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One Special Moment of Mercy

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pier.jpgI belong to a book discussion group whose members are predominantly converts. We are currently reading Even Angels Ask by Jeffrey Lang. I’ve struggled through the book, disliking some of his broad generalizations about people and feeling concern about some of his ways of deriving knowledge.

Yesterday, however, we got to a point in the book which brought me to tears and boosted my faith. It’s in a chapter in which Lang discusses some of the challenges American converts face, and ends with a discussion of the Qur’an and how this holy book alone creates and sustains faith despite all the challenges inherent in breaking away from your former beliefs and embracing Islam.

The last couple of paragraphs address the spiritual aftermath of experiencing the Qur’an, and the place it brings us to, where the choice is clear and all that remains is to make sense of the decision, to ourselves and to others. I want to share with you the final paragraph, which I believe summarizes the experience of the convert to Islam in just a few words:

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Those who choose Islam soon discover that, for the rest of their lives, they will have to face the following question repeatedly: “How did you become a Muslim?” They will formulate various partial explanations at different times according to the context in which it is asked. However, all of us who made that decision know that even we cannot fully comprehend it, for the wisdom and workings of God are often subtle and unfathomable. Perhaps the simplest and truest statement we can offer is this: At one special moment of our lives – a moment that we could never have foreseen when we were younger – God, in His infinite knowledge and kindness, had mercy on us. Maybe He saw in us a need so great, a pain so deep, or an emptiness so vast. And maybe, He also saw in us a readiness. However He made it come to be, to Him we are eternally thankful. Truly, all praise and thanks belong to God.

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Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Gohar

    April 16, 2008 at 6:23 AM

    I’m not convinced converts think about this question more than a raised practising muslim. A convinced muslim is a convinced muslim and a nervous muslim a nervous muslim, regardless of which family he was brought up in. All the raised muslims i know of who then started practicing in their adolescence hae had to wrestle with this issue.

    Although no doubt true, muslims definitely need to have a better answer than this. Otherwise we’ll just end up looking stupid. The answer can be viewed by others as the last resort of a coward, if it isn’t backed up by something more substantial.

    Currently i frame my answer using a chronological template.

    e.g.
    before revelation: honest, people around him who knew him best later became believers
    revelation: illiterate, yet superb arabic, able to memorise, talks about topics he woudn’t know
    after revelation: lived acc to revelation (e.g. tahajjud); always helped by Allah; never exposed by allah to have had ulterior motives
    after death: no other human’s history better preserved so no one else better placed to be example for mankind; followers still adore and follow him;

  2. ruth nasrullah

    April 16, 2008 at 8:48 AM

    Gohar, I’m not clear what question you’re talking about. If it’s “How did you become a Muslim?” Lang is referring specifically to
    people who converted to Islam. I would throw my two cents in and say it’s a question probably heard more often by Caucasians like myself. No matter who the question is directed to, it’s often accompanied by bewilderment, and what Lang is pointing out is that for all the stories and descriptions of the things that led up to becoming Muslim, the real truth of how it happened is in our hearts and really can’t be described.

  3. Gohar

    April 16, 2008 at 9:33 AM

    Its no big deal really. I interpreted the “how” question as being more of a “WHY are you (still) a muslim?”, since i thought that if it was merely asking about the events around the conversion then it wouldn’t be a hard question to answer, nor would he be talking about ‘comprehending that decision’ and ‘wisdom’. If it is the former, though, then the reasons for a convert being a muslim shouldn’t be any different to the reasons why a raised muslim would be.

  4. Gohar

    April 16, 2008 at 9:40 AM

    What i partly mean to say (please give us an edit option for our posts) is that the story of HOW shouldn’t be important, compared to the WHY. In any aspect of your life the HOW is hard to explain {e.g. HOW did you decide to become a lawyer, HOW did you know your spouse was the one etc) and yet being asked that shouldn’t i would think lead to bewilderment or anxiety. This is why i feel that the answer by Lang is really addressing the WHYness.

  5. Amad

    April 16, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    Touching mashallah.
    I have always wondered about the challenges of converting and how Allah’s mercy must surround converts to bear the hardships that many of them face.

