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Coming of Age Traditions

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 In many religions and cultures, children go through an important rite of passage to mark their transition from child to adult. In Christianity, Roman Catholics have Confirmation; Jews have a Bar Mitzvah (for boys) and a Bat Mitzvah (for girls), celebrated at ages 13 and 12 respectively. Latino girls celebrate Quinceanera, the Japanese recognize young adults at the age of 20 during a ceremony called Seijin Shiki… the list goes on and on.

 

 Now: What about Islam? Islamically, we become baaligh – mature – when we attain the age of puberty, which is determined by the appearance of one of many signs (menstruation for girls, wet dreams and pubic hair for both genders; lacking any of those, age 15).

 

 It’s a momentous time, this time in which we are now formally (and legally, Shari’ah-wise) adults. Our eyes are opened to the adult world, and we have many new responsibilities and duties, and so much to learn!

 

 The topic of this post, however, is not to go into the specifics of puberty, but to focus on another aspect of it – traditions associated with “coming of age,” and whether there are such traditions existent amongst Muslims today.

 

 As far as I know, there is nothing special in Islamic Law, from the Qur’an and Sunnah, that is done to mark the occasion of a youth’s emergence into the adult world. As for Muslim cultures, there seems to be a similar lack of emphasis when a child crosses over to the threshold of adulthood – it tends to be a very quiet, private affair (which is understandable, really, considering the rather sensitive nature of how we “come of age”). A quick Google search rendered only one specific result, on coming of age in Malaysia, although it seems to be what’s most common amongst Muslims.

 

 When I “came of age,” it wasn’t a really big thing for me. It happened, I knew that now I was held accountable in the Sight of Allah, and that was that. I didn’t feel anything different, I didn’t even think much about it – in fact, I felt as much a child that day, and the days after it, as I was before it.

 

 It seems that was also the case with many others – it happened, and while there were often misunderstandings and misconceptions in regards to the issue, there never seemed to be any major “excitement” involved. Mostly it tended to be the cause of a great deal of confusion, misunderstanding, misconceptions, and general ignorance (as mentioned in Amad’s post here).

 

 So what I was thinking was – is it possible for us to create some sort of coming of age tradition for the future generations of Muslims to come? Is there any way we can make this a special moment, a momentous occasion, something that will both welcome and introduce a whole new generation of young adults? Can we even do that, or would it be counted as a bid’ah, as imitating the kuffaar?

 

 Please note that I am not, in an way, shape or form implying that Islam is lacking or incomplete and that we need to introduce something into it; rather, I’m exploring how we handle this important aspect of life, and how we could perhaps change our current trend of general silence or awkward abruptness into something more comfortable and open.

 

 I personally think that it could be something great. It ties into what we discussed about puberty/ sex education with our youth, and furthermore, it has the potential to change it from being a taboo subject and rather be a very frank, yet special, introduction to the ways of the world and the circle of life.

 

 As well, it might prove to be something that will impress upon us youth the magnitude of what has happened to them, this new phase of life that they have entered. I know girls who, though they’ve had “The Talk” already, don’t take it seriously (and if my brothers are an example of the general attitude amongst guys of the same age group, the same goes for boys). To me, coming of age is a serious thing, something that we should be forced to stop, take note of, and think deeply about. As with everything else in Islam, the Islamic stance on this issue encompasses different aspects of our life – physical, mental, and spiritual.

 

As Tariq Nelson often notes, there is a slow but sure emergence of an American (Western?)-Muslim culture as a new generation of young Muslims grows up here, distinct from the “back-home” Muslim culture of the first few generations of immigrants. Perhaps there already exist certain coming-of-age rituals (no doubt different from family to family) – and if not, then maybe constructing our own tradition would help with the confusion that surrounds those of us figuring out a way to comprehensively education the youth on the whole subject of growing up.

