This is my second post addressing questions regarding my conversion from Christianity to Islam. In this one I will be answering questions sent to me by friends and social media followers. Some questions have already been addressed in my last post in which I tell my conversion story.
- Are you Sunni or Shia? What madhhab do you follow?
I’m Sunni. I looked into Shia Islam but Sunni Islam spoke to me more. Like many average Muslims – especially converts – I haven’t yet picked a madhhab (religious school of thought) to follow. I do tend to lean Hanafi though and may end up officially picking that madhhab to follow.
- How has your conversion affected your husband and your marriage?
My husband – who is Christian – did struggle with the changes that have come about, but has since come to be very supportive and accepting of me and my faith, alhamdulillah. Our marriage has been strengthened by our ongoing interfaith dialogue and by open communication about our faiths. We already kind of had a precedent for interfaith bridge building because we’ve had to maintain open inter cultural dialogue since we’re from different countries. So we were somewhat familiar with the process of communicating honestly about our differences.
When I was beginning to consider converting to Islam, I recall reading a book on interfaith marriage. It basically explained all the ways our marriage could fail because of our religious differences. While it was a rather frightening read, it did point out to me some critical pitfalls to watch out for. I’ve learned that the principles of respect, open and continuing dialogue, love, holding one’s tongue, finding middle ground, and making fair compromises are invaluable for making an interfaith marriage work. I highly recommend the book I read, though I also recommend that you not let it kill your hope for interfaith love. It is called ‘Til Faith Do Us Part, by Naomi Schaefer Riley.
- What was the hardest thing about your conversion?
That’s a good question. There were several things that I found hard. One was losing my Christian privilege and becoming an outsider in a very non Muslim society. We make up about one percent of the US population. If that isn’t a minority I don’t know what is. I wasn’t used to being a minority. I was used to being part of a powerful, dominant majority. So that was an adjustment.
- What was the hardest thing to take on as a Muslim?
Probably the five daily prayers (called salaat). Memorizing a lot of Arabic was difficult for me. It was also challenging to arrange my schedule around them. I actually did a blog post on this topic, which you can read here. I have to say though, the struggle was sweet. Salaat has become one of my favorite parts of my newfound faith.
- How did you come out as a Muslim?
I came out slowly. My husband knew from the beginning of course. Then I came out to a few friends who walked the journey with me. Mashallah they were truly gifts from Allah! I came out to my mother on my birthday of all days. Other people found out through Facebook mostly. I slowly began posting things like, “as a Muslim, I think xyz,” and such. So I didn’t write a big coming out post, it just slipped out here and there that I am Muslim. Hubby and I together told my in laws via skype (alhamdulillah they were accepting!). I only recently told our YouTube channel viewers. You can read that story here.
- Do you have any tips for someone considering conversion to Islam?
Be patient with yourself and with the process. Read the Quran and try out praying before you convert. Don’t make conversion into something like flipping a light switch. It’s a process, a journey. Take it one step at a time. Don’t rush the lifestyle changes but don’t let yourself stagnate either. Whatever you do, avoid wahabbi (a.k.a. Salafi) ideaology at all costs. Research different strains of Islam and pray about which one to believe in. Don’t let a mentor drag you down a path not meant for you. Never think your mentors or born Muslims are perfect. Islam is perfect; Muslims are not. Never think you know it all. Stay humble! Find a support network. You will need support, especially if you live in a non Muslim area. And finally, never stop asking questions.
- What was the reaction of your friends and family?
Their reactions were mostly either positive or neutral alhamdulillah. This is because the family and friends who weren’t supportive of me in general had already been cut out of my life by the time I formally converted. There were a number of people who said things along the lines of, “I don’t agree with Islam but you were courageous for coming out.” My mother seems to think I’m going to hell, so there’s that…. I do have some family members who I don’t dislike but with whom I have limited contact for various reasons, who haven’t reacted at all. Whenever we talk again I may get an earful. We’ll see.
- How has the outside world reacted? Have you faced any stigma?
The general public, such as people I randomly meet when I’m out and about, and our YouTube following, has had mixed reactions. On our YouTube channel we got a lot of condescension and some hate, as well as some support. We lost a lot of subscribers. You can read more about that here. Because I wear hijab, in public people sometimes walk up to me and alternately ask questions, say nice things, or insult me. Sometimes in public I face microagressions like stares, rude service at restaurants, and so forth. So in short, the outside world’s reactions have been mixed.
- Why is there so much of another language used when you speak of being Muslim?
That’s an interesting question. The language is Arabic, and it is used in speech not just when talking specifically about my faith, but can also be used when talking about anything else. The Arabic language is special to all Muslims because the Quran (our holy book) was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic. Our five daily prayers, which are largely composed of Quran recitations, are always in Arabic. We believe that the Quran can only be fully understood when studied in its original language. So it is a very special language to us. The words that we prefer to use in Arabic typically lose their full meaning when translated. It also gives us cultural cohesion, connecting us. For example, we greet each other with the Arabic phrase assalaamu alaikum, which means peace be upon you. This means that no matter what our language, national origin, or culture, one Muslim can greet another anywhere. That’s a powerful connection, and one that I treasure when I am out and see another Muslim.
Here’s a quick vocabulary of a few Islamic words.
- Assalaamu alaikum / Assalaamu alaikum waramatullahi wabarakatu – Peace be upon you / Peace and God’s Mercy and Blessings be upon you. Said in greeting. The longer form is used in more formal situations or when you’re feeling particularly effusive.
- Inshallah – God willing / if God so wills. This is said when making future plans. For example, “Tomorrow I will go shopping, inshallah.”
- Alhamdulillah – all praise is due to God / thanks be to God. This is said when referring to something good that happened or something that’s a blessing. For example, “Today was a good day, alhamdulillah.“
- Subhanallah – glory to God. This is said when noting something amazing, typically something pertaining to creation. For example, “The sky is so beautiful, subhanllah!”
- Bismillah – in the name of God. Said before giving a speech, before writing a major text or essay, before giving a sermon, before eating, before performing the ritual ablution for prayer, and before doing other things for which you want God’s blessing.
- Salaat – Name for the five daily ritual prayers performed in Arabic by faithful Muslims the world over.
- Shahada – the Islamic declaration of faith.
I hope that, inshallah, this post has cleared up some questions people have about converting to Islam. Feel free to ask more questions if you have them! Remember that while my experience isn’t atypical, still, every convert’s experience is different. If you’re considering converting to Islam and want support, feel free to reach out to me via my Facebook page. Thank you for reading!