.
What can a convert do if they are struggling to stop haram habits and the lifestyle they enjoyed before their conversion?