 

I suppose another question to think about is whether it’s even necessary to have a coming-of-age tradition in the first place – would a comprehensive continuing education be all we need to introduce our youth to the responsibilities, duties, and privileges (such as they are!) of adulthood; rendering any ‘need’ (I’m not sure what word to use in its place, though I’m aware that need isn’t the right word here) for a special tradition totally obsolete and pointless?

I’m of two minds about it, really – the former is/ was my experience, yet I wonder if establishing some sort of tradition might not make the job easier for parents and help the youth also.

 

Here’s a parting question for parents – if your child has “come of age,” how did you deal with it? Did you make it something “special,” or was it more hushed-up, a “between me, you, and Allah” sort of thing?

 

Related Posts:

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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young Canadian Muslimah, originally from the West Coast of Canada. She writes about whatever concerns her about the state of the Muslim Ummah, drawing upon her experiences and observations within her own local community. You may contact her at anonymouse@muslimmatters.org She is is no longer a writer for MuslimMatters.org.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MR

    August 15, 2007 at 9:46 AM

    You forgot to add “Sweet 16”.

    Anyways, for Muslims, I’d say our “coming of age event” would be the Nikkah/Walima.

  2. Avatar

    ahmed

    August 15, 2007 at 12:16 PM

    Getting a driver’s license.

    Now the teenager’s in charge of a multi-thousand pound vehicle, and is responsible for grocery shopping and running errands.

    :)

    • Avatar

      supermed

      January 17, 2016 at 5:40 AM

      thats a good one for the saudi government

  3. Avatar

    Ibn Ajibah

    August 15, 2007 at 1:13 PM

    Wasn’t there some kind of ‘coming of age’ ceremony mentioned in Alex Haley’s Roots? Those people were/are Muslims. Although, judging from what it entailed (circumcision after puberty), it probably wouldn’t be a huge success here. On the other hand, in the book, it mentions ”manhood training” which included, wrestling, hunting etc.

  4. Amad

    Amad

    August 15, 2007 at 1:14 PM

    MR, great idea…. throw the newly minted adult right into the fray of marriage… that will ensure that there is no adolescence nonsense! Of course, parents would have to deal with 2 crazy teens… not just one!

    Seriously though I am not sure if there is a need of such a tradition. Though I can see some of the benefits and the creation of something to break the ice between parents/children IF that is not already done a long time ago.

  5. Avatar

    SrAnonymous

    August 15, 2007 at 2:18 PM

    Events needn’t be ceremonious, just like getting a licence or your child’s first day of school. However I’ve seen other ways in which coming of age makes its mark at my children’s Islamic school. The girls who are not praying all get a sense of camaraderie as yet another joins their flock.
    For parents it’s a tricky time as their “child” is now accountable and yet they don’t want to keep on at their child,” you have to pray now…it’s fard” “you have to dress like this all the time now..” “nag, nag, nag”
    It’s a time of transition that no matter how hard we had tried to get them used to salah, hijab etc, this age *gulp* is the real deal.
    And that’s just what’s happening on the outside.

  6. Avatar

    Ummaziza

    August 15, 2007 at 4:11 PM

    My vote is to keep it between parents and the child without any outside recognition.

    Reason 1 – The problem with the children of Adam (as) is that when cultural or non-religious things are added amongst the people, future generations often start to include them as part of or believe that they are a part of acts of worship.

    Reason 2: I personally appreciate the beauty in the quiet “unrecognized” transition that our children enjoy. In fact, if we reflect on it, everything about our lives as muslims is un-ceremonial (by contrast to the nations before us (some of which were mentioned at the beginning of the post)). In the strictest Islamic sense, our marriages, births, funerals, holidays are all incredibly simple, though people consistently try to blow them out of proportion and lose the focus of the real purpose at hand. If we follow the example of the Prophet (sws) simple and unceremonial (but consistent in duty and sincerity) is best.

    Reason 3: In this Western society especially, where everything is about the outside “show” of things, and very little focus on the essence of matters and one’s personal responsibility toward them, we should really fight the urge to make a big deal of things.

