Over the years, i have had my share of interaction with new converts. That is, people who choose to embrace the islamic faith. In the process i have built a long list of “Do-Nots”, things not to do to a new muslim. Often times, due to the jubilation and excitement many people step to far in trying to welcome ‘in’ a new brother. Invading the personal space of a person. Some people do it unknowingly, being naïve, whilst other people knowing this, do it anyway. It won’t be fair to say i speak for all the converts, or that my list of the “Do-Nots” covers all the points which makes a new muslim’s life uneasy or uncomfortable in the new found faith.
Many culturally induced muslim communities and islamic circles for that matter, are prime examples of people who step over the line; making a new muslim’s life more miserable than ease, happy and welcoming.
The following are a list of “Do-Nots”, things not to be done when someone takes the shahadah:
1) When someone takes the shahada (testification of Islam), do not bombard him with partisan knowledge. That is, telling him all the reasons why Islam is great. Why the Christians, jews and the rest are wrong. Let him breath, leave him to learn and experience why Islam is great. Rather than forcing it into him.
2) Do not overload a new muslim with hundreds of islamic books, audio CDs, DVDs etc. Overloading him with information will not make him learn anything. As everything will go over his head. Information overload!
3) When someone becomes a muslim just give him the most fundamental knowledge of Islam, teach him the most important thing. The oneness of Allah, At-tawheed. After that, let him digest the knowledge and understand it fully. Until then, do not move on to teaching him the fiqh of wudu, salah etc. Having the correct belief is the most important thing. When someone takes the shahadah, it does not mean he will automatically know all the articles of faith. A person who is coming from a completely different background and a lifestyle may find hard to fully grasp the articles of faith, let alone understand it. Answer any questions he may have, or take him to someone who can, ideally a learned scholar of aqeedah. When the companions would bring someone into the fold of Islam, they would focus on the tawheed before anything else. Many of the born muslims don’t even know the complete articles of faith. So, how can you expect a new muslim to learn it over night or in a week?
4) Often times, when someone becomes a muslim he is paraded in front of everyone. Taken around like a poster boy, from gatherings to gatherings saying ‘look john has become a muslim!’. After the ceremonial welcome, give him some room to breathe!. Not all new muslims want the immediate attention from people. Some prefer to continue living their normal lives, away from all the shenanigans. Whereas others, depending on the person, will be happy to see the warmth of a people, so to speak.
5) When a new muslim is going through difficulties, this is the time to show love and compassion, the warmth and support. Not just in the first five minutes of the ceremonial takbeers. It may be that, a new muslim’s family has rejected him. This is the time he will need to see the warmth and support. Unfortunately, when he needs it the most no one is there to support him.
6) Usually, in the indo-pak communities, when a white or black non-muslim becomes a muslim, one of the first thing they will do is, is give a present. This is nothing more than a ‘goody bag’ which has a shelwar khamis, a hat and a turban inside. Instructing him to wear these clothes. Some do this indirectly, by taking him to gatherings where he will feel out-of-place, in terms of dressing. Oddly expecting a complete stranger to fully become equated with the customs of the muslim indo-pak communities! When in his entire life he has lived, ate, slept and dressed in a completely different way. Do not do this! It makes a person feel intimidated. For the first few days, a new muslim may try to wear these clothes, just to appease his new “muslim” friends. However, fater a while he will begin to distance himself from you. The drastic change will be too much to handle.
7) Do not lay too much emphasise on doing optional deeds and sunnahs. Let a new muslim slowly grow into Islam. Do not expect him to be doing all the adkars and wird of your sufi group! I have seen several sufi groups who, out of their naieveness, tell a new muslim to wear a shelwar khamis, grow a beard and be “seen” as a indo-pak style muslim, within the first week or two of being a muslim! How can someone expect to change a person over night? How can you expect him to value or love the sunnah. When all he is getting is instructions after instructions on what to wear, eat drink and sleep?
8) Do not take a convert to an islamic gathering in a foreign language! As i am from the indo-pak community, i have seen this being done far to many times in our communities. Where a new muslim is dragged, gathering after gathering, to a Urdu speaking majlis (gathering). Even though an event, a gathering or a seminar may have simultaneous translation taking place. This will still not be same as listening to a islamic scholar first hand. Remember the saying, ‘half the meanings of words are lost in translation’. So, even if you have someone who is good at translating, it is not the same as listening to someone first hand. I have seen many new muslims come and go because of this. They get taken to different events which are completely in a foreign language!. How on earth can you expect a new muslim to learn anything? People get bored listening to a lecture in their own language. What to say, when it is being translated by a monotonous person?
Take a new muslim to gatherings which are in his native/mother tongue. In this way he can relate to what is being said and in turn take in the teachings. Take him to gatherings which enliven, entertain aswell as teach Islam, scholars who have a good ability to link with audiences. This will open up a new muslim brother aswell as widening his understanding of deen.
Lastly, as always, there are others points which could be added to the list. But, i believe these are the stand-out, BIG “Do-Nots” which i have noticed. Sometimes the above actions make it harder for a person to transition into an Islāmic life. In some cases a new muslim is pushied out because of these things, and not brought in.
Further reading: The Phases of a Convert Muslim