Aslaam Aleikum! If you haven’t heard, Striving For Clarity has started a new collection titled “Convert Perspectives”. The goal is to begin an ongoing series about converts. Each month iA, we will have a few questions that we will ask several converts to answer. We will then share these on the 'Convert/Revert' section of the site. By learning about other people's experiences, we can gain wisdom and build connections. Every month(or less if we get an influx of responses) we will we changing the questions asked in order to offer you various viewpoints on various issues. If you would like to contribute to the next series in the "Convert Perspectives" collection, email us at email@example.com.
Interviewees: Amanda, Aisha and TasreenKhaldi
QUESTION #1: ABOUT YOU: WRITE 1-3 PARAGRAPHS THAT INCLUDES INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND, HOW LONG YOU HAVE BEEN A MUSLIM, WHAT INITIALLY PEAKED YOUR INTEREST IN ISLAM, AND THE REACTION OF FAMILY/FRIENDS TO YOUR CONVERSION.
Amanda: I was raised Roman Catholic, in a Polish-American community. We were real Catholics - Mass every Sunday was a must, Wednesdays were almost weekly for a Latin Mass, first Fridays were tried. No meat on Fridays throughout the year, etc... I'm pretty young, I converted while I was in college. My family did not take my conversion well, and basically we are at a point where we just don't talk about politics or religion because it causes too much tension.
Aisha: I was raised without religion. My parents said religion was for the weak and used to control the masses. We never lived in one place for too long and moved a lot. My family followed the fruit and vegetable crops during the Spring and Summer months and in the Winter we followed tree planting or wintered in Arizona. My father was paranoid schizophrenia bipolar and he would therefore change his personality like one would change clothes. It was very scary and we never knew what to expect. All of that changed when I was 15 when he killed himself. My mother then moved us to Arizona and I basically raised my little brother and sisters while my mother drank herself into a haze. I got my G.E.D(high school diploma equivalency) and went to culinary school then went on to have 2 children. I slowly started researching religions and none of them really made sense. In 2004 I started researching Islam then something happened; my sister who is 2 years younger than I, got into trouble and went to jail. It was then I decided to accept Islam. It was hard. I didn't receive a lot of support . I taught myself as much as I could and tried to make Muslim friends in the community but it is sad to say that there was a lot of cliques and it was hard. I did manage to make a few friends and I pulled through. it is slow going and I struggle to learn every day
TasreenKhaldix: My name is Tasreen and I am 17 Years old. My mother is half English, half Irish and my father is Pakistani. I embraced Islam at the age of 14 years old Alhamdulilah, just as i started my GCSE'S (Beginning of year 10). I took my Shahadah on the 21st September 2011, it has been 2 years and will be 3 this coming September in sha Allah. I was raised by my Mother alone and had no involvement with my Dad up until i was around 9/10. My mother is Christian (catholic) and my father is Muslim. I was born with no particular religion, but I would attend church, especially to celebrate Christmas. Religion was never really implemented into my life and therefore i did not really have any knowledge of religion, however when something bad happened I would immediately turn to God. I had many troubles whilst I was growing into my teenage years. Certain issues arose that made it hard for me to cope. Things such as bullying and depression lead me to become unhappy a lot of the time. I never really felt like I knew who I was, I never felt as though I 'fitted in' anywhere. It's like I was subconsciously searching for who i really was. How I came to convert is quite confusing. There is no clear reason Alhamdulilah. All my friends at the time were different races and none were Muslim. However, I had one muslim person on my BBM contact list. I would always see this person post things about the religion, really vague things even as little as saying ‘Masha Allah’ or ‘In sha Allah’. This is the first thing that sparked my interest. So the next few days I approached the only Muslim girl I’'d only ever really spoke to or had a connection with. I knew NOTHING about the religion at all, however randomly I told her how I felt and she began to speak to me Masha Allah. A few of the other girls then decided to help me out a bit (ALHAMDULILAH p.s i love these girls). They would text me and always talk about islam with me. However, when I told my mom, she was not so pleased. She felt as though I wouldn't be able to conform to the religion. For example, I used to love to style my hair, and she thought that I wouldn't be able to handle hijab. That really disheartened me, and then a few events in my life happened and it was a hard period for me, so I dropped the idea of converting. I went on holiday to Spain for six weeks, and once I returned I noticed I had lots of text's from one particular sister. Masha Allah she tried so hard. At this moment in time I began to question and challenge the religion with really stupid questions just so that I didn't have to convert (embarrassing lol). I started to come up with excuses such as I’ll convert when i leave college etc. To cut the story short, she defeated me intellectually and I eventually took my Shahadah. I knew nothing about the religion but something within me was just yearning for this! The reaction of everybody was not so great. Eventually, I lost all of my friends. What hurt me the most was losing my closest friend with whom I had been close with since year 7. Nobody really knew that I had converted until after 2 weeks, when I started to wear hijab. Everybody began to talk. All this talk was negative, people claiming I had done it just to fit in, others saying that I wanted attention. Alhamdulilah I had my new Muslim girls who gave me the strength to deal with it all. It was extremely hard. My mom at first, was not so supportive and absolutely hated the religion. She had an extremely negative view on it and would moan at the things i would do. However, eventually, ALHAMDULILAH she realized that this is what I wanted, and she was supportive. She now understands a bit more about the religion through me, and her views have changed; In sha Allah, Allah guides her. My mom is the most supportive even though she is not muslim, and puts effort in buying halal meat when she can and even taking me shopping to buy scarves. My dads family were very happy and are still supportive to this day.