    Reason 4: We should train our children (and ourselves) to focus on what their responsibilities are when they come of age (i.e. salat, increased household obligations, training for future role as parents and spouses) and not on the fact that they have lived a certain number of years.

    Reason 5: We are the best nation, if we follow this complete way of life as we should – what we have is perfect.

    Wallahu ‘alim.

  7. Avatar

    Faiez

    August 15, 2007 at 4:16 PM

    “how we could perhaps change our current trend of general silence or awkward abruptness into something more comfortable and open.”

    I would say, the solution to not being comfortable and open would be to start being comfortable and open. Making a tradition will probably seem like a good idea now, but down the years it’ll just be something “corny” to young kids who won’t take it seriously.

    Just start treating the kids like adults and they’ll start acting like it. If you want to teach some responsibility, give them responsibility.

  8. Avatar

    luz dedios

    January 1, 2009 at 12:20 PM

    AS
    I think if you are a hispanic muslim family, a quinceañera would be fine if tailored. For example. The girl could have a small gathering of friends, wearing her most beautiful dress for the day and celebrate. I mean face it, for sisters, the best time we have is looking forward to a sisters only gathering where we can dress up and take off hijab, wear make up and be girly girls and party. In addition, the girl could begin w/recitation of qur’an to show how serious she has been studying quran. like a reward for her memorizing a certain amount. Then party to celebrate becoming 15. This would help the girls b/c in our society most of our youth are bombarded w/peer pressure this would be there time to shine. Ok so what if they aren’t hispanic, then they could celebrate something similar, say a sweet sixteen or terrific 12 or 13. I know my children have attended bar mitzvahs and never requested anything like it but I appreciated the meaning behind the ceremony. My girls look forward to a quiñceanera b/c of their hispanic roots. They proudly recognize they are muslim first but appreciate their ethnicity as well. As for as bidah, we can take from a culture that which is not shirk/haram. I’m not advocating for muslims to start a tradition but if it is part of their culture then why not continue it as long as it is islamic.

  9. Avatar

    Younes

    April 10, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    I have just become 14. Im wondering when i will be coming of age?

  10. Avatar

    nobody

    November 11, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    ugh! ! why more hair and responsibilities?! ?! ?! no!

    • Avatar

      ben arfa

      November 17, 2013 at 5:36 AM

      stop being dirty

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  13. Avatar

    Salam

    February 16, 2018 at 3:53 AM

    I think a small gift to both boy/girl is nice. Islam encourages gift giving.

    And just having one on one time with your child explaining the obligations and celebrating with words. I mean all these years they just imititate you and talk so much if growing up.

    You can say
    You will be with us for sahoor
    Praying salah on special prayer mat
    Being more like baba/mama in avoiding certain situations like non mahram etc

    Simple yet special

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#Society

The Culture Debt of Islamic Institutions

The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

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Our community institutions are in debt – cultural debt. And the bill is due.

There are major consequences when the bill comes due on a debt you owe. Personal debt can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure and the loss of your home.

If paid off before the bill comes due, debt can be a tool. Many communities in North America have utilized the qardh hasanah (goodly loan) as a way to expedite construction projects and then pay people back over time. When businesses fail to pay debt back, they are forced to liquidate and go out of business to satisfy their creditors. In extreme cases, like the economic crisis of a few years ago, major institutions repeatedly utilizing debt as a tool became over-leveraged, creating a rippling collapse.

Financial debt is not the only type of debt an organization carries. Every decision made by an organization adds to a balance sheet of sorts. Other types of debt can be technical, or even cultural.

Consider a new company that keeps making the decision to cut corners with their technology infrastructure – creating ‘technical’ debt. At a certain point, the infrastructure will need to be replaced. If not properly planned for, the cost to fix it could cripple the company.

Put another way, impatience and short-term decision making create (non-financial) debts that can destroy an organization.

