After one has found the right path and has officially declared the shahadah and determination to follow the straight path, is that the end of the story? Is life all rainbows and butterflies from there on out? Often we are intrigued and thrilled by the stories of those who have converted to Islam, what did they believe beforehand? What made them interested in Islam? But we sometimes forget that after being guided, these individuals are now living in a very hostile world, with trials and hardships that often far outweigh the difficulties faced before they were Muslim. It’s easy to tell the revert, “MashAllah, congratulations on your conversion, may God bless you,” and then walk away and go back to your Muslim family and community that surrounds you, protects you, and shields you from the inhumanity of the rest of the world (as it should). Yet the revert is left still alone, isolated, and standing against a torrent of disapproval and hostility.
Thankfully, some have wondered what happened after I converted – what about my family, what about my friends, what has my life been like as a new Muslim? Instead of filling up the comment section on several of my posts in response to all the inquiries, writing an actual post on it seems like a much more efficient solution!
I converted to Islam 2 years and 3 months ago. I was so excited and bursting at the seams to have found such phenomenal truth and wisdom – to be guided and on the straight path to God, at last. I wanted to meet every single Muslim in the area and was exuberant to share my story and make new friends. Yet, over time I was faced with the reality that Muslims are human after all, and while Islam is perfect, Muslims are far from it. Many of the Muslims around me (which weren’t many to start with) were more concerned and preoccupied with their culture rather than their religion, so my attempts at friendship failed miserably. I finally gave up smiling at the Muslim women I passed outside or on campus, as usually they ignored me or glared at me (as an aside, yesterday when I was out running, I passed by a Muslim woman who looked up and smiled at me – I was so surprised I almost tripped over myself – and gave her a big smile in return. That totally made my day!). I went to a mosque in the area a few times, but was mostly stared at. I felt awkward and uncomfortable to be alone despite sitting in a room full of chattering women (who also didn’t seem too interested in the lecture either…). I was in a different mosque, and the woman next to me leaned over and asked if I was Lebanese. I replied that I wasn’t, but I was a convert. That didn’t seem to interest her, and she went back to chatting with the woman next to her. Last year I met a few Muslim women who were also working for the community college I was teaching for, and while we exchanged information, neither of them seemed interested in communicating beyond that initial contact (despite my attempts to contact them).
Alternatively, I have met some Muslims online who are very sincere and genuine, and I am grateful for their friendship and support, despite never having seen each other in real life! Nevertheless, as a result of two years of disappointment, I’ve since given up trying to befriend Muslims in real life.
As I mentioned in my initial post regarding my conversion story, my family is conservative, Evangelical Christian, and are very anti-Islam (on both sides)! There’s an atheist on my dad’s side and a Buddhist on my mom’s side, and both of them are seen as the black sheep, and much time and effort is spent praying for them and lecturing them when they are around. I’ve told myself that I should take comfort in the fact that neither of them were disowned, but then again, neither of those paths are as heavily stigmatized and hated as Islam. My family views Islam specifically as being from Satan himself (astaghfirAllah), and the most dangerous.
My dad’s father is a lay minister (he filled in as a ‘sub’ for churches without pastors and does guest speaking as well), and loves to listen to Billy Graham, John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and of course, Fox News. My dad once put me on the chopping block when he told my grandpa that I had some Muslim friends, to which my grandpa responded by saying, “Well you’d better get rid of them fast. They’re dangerous!” I asked him why, and the entire room fell silent. He sputtered and fumed and couldn’t understand why I was so senseless to not know why. I decided to drop it – don’t want the entire room to explode against me, and definitely didn’t want to reveal myself.
My mom’s father was a Pentacostal preacher for most of his life, and both he and my grandmother firmly believe that if you aren’t Pentacostal, you’re going to hell (Baptists especially since they believe in the ‘blasphemous’ concept of “once saved always saved”!). Most certainly they see Islam as a dark evil.
My parents religiously watch Fox News – my dad’s favorite show is Bill O’Reilly, of course. They are also firm supporters of George Bush and believe he could do no evil (despite the glaring truth that tells us otherwise). Once (when I was still a Christian), I brought up the possibility of 9/11 being perpetrated by Bush himself, due to the overwhelming evidence, and my dad was incredibly offended and angry (as if I had just uttered blasphemy), and said that Bush could never, ever do something like that – he was a ‘Christian’ after all! Last time I checked, the only infallible person in Christianity was Jesus (as), so I’m not sure how Bush gained that status!
My parents are also very pro-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Palestine, anti-Lebanon & Syria, very Republican, and now proud members of the Tea Party. They believe that I am already brainwashed due to having gone to a “liberal, socialist” university for graduate school, and often dismiss anything I have to say about politics or society in general. Despite having more education than they do (in my immediate family – my extended family has some doctors and PhDs), my education is dismissed as useless, liberal ideology and not anything worthwhile.
In fact, my family, both immediate and extended, treat me as an 6 year old child who has no common sense or clue about life in general. Even my brothers treat me in this way, usually dismissing what I have to say or ridiculing me, ganging up against me, laughing at me and questioning my intelligence. As such, I grew up to think that my brothers and father were very smart and I was not. I believed that men in general were smarter than me, and I unconsciously deferred and ‘bowed down’ to any male around me. The males in my family also treat my mom in the same way, never taking her seriously and ridiculing her and questioning her intelligence on everything. My mom is quite expert at manipulation though (even with me, as I have just recently discovered, after all this time), and while it’s a destructive, unhealthy pattern, it works and she gets what she needs. I’ve always thought that the first person I tell about my conversion would be my mom, but now I realize that that would foolish because she would only use that against me whenever it suited her. My family has the mentality of ‘everyone for themselves’, and will sacrifice someone else for the purpose of saving their own skin.