  6. Gohar

    April 16, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    The other point i want to make is that converts really need to stop thinking that the journey they went through to find Islam was somehow more emotional or difficult than what the raised muslim goes through. It implies a spiritual/emotional/intellectual superiority over raised muslims, which i do not believe exists.

  7. Gohar

    April 16, 2008 at 9:53 AM

    Converts need to come back down to earth. May Allah bless them and all muslims.

  8. Aboo Uthmaan

    April 16, 2008 at 10:17 AM

    I saw a video in which Dr. Lang talks about his reversion to Islam, and although I disagree with some of the things he said, he has the ability (unlike most of us converts/reverts) to articulate his reasons for becoming a Muslim in the first place.

    On a different note, Br. Gohar, what do you mean by “converts need to come back down to earth”?

  9. Charles

    April 16, 2008 at 10:26 AM

    @Gohar
    It may be that the reasons for remaining a Muslim are the same as converting for a few. But considering that most people remain in the religion in which they were born and that few convert, it seems that those converting need something that pushes them from one religious framework to a new one, something that must be stronger than the inertia of remaining in one’s birth religion. In science terms, while no catalyst is necessary to remain in one’s present attractor space, there must be a catalyst to cross the threshold of moving from one attractor space to another, as when water becomes ice or vapor.

    One way in which I think the reason is the same for a few is the shift that is made when a Muslim in name becomes a Muslim in truth, when something catalyzes their inner heart so that they move from surface practice to real “submission” to Allah.

    Of course, we can’t judge internals from external appearance, and not all converts have the inner heart of submission to Allah. But with Lang, it would seem that a real religious shift, whether for convert or native Muslim, depends on more than reason: It depends on the catalytic mercy of Allah.

  10. Ruth Nasrullah

    April 16, 2008 at 10:28 AM

    Gohar, you’re definitely misreading the post. As far as whether or not a converts’ experience is “superior” to a born Muslim’s experience, your comments may be meant to humble me but in fact they belittle me. Thanks for your contribution.

  11. Gohar

    April 16, 2008 at 10:36 AM

    I was referring to what i had said in my post at 9.51am, namely that what converts go through is no different in severity to what raised muslims go through. Recognisong that raised muslims also go through difficulties may help them feel more a part of the wider muslim community, rather than being ‘converts’ all their lives.

  12. Gohar

    April 16, 2008 at 10:43 AM

    Surely the catalyst that you are referring to is nothing other than genuine sincerity. Is the genuine sincerity of a convert any different than the genuine sincerity of a raised muslim practicing his religion? Since we are talking about sincerity, you example of inertia cannot apply here charles, i’m sure you must agree, as it would mean that sincerity is not necessary to remain part of a true religion.

  13. Charles

    April 16, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    @Gohar
    The other point i want to make is that converts really need to stop thinking that the journey they went through to find Islam was somehow more emotional or difficult than what the raised muslim goes through. It implies a spiritual/emotional/intellectual superiority over raised muslims, which i do not believe exists.

    I don’t disagree with this, especially the part about any “superiority”. Both native and convert Muslims have particular strengths and weaknesses so that they can learn from one another and make each other stronger in faith–just as different schools (nationalities, etc.) can learn from each other.

  14. Sunie

    April 16, 2008 at 12:54 PM

    Assalamo’allaekum, and JazakaAllahukhair for a bit of an insight into how a convert feels about the mysteries of Allah’s guidance. I found it very interesting how the feelings are somewhat similar to what a person who rediscovers Islam feels. Indeed, only Allah knows best how he wills for some to be guided over others and the ultimate justice in his choice. I often look back at the things I used to do and am amazed at how I possibly could have ended up improving to my current state. There is still a long long way to go and indeed only Allah can guide us.

    “And indeed, Allah invites to the land of Peace: and he guides whomever he pleases to the straight path” Surah Yunus
    [As always the arabic speech of Allah is much more beautiful]

  15. Sunie

    April 16, 2008 at 12:58 PM

    Surah Yunus (Verse 25 – 7:07)
    English translations do no justice :)

  16. Sunie

    April 16, 2008 at 12:59 PM

    Surah Yunus part 1 (on youtube)

  17. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    April 16, 2008 at 1:03 PM

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr for posting this. I have never read anything by Mr. Lang because I get the sense it’s not my cup of tea, but that passage was beautiful. It’s beautiful of course because it cuts through all the blah blah blah and just states the truth.