The cultural debt for an organization, especially Islamic organizations, can be the most devastating.

These decisions may appear rational or well-intentioned compromises, but they come at a cost.

For example, if a community prioritizes money into a construction project instead of an imam or youth director, what is the cost of the compromise? A 5-year construction project means an entire segment of youth who will be aged anywhere between 13 and 18 risk being disconnected from the masjid.

What about the cost of marginalizing the one sister on the board multiple times such that other sisters become disenchanted and unengaged. Or what if the marginalized board member is a youth, or a convert, or a person of color? How is the collateral damage to those segments of the community assessed?

What about when the same 2 or 3 people (even without an official title) remain in charge of a masjid and aggressively push out people not in line with their agendas? Dedicated and hard-working volunteers will end up leaving and going to other communities.

What about when a few people are responsible for creating an environment so toxic and exhausting that volunteers don’t want to come to the masjid anymore? And they get so burned out that they refuse to get involved in a masjid again? Who is going to pay the bill for all the talent that’s been driven away?

What is the spiritual debt on a community that refuses to invest in an Imam or scholar for over 10 years? An entire generation will grow up in that masjid without a local resource to take guidance from. What is the impact on those kids when they grow up to get married and have their own children?

What is the cost of having overly-aggressive daily congregants who yell at people, make people feel uncomfortable, and ultimately make them want to stay away from the masjid?

Will the construction committee that decided to build a customized dome instead of a more adequate women’s prayer space ever make it up to them?

What is the cost on a community of building a massive albatross of a school that can’t cover its own overhead – and yet services less than 5% of a community’s children?

What is the cost on a congregation when the Friday khutbah becomes associated entirely with fundraising instead of spiritual development?

Did anyone plan to repay this cultural debt when they were making decisions on behalf of the community? Who is paying attention to it?

Some communities are able to shift, and make strides. Some communities are able to recognize a larger vision for growing and developing a community spiritually.

For other communities, they are now over-leveraged. The culture debt is due. To continue the financial analogy, they’re at the point of declaring bankruptcy.

These are the masjids that are empty. These are the ones where, pardon the crassness, after a few people die off, the masjid will most likely die out as well because there is no community left to take over.

These are the communities that people avoid, where they refuse to volunteer, and eventually where people stop donating.

The culture debt of the community is that people no longer feel a part of the community, and therefore the infrastructure they worked so hard to build will crumble.

Cultural bankruptcy is the loss of people.

Can the culture debt be repaid? Is there a way out? How do you undo the loss of people?

I was really hoping to have a nice and tidy 5-step action plan to fix this. The reality is, it’s not going to be easy. People don’t realize the collateral damage they’ve caused over the course of 10-20 years despite the good intentions they had.

How do you get them to accept responsibility, much less change?

It’s not going to happen. The change will be outside the masjid. This means there will be a continued rise in third spaces. Parents are using online tutors instead of Sunday schools, making their children even less attached to the masjid. There will be an increase in small groups of families getting together in their homes instead of the masjid to try and build a sense of community. There will be an entire generation of new adults who will not even desire an attachment to the masjid beyond the Friday and funeral prayers.

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them)

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them).Click To Tweet

We all see the masjids in our community that have been hit hardest by this culture debt. They’re the ones that used to be full and are now empty – while the same 2 or 3 people remain in charge for literally decades. They’re the ones that we fear will eventually close down or be sold off due to a lack of any real community – because the community was never invested in to begin with.

Those in positions of influence should seriously take account of the consequences of their actions on the community. Recognize the wrongs that were done and do your best to rectify them. At the least, seek forgiveness for the ramifications of your actions.

We can no longer make the excuse of having to do what we had to do in order to get institutions up and running from scratch. As the saying goes – what got you here won’t get you there. The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

And now we see the consequences of those decisions. The culture debt is due, and we might not be able to pay it back.

