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A Converts Dilemma: I’m Still Who I am – I am Ryan

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Guest Submission: By Br. Ryan.

It’s almost time for fajr and I’m sound asleep. The athan begins and it startles me awake with fear. The whole city is awash with the loudspeakers yelling something in Arabic that I can’t understand. The morning is cold, and I’m laying on concrete in an abandoned building in Iraq. No one in this town knew that the six of us were hiding amongst them: watching, observing and hoping no one would find us. This was my introduction to Islam, a baptism by fire.

The purpose of the above is to show the beauty or miracle of how each convert comes to Islam. My conversion story is for another time; what I want to address is what happened after I became a Muslim.

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Unfortunately I never received a book on what were the next steps for me to take as a new Muslim, and I was left adrift in the endless sea of information to fend for myself. To look at me, you would never guess that I am a white convert who sports a Marine haircut with a clean shave everyday. You can often spot me as the “guy wearing shorts” somewhere in the back of the masjid during jumah prayer.

Why do I mention this? Since I converted to Islam three years ago, I have seen the battle that converts face as to what identity to take on after they have accepted Islam. A lot seems to depend upon who gets a hold of a convert before they take shahada. Many converts seem to think identity comes with the external clothes they wear or cultural practices they assume.

What took me a couple of years to figure out was that Islam and culture are not one and the same! The guy who came up and yelled at me for wearing shorts was actually practicing his culture and not his faith. So how do you tell the difference? I’m not sure, but one tip is that if you want to stop getting bothered, marry into one of these cultures like I did (go desis!).

For some this may not be a option, so where does that leave you? I’m sorry to say you will be the ones left behind and not accepted into any community. You will probably have to attend jummah sitting somewhere by yourself, never get invited to the awesome dinner parties, and have the privilege of enjoying Eid at home alone. Sorry, I didn’t make the rules. Sadly, this is the life of a convert.

I have been blessed with the ability to travel the world and enjoy the differences that this world has to offer. But one doesn’t have to go very far to enjoy the same wonderful experiences. Look around the masjid – look at the wonderful array of colors and cultures within our community. The greatness of Allah’s creations are all around, yet why do we fail to celebrate it? Instead, why do our communities decide to segregate themselves; mocking and pushing away others that don’t fit in, or infecting those new Muslims with our own cultural ignorance.

Before I married, I can not begin to tell you how many times I was yelled at for my clothes or lack of beard. Nor can I explain the stark difference as to how I was treated after I married. Suddenly, I was welcomed into a community that previously would not look at me twice. Should it really take marrying into the community to become a part of the community?

What I have chosen to do is this: to keep my personality, my way of dressing, and remain true to who I am. I can be a Muslim who is an Irishmen and Marine. Sure it is fun to don my shalwar kameez and go to a dinner party, but that doesn’t change who I am at my core, I am still Ryan.

In the end the purpose of this essay is to let converts know that we can be Muslim and still hold onto our identities. That those who push their ignorant cultural beliefs tend not to know the difference between those beliefs and Islam. So, question everything, read, learn, and ask various cultures the same question and see what you get. Most importantly, celebrate the differences amongst us and break the cycle of segregation that exists in our wonderful communities.

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46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. Chris

    January 12, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    Thanks for your insight Ryan.

    As a convert I share many of your experiences, though since I “married in” very early on I missed many of the yelling sessions. I feel that the culture vs. faith issue can not be understated, I’ve heard stories of being yelled at even from people who are born Muslims who have gone to a Masjid wishing to learn more about their faith. Some of the ignorant people we come across in Masjids don’t choose only converts as their only targets.

    Insha Allah, the trend that appears to have begun across the Muslim world and especially in the west, towards practicing Islam as a faith based on the teaching of the prophet (PBUH), rather than part of culture passed down from parents, will continue to gather momentum.

  2. Zuhayr

    January 12, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    dude, people yell at you, what kind of muslims are you hanging out with. jazakAllah for the story, this will increase my understanding of people

    to my knowledge, men have to cover their body from their navel to their knees, this is a part of faith
    Allah knows best.

  3. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    January 12, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    As salaamu ‘alaykum brother Ryan,

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. It is always interesting to learn about different people’s experiences and thoughts.

    I think we should all be careful about assuming that everyone’s experience is the same or that we can speak for everyone (I’m not saying you were trying to, I’m talking to myself).

    I am also an Irish American who converted to Islam My last name is Ryan, my given name was Michael Patrick, I go by a lot of different names but my mother called me Michael Patrick and that will always be my name (as well as Abdul-Malik or Abu Noor)

    I never had a Muslim yell at me for what I was wearing or how I looked or the fact that I proudly identify with my Irish heritage. (Maybe I’ve just blocked it out) I’ve certainly had many people give me many different kinds of advice. Most of it was good advice, some I don’t think was that good, some were better at giving it than others…I ask Allaah to reward everyone who gave me advice sincerely for caring enough about me to do so.

