Muslims Need to Prioritize this Sacred Duty
By Laura El Alam
Imagine if a newborn chick, recently hatched from an egg, got separated from its mother and its flock. The vulnerable little creature would need to find warmth and guidance to live a safe, healthy life. How would you treat such a creature? Would you ignore it? Pretend it wasn’t your problem? Force it to cope on its own?
Each day, people from all walks of life embrace Islam. According to a Pew Research Center study in 2018, about a quarter of American Muslim adults are converts. Unfortunately, like the vulnerable newborn chicks, some converts lose their non-Muslim family and community’s support and find themselves completely alone, confused and uncomfortable in their fledgling Islamic identity. While they do have a sincere love of God in their heart, they often lack knowledge about the deen: how to pray, the pillars of the faith, Arabic vocabulary and their new lifestyle’s numerous rules and regulations.
Forming a Muslim identity is a huge undertaking, and, sadly, many converts find little support from their local community or masjid. In fact, some are treated so shabbily that they leave Islam.
How can we avoid a tragedy like this? How can we protect these vulnerable and pure souls, the newest members of our family of believers?
Each of us has a role to play in this regard. Those in leadership positions have the influence and ability to make significant change. Even those who simply visit the mosque and attend community events can make a difference.
These newest siblings-in-faith deserve kindness, support and sincere efforts. Let’s discuss how we can all step up to this noble task, based on our roles and capability.
Those in Leadership Positions
When deciding which programs deserve time, space, and resources at their mosque, the board of directors should consider making convert outreach and support a priority. It is helpful to solicit their opinions on what they need to learn and thrive.
Danielle, a convert in Florida, says, “New Muslims need to learn how to pray and how to say basic things in Arabic like Surat al-Fatiha. They need stepping stones toward the basics, and we need to recognize people go at different paces. We need to be flexible and take a compassionate approach to helping them.”
She adds, “We need to discern between Islam and culture so we can embrace and hold space for new Muslims without making them feel alienated, bad or wrong for their own culture and upbringing. We need to take converts as they are and help them learn the most important parts of the religion first.”
Ligia, a convert in Texas, says, “I became Muslim after deploying to Afghanistan back in 2012. I’m a Hispanic U.S. army veteran. I was the only Muslim in my military unit and needed spiritual support that I didn’t find in any masjid. The bottom line is Allah is the witness, and on the Day of Judgment He will ask you if you helped spread Islam. We all have a duty to welcome new Muslims and help them as much as we can.”
Allocate Sufficient Funds
When planning the budget, board members should consider designating money specifically for training mentors, running classes and planning social events. This money will ultimately benefit the whole community, because converts often become dynamic, valuable and enthusiastic members.
Amina (not her real name), a former long-time board member at her mosque in California, states, “I believe [paying for] new Muslim outreach/education programs should be the Islamic centers’ responsibility because they are the hub of the community. However, I do not think it should be a ‘volunteer’ program. The masjid needs to hire Muslims from the local community and have a professional program with ample training. This way it does not feel like an afterthought.”
Having donated countless hours to her mosque, she points out the great burden placed on volunteers. “There are not many people who are willing to volunteer for any activities. I feel the mentality is that ‘the masjid people’ will take care of everything, not thinking that all those ‘masjid people’ are working full time, have their own families and are not able to continue two full-time jobs.”
Imams and Teachers
Those who educate through khutbas or Islamic classes should lecture their congregations often on the importance of welcoming new Muslims while discouraging nationalism and cliques. If their community is split into factions, a way must be found to make it more inclusive.
Amina says, “Our masjid community is somewhat segregated. We have Pakistanis and Arabs. Both cultures are very into staying ‘on their own side.’ A lot of the females are shy or just not interested in making friends with people of other cultures. They do not find anything in common with them.”
Ligia adds, “The area where I was living in Miami did not have many mosques around, but at the few ones I went to, women didn’t have a big area in the masjid and I wasn’t able to see the imam or anything. They had no programs for reverts. The women were not friendly or approachable. When I finally went to a big mosque, no one approached me or welcomed me. What I would like to see in mosques is educating Muslims on how to be welcoming, polite and open-minded to new sisters and brothers. The lack of empathy in the Muslim community is worrisome.”
Adapt Successful Programs
Some American mosques have implemented beneficial, successful programs. Consider using their classes and activities as a prototype for your own. For example, the Islamic Institute of Orange County in California offers a popular 12-week program for “new and recommitted Muslims.” The leaders pair converts with a mentor who guides them at a slow and steady pace. Classes teach the basics of prayer and address the converts’ concerns (https://www.iioc.com).
Connecting with Converts
Consider becoming a mentor. Ask for training at your masjid or see if you can find a relevant program online. Mentors have the potential to make an enormous, positive impact on a convert’s life.
Nicole, a convert in California, says, “There were no programs when I converted, but a kind sister took me under her wing and taught me how to pray and the basics. She and her husband also supported me through the matrimonial process. It is essential to have some form of guidance. There was no internet at that time, and word of mouth was the only way to get help. I’m so grateful for the sister who showed me the way. It gave me the incentive to do the same for other new Muslims.”
Welcome newcomers to the mosque warmly. Let them know that you’re willing to follow up with them if they need Islamic guidance or friendship. Host a gathering so they can meet your friends. Make them feel welcome and guide them by your warmth and excellent example, not lectures.
Michelle, a convert in California, says, “I think halal social support is very important. The masjid did not officially offer this when I became a convert. However, Al hamdu lillah, I got this support from wonderful sisters in my area. When you can’t do the things that you used to do for fun, it has to be replaced with something else to fill that void. The sisters filled my social and family void. May Allah reward them.”
Fellow converts with a solid knowledge base should also consider mentoring. If your Islamic center has no such service, see if you can get a program started. Think about what you wish you’d had as a new convert and work to provide that for others.
Offer your insights to your masjid’s leadership. Who better to explain what services are most needed? Let your voice be heard so that new Muslims can have an easier, more productive experience.
No matter which role we play, our sincere efforts to welcome, teach, befriend and support new Muslims will be rewarded greatly. Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Whoever calls to guidance will have a reward similar to those who follow him, without detracting from their rewards at all” (“Sahih Muslim” 2674). Imagine the blessings that will multiply exponentially if we guide others to goodness for the sake of God!
Laura El Alam is a prolific author who has contributed to numerous publications since 2009. She is the founder of Sea Glass Writing & Editing, where she provides a wide variety of content writing and editing services. Wellesley, Mass.