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#Life

I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

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#Life

Convert Story: To Ask Or Not to Ask, That is the Question

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“How did you convert to Islam” is a question that is commonly asked to those who convert to Islam. While the short answer to this question is, “I said shahada”, the long (and more detailed) answer is one that is commonly expected.

It is important to acknowledge that the majority of “born Muslims” who ask this question do such out of good intentions. For this reason, I wrote this piece out of a place of love and not out of a place of judgment or hatred. While it is important for “born Muslims” to be mindful of how they ask this question, it is equally important for converts to not hold ill will towards born Muslims who ask this question. Due to the fact that Islamophobia is rampant in both the media and political discourse, many “born Muslims” are naturally shocked and emotional when they meet people who accept Islam. Some “born Muslims” have also had limited interactions with converts and therefore, to them, it is not only shocking for them to meet converts, but they are genuinely unaware of certain etiquettes when it comes to asking a convert for his or her story.

In this piece, I am going to write about a pet peeve that is shared among many Muslim converts. While I cannot speak for every single convert, I can say that based on innumerable conversations I have had with fellow converts, there is one thing most of us agree on and it is this; it is rude to ask a convert about his or her conversion story when you haven’t built a relationship with the convert. This piece will explain why many converts consider such a question to be intrusive. The purpose of this article is to better educate the “born Muslim” community on how they can do a better job in support of converts to Islam. In this piece, I will break down the reasons why this question can come off as intrusive if it isn’t asked in a proper manner. I will also include personal anecdotes to support my position.

I would like to conclude by saying that I do not discourage “born Muslims” from asking this question entirely, rather I am merely arguing that this question should be asked with the best of adab.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:  “Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” (Tirmidhi) For this reason, such a question should be asked for purpose and it should be done with the best of manners. This is supported by the fact that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al Muwatta)

Note: For the sake of avoiding confusion, the term “born Muslim” is defined as anyone who was brought up in a Muslim household.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask about the person’s personal relationship with God

Within the context of a friendship, it is generally understood that friends will share personal details with each other. However, it is also generally understood that it is rude to ask people you just met personal questions. To ask a new acquaintance a personal question in most cases comes off as intrusive. This is especially the case in which you ask a person about his or her relationship with God.

For example, there are women who do not wear hijab. Even if we do (for a moment) ignore the Islamic ruling concerning hijab, we should all agree that a woman’s reason for wearing (or not wearing) hijab is a personal matter that is between said woman and God. If one was to ask a woman who doesn’t wear hijab why she doesn’t wear it, that would be intrusive because such a question would involve interrogating said woman about her relationship with God.

Another example concerns a married couple. If one was to meet a married person for the first time, it can be considered rude to ask said person about his or her relationship with his or her spouse.

When one asks a convert about his or her choice to convert, one is literally asking said convert about his or her relationship with God.

I am not saying that it is wrong in all cases to ask such a question. However, one should be mindful of the fact that because this is a personal question, one should have at least have built some form of a friendship with said person before asking.

convert friendship hugs

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is another way of asking, “Why do you believe in Islam?”

Many people identify to a faith tradition because it was part of their upbringing. If you were to ask a person who was born Muslim, “why are you Muslim?” you might hear said Muslim respond with, “I am Muslim because I was raised Muslim” and you wouldn’t hear a detailed answer beyond this.

In most cases, a convert to Islam (or any other religion) did such after research and critical thinking. To convert to a new religion involves not only deep thinking but a willingness to step into the unknown.

I have on many occasions told my story to people. In most cases I will ask the person “why do you believe in Islam?” I am then disappointed when I find out that the only reason the person is Muslim is due to upbringing. While I am not saying that said person’s faith is invalid or less than mine, a person who only identifies with a religion due to upbringing is a person who didn’t engage in critical thinking.

Any relationship should be built upon equality and mutual benefit. If I as a convert am able to provide a well thought out answer as to why I believe in Islam, I expect a well thought out answer to the same question from the person who initially asked me.