    May Allaah (swt) also reward all those who have accepted Islam and all those who were born in Islam who try their best to support and welcome and help us converts.

    May Allaah have mercy on the ummah of Muhammad (saw).

  4. Sincerity

    January 12, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    lol Br Ryan, even if you were not convert & non-desi looking, you would still have gotten yelled at for coming to Masjid in shorts. I ve witnessed that happening to many desis during sunday school. Also, once an uncle yelled at a brother for coming to Masjid with his earring on LOL .

    They just do not have the concept of ”bigger and more important thing” (brother with ear ring could be doing much worst things outside of Masjid and coming to Masjid could be his chance at guidance) but *sigh* uncles will remain uncles.

    I certainly do not think if it has anything to do with one being desi or not.

  5. Nadia

    January 12, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    Assalamu alaykum brother Ryan and thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I couldn’t agree more on the issue of ‘culture vs. faith’. Unfortunately some Muslims unknowingly fall into the extreme of culture and fail to see anything beyond that. My advise to Muslims is to always welcome everyone and to see beyond what is on the exterior and instead look for the good inside. May Allah fix our intentions and make us all adopt the mannerisms of the Prophet Muhammad (saw). Thanks again.

  6. Abd- Allah

    January 12, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    Brother Ryan, what you described is something that many Muslims deal with, and not just converts.

    You have a point though, that marriage does seem to solve a lot of problems. lol

  7. Junaid

    January 12, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    Asalaamwa’alaikum Br. Ryan,

    May Allah (swt) bless you in all courses of your life and reward you for submission to His Will. Though, in principal, I agree with you that one of our greatest mistakes as Muslims is to turn culture into Islam, I would still recommend caution. Whether it’s foreign or American culture, we shouldn’t let culture dictate our way of life. We need to make sure to first adhere to the teaching of the Qur’an and the Prophet (saw) and then decide on whether to don the thobe or the shorts or favor a 3 ft beard over a 5’oclock shadow. In effort to maintain our identity, we should not sacrifice our deen Remember, Allah (swt) said that <strong>”Indeed, those who lower their voices before the Messenger of Allah – they are the ones whose hearts Allah has tested for righteousness. For them is forgiveness and great reward”.. The only reason i brings this up is because I have fallen into this trap before and pray no one else does.

    Regardless, it is a shame on how we treat our Muslim converts. IMHO, I think our converts are the only people that could really understand what the sahabah when through when Islam came to them. May Allah (swt) forgive us all…

  8. Sayf

    January 12, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    Salaamualaikum!

    Great advice! Getting rid of racism in our community is such a huge priority. I would however have been hesitant to include the mentioning of the religious practice of keeping a beard alongside your criticism of pushing cultural practices. Of course you didn’t say the beard was cultural, but some readers may take it as implied.

    It’s very weird that people were yelling at you to keep a beard, there’s a better way to give advice. Not only that, the advice was stopped after you got married? Strange strange.

  9. Another Ryan

    January 12, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Salaam,

    I’m another convert named Ryan and I thought I’d just share some thoughts of my own. I think the alienation tends to come from both sides – those who are born Muslim and those who convert – and it generally boils down to a language issue. I live near a masjid that is primarily Arabic speaking (they give most talks in Arabic with some translation). I find myself sometimes alienated there, not having a whole lot of people to talk to regularly, even though I know a lot of brothers and live right across the street from the masjid. I’ll say my usual salaams and small talk, but I don’t feel a really strong connection with the masjid, although I do have a really strong relationship with the Imam, which is great. Of course they are all very friendly, and quite welcoming.

    Another hurdle can be the name. I did not change my name when I converted (even though there is an Arabic variant), and I usually always get the “what’s your Muslim name” question when I introduce myself. I will say, however, that the insistence on longer pants and growing a beard are not cultural aspects; these are all part of our deen (remember, ours is a comprehensive faith). In fact, usually I see a lack of beards from the born Muslims, whereas the converts usually always grow them. Islam did not come to replace culture, but it did come to replace that which goes against what Allah has commanded us.

    So I think it’s not really a cultural thing, it’s a language thing. I can strike up a conversation with a brother and feel like I’ve been friends with him for 10 years if he can speak English well, even if he’s from Pakistan, Saudi, India, etc. It may be petty, but language says a lot, and right now our communities are still dominated by people who have recently immigrated, making it harder for converts to integrate.

    • Ameera

      January 12, 2010 at 9:57 PM

      Great comment Masha’Allah! +1

  10. Marwa Sayed

    January 12, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    Salam,

    I was born Muslim into a Muslim family, but I have light skin and hazel eyes, so I still get rather hostile looks sometimes in masjids (and else-where). I am half-Indian, but don’t look it, so Indian people don’t think of me as ‘Indian’. What I find is that the lighter the color of your skin, the more ‘American’ you look, the more people are suspicious of you. It’s racism. And it’s NOT right.