    I remember Dr. Abdul-Hakim Jackson saying that he doesn’t “believe” conversion stories. I’m not 100 percent sure what he meant but I also thought he was hitting on something.

    When people constantly ask a convert about their accepting of Islam, they are really asking how, not why? Just like when a non-Muslim asks about Ramadan, they are interested more so in the hows of it than the whys. Sometimes someone really close to you or an especially sincere or deep person will really want to know why but most of us are more interested in the superficial.

    As a means of da’wah I know that some ‘converts’ will turn the question away from how they became Muslim in the past to answering why they are still Muslim today in an attempt to give a message to that person that may make them consider Islam or strengthen their emaan.

    If someone started talking about stuff like Gohar mentions in the first comment, has this kinda stuff ever really put emaan into someone’s heart? I really can’t even conceive of that in real life, but I know people are all very different (for example I love books more than anyone I know but they’re are still a large percentage of books in any bookstore that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy). I don’t believe people develop faith as a result of rational argument.

    Oh and Gohar, you are absolutely right that converts are not “superior” to “born Muslims.” (But at least for those of us from Ahl al-Kitab, we do get a double reward! :) May Allaah (swt) remove any pride or arrogance from all of our hearts. Seriously, though I think that people have different experiences and I think whenever assumptions are made about converts or “immigrant” Muslims or whatever, even if a lot of times it is done with a good and sincere intention to help, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. So, for example while I agree that efforts to provide support and assistance to converts are important, I hate most discussions of such efforts because they so often start with assumptions and generalizations about converts, many of which I don’t identify with or recognize.

  18. Charles

    April 16, 2008 at 2:04 PM

    I’m not sure that I would limit catalyst to “genuine sincerity,” but of course, the essence of “genuine sincerity” is the same, when present, for native and convert Muslims. My point was that many who practice religion do not have genuine sincerity. What they have is social indoctrination and submission to tradition rather than to Allah. In this case, inertia does apply.

  19. N.Y

    April 16, 2008 at 3:25 PM

    Assalaamu Alaikum,

    Just to say that ‘Even Angles Ask’ is areally worthwhile read, it’s not so much a book about how Lang became Muslim (i think he wrote another book covering that theme), rather he disscusses the very personal challenges he faced once he converted. It’s a really honest and sincere account of how he struggled to fit in to a community that made certain assumptions about converts, and funnily enough if you read the book Lang actually discusses instance where he becomes irrated with ‘born’ muslims constant enquiries as to how he accepted Islam. It’s as much a story about how Lang dealt with being labled a ‘convert’ as it is about how ‘born muslims’ dealt with and reacted to having a ‘convert’ in their community. He describes how he just wanted to be Jeffery Lang, a american guy who happened to be muslim – not a ‘convert’, or the american guy who accepted Islam.

    Sunie – completely agree that ‘rediscovering’ your deen parallels ‘coversion’ one many levels .

    Any how – really enjoying the discussion – so thank you!

  20. AbuAbdAllah

    April 16, 2008 at 4:54 PM

    bismillah. [quote]However He made it come to be, to Him we are eternally thankful. Truly, all praise and thanks belong to God.[/quote]

    mashaAllah, i think those two sentences are the ones that make the most impact. and these two sentences are ones that every Muslim can relate to, every Muslim who has ever really contemplated his faith.

    there is a story of a tabii who told a sahaba how envious he was that the sahaba radi Allaho anho had lived in the time of the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam, had learned directly from him, and come to Islam that way. the sahaba remonstrated him appropriately: he told the tabii that such a wish should be abandoned, and that he should be content with the Qadr and Mercy of Allah that he was born to Muslim parents. because so many people lived at the time of the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam and did not convert. so many people faced fitnah, were warned of the consequences of denying truth, and still denied it.

    innalhamdolillah. there is a great reward inshaAllah for every person who overcomes the barriers between him and faith in Allah. from surah al-kahf: “innalladhi aminu wa amilussaalihaathi, inna laa nudheeuu ajra man ashsana amala. olaaika lahum jannatu…”

    Allah subhanahu wata ala chooses for each of us the best and most appropriate tests. for so many who are born Muslims, those tests come in the quality of their submission to him.

    and for those of who walk across those coals, we know that the “one special moment of our lives – a moment that we could never have foreseen when we were younger” is often in the middle of a test of faith. and if we turn to Allah then, that too is from Him, “in His infinite knowledge and kindness, [He] had mercy on us”, too.