Again, while I am not saying it is wrong in all cases to ask, a born Muslim should ask himself or herself “why do I believe in Islam?” In my opinion, there are many who are born into Muslim families who don’t truly believe until later in their lives. Those Muslims in my opinion (and mine alone) are similar to converts.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to perform labor.

In some cases, “born Muslims” expect converts to tell their stories. I can remember a few incidents in which I have been asked to tell my story and I politely declined. In response, the person became angry. This to me is a symptom of entitlement. Nobody is entitled to know anything about anyone else (aside from people with whom one has a natural relationship with).

In addition, one should be cognizant of the fact that converts typically get asked this question repeatedly. Thus after a significant amount of time, a convert is prone to get tired of repeating the same question over again repeatedly. Naturally, it can become exhausting eventually.

While I do not believe it is wrong to ask this question in all cases, one should not ask this question to a convert from a place of entitlement. I can think of cases where I have been asked this question by “born Muslims” and when I have refused to provide an answer, they have gotten angry at me. This is entitlement.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to explain his or her personal life.

Backbiting is one of the worst sins in Islam. Another major sin is to disrespect one’s parents. Thus we can conclude that backbiting about one’s parents is a huge sin.

This is evidenced by the fact that Allah has said (ﷻ) “We have enjoined on humankind kindness to parents.” (Quran 29:8)

A typical follow-up question to “Why did you convert?” is “How did your parents react?” This in many cases puts the convert in a position where one may feel pressured to mention some negative details about his or her parents. In Islam, parents are to be respected, even if they aren’t Muslim.

Before asking a convert this question, one should be mindful of not putting unnecessary pressure on the convert to commit this injustice.

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

However, I do maintain a firm belief that in any true friendship, things will be shared. I don’t think it is wrong in itself to ask a convert about his or her story provided that there already exists a relationship where personal information can be shared. It is highly suggested to hang out with the person first and then ask the convert for his or her story.

As a personal rule of mine, unless I have hung out with the person one on one at least once (or a few times in group gatherings) I don’t tell any born Muslims my conversion story. Naturally, I only share personal details with people I consider to be a friend. If I would hang out with the person, I consider that person to be a friend.

The reason I am also hesitant to share my story with just anyone who asks me is because I can think of countless cases of when I have shared my story to people I have never seen or heard from again. I choose to exert my agency to share personal details of my life to people who I consider to be part of my life. While many Muslims are happy when people convert, many Muslims also fail to provide any form of support for said convert after conversion. I have seen too many cases of when a person recites shahadah, people pull their phones out to record it, but very few will give the convert his or her number. I genuinely believe that many “born Muslims” fail to see the big picture in this regard.

Before asking a convert for his or her story, you should ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person. If you are not comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person, there is nothing wrong with that. However, you shouldn’t expect the convert to share personal details if you aren’t comfortable sharing personal details. Even if you have built a close friendship with someone, you still aren’t expected to share every detail of your life to someone. Even if you consider a convert to be a close friend, you should still respect a convert’s wishes to not share his or her story.

Conclusion

While I have addressed concerns about the tendency of “born Muslims” to ask converts about their journeys, I want to acknowledge that most people have good intentions. In Islam, the natural state of any person is one of righteousness.

I firmly believe that a friendship that isn’t built on trust and the sharing of personal information isn’t a genuine friendship. Therefore the key term in this context is “friend”. If you wish to ask a convert his or her story, please make sure the following conditions are met:

  1. You are already friends with the convert to a point where asking a convert about his or her relationship with God isn’t an intrusive question. Ask yourself, “Are we close enough where we can share other personal details of our lives with each other?”
  2. You have a well thought out reason as to why you believe in Islam.
  3. You don’t feel entitled to know about the convert’s journey and that you will allow the convert to choose not to share such information if the convert doesn’t wish to.
  4. You don’t probe into the convert’s relationships with other people.
  5. You aren’t just asking the question to somehow feel validated about your belief in Islam.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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