My family is also very argumentative, negative, critical, and judgmental. I’ve always hated conflict (although there for a few years during puberty I did take on my dad and challenge him about everything to the extent that he thought I should become a lawyer!). My family will argue endlessly and NEVER let anything go, so I learned long ago that it just isn’t worth it. I prefer relationships to be smooth and harmonious, not tumultuous and hostile, so I eventually got in the habit of just letting everything go. Someone would do something to me or make a hurtful comment, and I would just let it go. Again and again and again… to the point now where they just treat me like a stupid child since they know they can get away with it as I won’t stand up to them or challenge them.
Recently, all that has changed, however. After converting, I gained new confidence in myself (perhaps this should be a different post entirely, but I began to accept myself as a female, and realized that having feminine characteristics isn’t an awful thing, but is a strength), and I began to gain knowledge about the truth of the world around me. I was more certain of my opinions and now had a great deal of fact to back it up, and began to stand up for my opinions. Still, they would all start attacking me, so I would eventually give up and change the subject.
In recent months however, I’ve been trying to force myself to see it through to the end, despite the discomfort that it causes. In fact, without going into the details, my mom and I are no longer on speaking terms (her choice, not mine), and my dad got involved (thanks to misinformation and manipulation from my mom) so we’ve had some intense arguments. Even one of my brothers and I got into a fight because of the lies my mom told him, but fortunately I was able to set the record straight and he and I are actually on better terms right now than we have been in years. And none of this going on now has anything to do with my conversion!!
I’ve realized that the only hope I have of being able to tell my family about my conversion without being completely annihilated is to change my relationship with them by getting them to respect me and take me seriously. If I can achieve that, THEN I can tell them of my conversion and only then will they be forced to take it seriously. If I tell them now, they’ll ridicule me, accuse me of being brainwashed, and my dad might even drive all the way down to where I live now with a U-Haul and try to force me to move in with them so they can take care of their senile, mentally retarded daughter! I can only imagine family events – all the focus would be on me and it would be rife with exhaustingly endless arguments and attacks. No one would listen to anything I have to say or even care what reasons I have for believing the way I do.
No, the only solution is to first change my relationship with them, and secondly, keep trying to change their perception of Islam. If I can somehow get them to see Islam as at least just another world religion that is hugely misrepresented in the media and has many similarities to Christianity, then I may be able to put myself on the same level as my atheist and Buddhist relatives. If my family continues to see Islam as evil and as the force on the side of the anti-Christ that Jesus (as) and the Christians will fight against after Jesus returns, then there is no hope for any sort of honest dialogue, discussion, or acceptance.
Very few of my friends know of my conversion as well. Some reasons for this are merely circumstantial; I converted during my last year of graduate school (a different school and city from where I did my undergrad), and began covering my hair when I started an internship in another city. I did see my classmates occasionally for classes during that time, and the reactions were mixed. A few thought I had cancer, one of them did express her sincere support for my choice, and the rest of them either ignored me completely or began to just greet me politely when they saw me but stopped inviting me to hang out with them. I was surprised actually, since I was in a counseling pyschology program and the emphasis in every class was valuing diversity and accepting and supporting people from all walks of life… but apparently this is mere rhetoric and not applied in practice.
I don’t often see my friends from undergrad, as I moved to a different city for grad school and they are all spread out everywhere; many of them are married and are starting families. I saw one of them once though, after converting. She had been to Egypt on a trip and seemed very interested in the culture and religion, and since she is also from a different country, I thought she would be more accepting. So, I decided to tell her about my conversion. Well… she seemed unsure about it and was concerned about what my family would think, especially since she knew me as being a very religious Christian. After she left that day, I never heard from her again.
Another friend from high school told me a while back that he had converted to Catholicism, and was describing the difficulty he had with his parents, who are astutely Pentacostal. I thought perhaps he would understand, since he had gone through a similar experience, so I told him that I also had changed my beliefs, and am pretty sure my parents would be very opposed to it. I refrained from any detail though, as I wanted to see his reaction. He seemed unresponsive, so I didn’t push it further – and yet again, I never heard from him again.
The vast majority of my friends from childhood through graduate school are very conservative Christians, so I know that I would face a very hostile onslaught of condemnation if I decided to declare myself as a Muslim to them all. So… I decided it’s not worth it and have let it go. I don’t see many of them very often anyway, from having moved so much (I’ve moved at least 14 times, to various cities and different states) and have lost touch with people over the years. In fact, I have just moved again to an entirely different state to take a new job, so telling prior friends just isn’t much of a necessity.
I did make one friend recently who is not Muslim nor American, and I have been grateful for her acceptance and for seeing beyond my scarf and liking me for who I really am. But, I’ve just moved and she’s too far away for frequent visiting now.
I don’t know anyone at all in my new city, although I’ve felt encouraged that my colleagues at my new job seem to be very genuinely nice and friendly. I’m not that picky really, I gave up on the impossible task of finding Muslim friends, and am just looking for decent friends in GENERAL. But… in the meantime, as I have nothing to do on the weekends, I can continue to research Islam and read and learn about other aspects of life, and of course – post on my blog. 🙂
So, in sum… life has not been easy since converting, but I realize that I am passing through a very important time and am learning necessary skills to make my life better in the future, inshAllah. Only God knows what the future will hold, and I’m optimistic that no matter what trials and hardships I face, God will protect me and care for me. I will gladly endure any difficulty for the sake of God and for the precious gift of guidance to the right path. Nothing in this world is worth that. The Quran tells us that this life is just a test and trial, and our real life begins afterward. When we keep everything in perspective, the intensity and turmoil subsides and obstacles begin to look more trivial and inconsequential.