By Peter Mitchell
Four years ago, I decided to become Muslim because I liked how Islam creates a direct connection between an individual and God. Before I converted, the religious community seemed too involved. I felt that in order to be accepted by God I needed to overtly display my religiosity and if I was not accepted by my congregation, I would not be accepted by God. My faith was always questioned. In Islam, the onus is put directly on the individual. The connection to God is a direct one and there are no other living intermediaries. My confessions of my innermost secrets do not need to go through a human first for absolution; in Islam, we have the ability to do it ourselves – 5 times a day. I also truly enjoyed the sense of community. When you are Muslim, you are someone’s brother or sister regardless of title or creed. Islam promotes the unity among its people and the unity among other individuals who are considered people of the book. Islam promotes love and peace towards ALL people, NOT only those who are Muslim.
Becoming Muslim has made me an even better human and American. I have become much more in-tune to the sense of community needed to be a better citizen and neighbor to my fellow person. Being Muslim gives you a strong set of collectivistic ideals, which is very important to have in this ever-growing individualistic society. I see that it is my duty to use these ideals that Islam is teaching me and spread them around to build strong communities and relationships. Ramadan helps create and strengthen community bonds. Ramadan is a month long of worship, self-betterment, and enlightenment. You do not have to be Muslim to fast. Fasting gives you perspective and empathy regardless of your religious beliefs. Also, just because you are not Muslim, does not mean you are not our brothers and sisters as well. We love you just the same as if you were our actual direct blood.
My first Ramadan experience was VERY dehydrating, but very enlightening. I would say that the fast did exactly what it is meant to do. My first Ramadan truly showed me how blessed I was. The fact that I was able to get excited to break my fast at the end of the day and truly spend a good amount of hours trying to decide between which meals I would like to cook, while others do not have any options, is a blessing in itself. My first Ramadan also truly showed me how much time I really had in the day. When one is not constantly eating, drinking, or distracting themselves with the menial things in life, we finally have time to sit back and reflect. I used my first Ramadan experience as a time to reflect on my life and my goals. Ramadan gave me the necessary time for introspection. Usually, we are too busy with life that we forget about ourselves and God. I realized that, and I now make a conscious effort to no longer make the mistake of prioritizing the menial over the important things in life.
My advice to those who are new converts would be to use this time to practice praying. This is essentially a month dedicated to prayer and the betterment of yourself. Do not waste this opportunity given to you. As I mentioned earlier, Ramadan truly shows you how much time you have in the day, and that time should be dedicated to practicing prayer and establishing what you can do to make yourself a better Muslim. Also, a very important piece of advice I learned later on in my years, eating a meal before sunrise (suḥūr) makes a huge difference in your day. Sleep is wonderful, but be conscious of the blessing that you have the ability to actually wake up for the opportunity to enjoy suḥūr. Be grateful and engage in the blessing given to you by God.
For those who converted a long time ago, or who were born into Muslim families, I suggest that they make a conscious effort to help and teach new converts about Ramadan. This is a very difficult time for us. I was blessed with a very understanding family who did not mind me not eating dinner with them or they even waited until I could eat for them to sit down with me. Many people are not as fortunate. Please, if you have an opportunity to eat with them, do so. The first few Ramadan’s set the tone and tempo for future Ramadan’s. Share the love, warmth, and sense of community with them. Another thing, please help them learn how to pray. I had a poor experience where I was actually chastised for praying incorrectly, even though they knew I was a convert. That was very difficult because I felt that if I did not pray correctly, my fast would not count for anything. Reach out to your fellow converts, ask them if they need help praying, and offer any resources you may know of. Think of a convert as your little brother or sister, they are new to Islam and are trying. It is all of our duties to ensure the success of our brothers and sisters.
I am soon to be 4 years a convert. I still find it difficult to pray (language barrier mostly) and I am still learning. The reason I am telling you this is because being Muslim is always about learning how to continue to better yourself. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. However, I will continue to strive to be the best that I can be. I am not a 5 gold-star convert who has it all together, but rather a person who is still finding the pieces. Being a convert is difficult and you do not have to have it all figured out right here and now, but it gets easier and God’s love continues to make it easier. As a good friend once told me “if you keep waiting until you are ready, you’re never going to be ready”. So even though I was not 100% to be blessed as a Muslim, I took the chance anyway and it has been blessings on top of blessings since then.