QUESTION #2: IF YOU COULD TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AND SPEAK TO YOUR NON-MUSLIM TEENAGE SELF, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF?
Amanda: I'd tell myself to stay away from drinking and drugs and toxic friendships. Although, I would not be Muslim if it was not for those experiences, because I was given my first translation of the Qur'an by my bi-sexual, drug-addicted boyfriend at the time.
Aisha: I would tell my teen self that it is ok to be different and that religion is a good thing to have in ones life. Also that your parents don't have the answers only Allah does, and to study Islam and Revert sooner.
TasreenKhaldix: I would have tried to learn more about the religion before I actually converted! So that I would have been able to build my knowledge. I would also have advised myself to not let life's troubles get to me the way that it did. It affected me so bad, I would have told myself that it is not worth it, there are better days ahead. I would also advise myself to be more modest, as I used to love wearing shorts and crazy outfits. I would have reminded myself that I do not need to fit in, I do not need to impress anyone and that I'm fine as who I am.
QUESTION #3: SINCE ACCEPTING ISLAM, WHAT IS ONE ISLAMIC PRACTICE THAT HAS BEEN EASY TO ADOPT? WHICH ISLAMIC PRACTICE HAS BEEN A STRUGGLE TO MAINTAIN?
Amanda: Hijab was very easy for me to adopt, except for my family. I love hijab, and I feel it as empowering and also as a great form of awareness of Islam. As a smiling, welcoming person,I feel as if I can help break down mental-blocks that people have about Islam. I still struggle with Salat (prayer). So many people who claim to be Muslims that surround me do not pray, so I always get it into my head that prayer is not important even though it is one of the most vital actions in Islam.
Aisha: Hijab is easy and comfortable to adopt. Learning Arabic has been really hard. I’ve also been struggling with keeping salah.
TasreenKhaldix: The easiest practices to adopt were not drinking alcohol or eating pork. I consumed both of these before I converted but was never overboard with either. Alhamdulilah this was easy for me due to Allah's mercy. As a convert, I would say the majority of practices were a struggle due to the family in which I live in. However, Alhamdulilah, things are now okay. I would say that the hardest Islamic practice to maintain at first was eating halal meat, as I was not used to this and this meat was not available for me to eat. Hijab was definitely, and still is at times, the hardest practice to maintain. It was extremely difficult at first, as before I converted, my hair was my life. I loved to style it and dye it. I loved wearing nice clothes; shorts, dresses, makeup, big earrings - it was all normal to me. Alhamdulillah after 2 years, I am eventually at peace with hijab and it is practically my life; a part of me.
QUESTION #4: IS THERE ANY THING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH US? ANY STORY OR EXPERIENCE RELATED TO YOUR LIFE AS A CONVERT THAT YOU WOULD LIKE US TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?
Amanda: I just really would like to stress that you can maintain your cultural heritage and be Muslim. There is no culture that is better than another - keep your style, keep your traditions, keep your language. Study what inspires you - we are encouraged as Muslims to gain knowledge. Becoming Muslim does not change who you are, it just improves on it. Remember that you are unique, and you should retain that.
Aisha: Once I was walking down the street and a man said “hi sister what order do you belong to”, I answered “to Islam”, then the man was like “what I thought you were a nun” and I said “no I'm a Muslim”, I then ask him “what made you think I was a nun?” and he said “your head covering”. I was wearing a white under scarf and a black pullover scarf with a jilbab.
TasreenKhaldix: I just want to emphasize on the struggles and feelings of converts. It overwhelms us that Allah chose us to be guided and saved by His mercy before it was too late. It's beautiful and cannot be described or compared in a sufficient enough way. During my journey, I have had some really good moments and Alhamdulilah some good memories; seeing how I have changed and progressed. However as a convert, I have also had many (majority) of emotional times and struggles. There are far too many to note, however i will talk about the main one in which I think all converts will somehow relate too. The feeling of loneliness. The worst times this feelings really hits me is during Ramadan/Eid. It is hard to rely on yourself all the time- for motivation, for reminding, for remaining steadfast. During times when your imaan is weaker or when you’re going through hardship you are forced to depend on the Almighty. Although this is a blessing within itself, everybody needs someone who can uplift them in their deen when they need it, just to understand them. It is hurtful when I feel odd, as I practice alone in my household. Its hard when I feel excluded, as though I don't belong anywhere (people wise). Its hard when you're surrounded by people who do not understand. It is hurtful when you see everybody together for Eid and Ramadan, yet you're alone. I felt like I don't fit in with my family because I'm 'different' and I don't fit in with other Muslims because they know so much more than me or they're caught up in their culture that I know very little of. Times can become emotional and you just feel helpless, as though you don't know where to turn; but I didn't realize until I understood that it is Allah who we must turn to, the Turner of Hearts, the most Merciful. Nevertheless, I have had an amazing journey and really am looking forward to my 3rd Ramadan in sha Allah. Alhamdulillah for everything. So happy and so blessed.
JazakAllah Khairun to those who responded. May Allah continue to guide you onto the sirat-ul-mustaqin, may He continue to provide you with hidayah.
Welcome to our "Convert/Revert" section. This section of Striving For Clarity is dedicated to articles and stories geared towards those who chose to enter Islam later in life. If you would like to contribute to this section, visit our Guest Contributor page.