  21. Traveller

    April 16, 2008 at 6:10 PM

    Asalaamu Alaykum wa rehmatullah,
    JazakhAllahu khairen for sharing with us that inspiring snippet. SubhanAllah! Whilst rationality does aid in comprehending the truth, the real ‘understanding’ is given by the Guidance of Allah, and that is something we can never overestimate no matter ho hard we try. Alhamdulillah we are Muslims!

    @AbuAbdAllah : Brother could you please find the reference for that situation that arose between the sahaba and tabi’, i would like to share it with a brother of mine that i spoke to about this very topic. JazakhAllahu khairen.

    Wassalaam

  22. Nirgaz

    April 16, 2008 at 6:17 PM

    That touched me SubhanAllah cause it got to my core…
    I need to reread that especially when I am having a rough day with life itself, to recenter me. Cause when I have that rush of new convert feeling, nothing gets me down. Recently the new Native deen cd, Not Afraid to Stand Alone, its title track, had me feeling that way. Its a very impowering song.

    Also…
    I happen to believe that this feeling can be experienced by those that can to Islam from something else and those that rediscovered their Islam (meaning those Muslims who were brought up in a Muslim household but then got bit by the eman bug and rediscovered their own faith).
    Umsalih

  23. Sara

    April 16, 2008 at 6:49 PM

    Assalaamu Alaikum all,
    I don’t have time to read through all of this discussion, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciated the post. It brought me to tears as well. Today I ran into an old friend, one from long ago and I was asked this very question. It is not that it is difficult to answer… I mean, I know the answer. For the most part. But most of it didn’t come from me, really, and that is the part that is hard to articulate. Anything I say feels inadequate and shallow and entirely false. There is not one moment to point to, and only Allah knows how I became a Muslim.
    Anyway, off to class. MashAllah this is a great topic.

  24. ibn insaan

    April 16, 2008 at 6:58 PM

    beautiful post masha’Allah! It was so kind of yo to share it with us – may God reward you immensely, ameen!

  25. ruth nasrullah

    April 16, 2008 at 9:35 PM

    Thanks for all the positive comments – glad you guys got it ;)

  26. ruth nasrullah

    April 16, 2008 at 9:41 PM

    BTW Abu Noor, it was the generalizatinos and assumptions Lang made about converts that turned me off. He even has a “personality profile” of potential converts.

  27. Sunie

    April 16, 2008 at 11:39 PM

    Woaa! Personality profiles? SubhanAllah, Allah guides and misguidance by his own will. Creating a personality profile is not befitting. Although I do understand that people who convert can sometimes ‘seem’ to exhibit certain traits. However, if its about personalities then Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, would never have found Islam, would he?

  28. Navaid Aziz

    April 17, 2008 at 9:39 PM

    Jazaakillahu khairan for sharing that.

    Very touching indeed.

    I remember when we were studying the chapter of Imaan in our ‘aqeedah class one of the highlights of the class was how our Islam is a favor and a blessing from Allah. Those who have been truly blessed with it are patient upon the trials faced in preserving it, thankful for all the good that has come out of it, and hopeful for a good ending through it.

    وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ فِيكُمْ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ لَوْ يُطِيعُكُمْ فِي كَثِيرٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ لَعَنِتُّمْ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ حَبَّبَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَزَيَّنَهُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَكَرَّهَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْكُفْرَ وَالْفُسُوقَ وَالْعِصْيَانَ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الرَّاشِدُونَ
    فَضْلاً مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَنِعْمَةً وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

    And know that among you is the Messenger of Allah . If he were to obey you in much of the matter, you would be in difficulty, but Allah has endeared to you the faith and has made it pleasing in your hearts and has made hateful to you disbelief, defiance and disobedience. Those are the [rightly] guided. [It is] as bounty from Allah and favor. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.

    49:7-8

  29. Faiez

    April 18, 2008 at 12:35 PM

    SubhanAllah

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