    Sincerely,
    Marwa

  11. Az muslima

    January 12, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    asalamo alaykum – first of all WHAT is DESI?

    Next, as my husband and i are both converts i can feel your pain brother…we feel like we are not part of any group and don’t really fit into the mix…we do not feel the sense of community and are rarely invited to events because we are not from one country or another…when are muslims going to befriend people based on their righteousness?

    • Marwa Sayed

      January 12, 2010 at 6:30 PM

      Desi is the term used to refer to things or people from the Indian/Pakistani area.

    • Ameera

      January 12, 2010 at 10:01 PM

      You are right, sadly, many amongst us see ourselves as Pakistani Muslims and Indian Muslim or Iraqi Muslims. It’s for similar reasons that a Muslim in Pakistan will not want to marry his daughter off to a pious Muslim from, let’s say, Egypt… or a revert, because he somehow can’t “get over” the international boundary lines. If only we used culture to enhance us rather than limit us! Intermarriages, at least, could be so good… healthy mixing of genes too. :)

    • adimeforyourtime

      January 14, 2010 at 12:19 AM

      wa alaikumassalaam,

      while i know this type of hypocrisy and narrow mindedness exists in our masajid, i like many, many others are ashamed of it. if i was at your masjid, i would totally try to be your friend, shake your hand, invite you to things.. and pester you for your story. ;) i hope you’re able to find more friends online. please don’t be discouraged.

      ameera… i know lots of pakistanis married to white/black/hispanic reverts. and one perk is absolutely beautiful children, mashallah

  12. Junaid Subzwari

    January 12, 2010 at 8:05 PM

    Asalaamwa’alaikum,

    It breaks my heart to see so many converts on this thread reply that feel the racism and not being part of the ummah. Is there a chance that maybe someone could write an article (if not done so already) to discuss ways to curb the problem? I’m pretty sure the issues are with the”older generation” and not us young whipper snappers. I’d love to see a collaborative effort where we can pool tactics and strategies that have worked in other communities. This, IMHO, is probably one of the most pressing problems of this society (please note i said ONE of the most implying there are more). Any ideas?

    • Chris

      January 13, 2010 at 5:48 AM

      As salaamu ‘alaykum Junaid,

      I share your opinion that the source of the “yelling“ is primarily the older generations. I also like your idea of collaborating towards workable strategies for resolving the problem.

      I`ll share a strategy that has worked for me in the past.

      Once after the conclusion maghrib salaat during Ramadan, the elderly brother behind me started yelling at me and pointing at my feet. The brother did not speak much english, so I really did not have any idea of what he was saying or what I had done wrong. However, after getting over the initial shock, I made the intention to make amends to the brother in some way. Thereafter, during the month of Ramadan whenever I saw this brother at the Masjid, I made sure to smile at him and share Iftar and do anything else to help him. I found that by the end of Ramadan, we were on very good terms AlhamdilAllah, and both of our families had gotten to know each other quite well.

  13. tuwaylib

    January 12, 2010 at 9:24 PM

    good post…

    my only input is not to get offended when a cultural person tries to correct your islamic practice…although im not a convert, i have been given lessons on how use the finger during tasha-hud, on how long your shorts got to be, and the latest, causing a ruckus in a masjid when the imam told me not to bring western clothes into the masjid, referring to the ayaats in the quran where you have to bring your best clothes when coming to the masjid.

    i just reply with jazak allah khair for the advice and move on.

  14. hendersoncnc

    January 12, 2010 at 9:58 PM

    umm i think thats a hadith

  15. Abu Muawiyah

    January 13, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    Beautiful Article but like many people said, it is not just converts who get yelled at in the Masjid. I get yelled at if I wear jeans under my Thowb or if my Thowb has short sleeves. I know a brother who never use to go to the Masjid and when I finally convinced him to start praying in the Masjid, he got yelled at by an old man for not wearing an Islamic hat to the Masjid.

    With Muslims like this, I feel embarrassed to do Dawah and drag people into our mess.

    “If the prophet and the Sahabah behaved and did dawaah the way we do, there would be no Muslims in the world today,” – Jeffrey Lang – Winning Our Children Back To Islam

    • Nadia

      January 13, 2010 at 9:17 PM

      Subhanallah, your first paragraph really shows the ignorance some Muslims have regarding the requirements and etiquette of prayer in the masjid. In the time of the Prophet (s.a.w) there was a bedouin who actually began to relieve himself in the masjid and he (s.a.w) told his companions to stop shouting at him and leave him alone. Allahu Akbar, there is so much we can learn from the mannerisms and teachings of the Prophet (saw).

  16. Dutchsis

    January 13, 2010 at 6:48 AM

    Salaam alaykoem!

    Jazakallah for this article brother Ryan. I am a dutch sister, convert, married to another convert and I recognise a lot in your story.

    “whoever gets hold of a convert before the shahada ” LOL.

    I’ve grown a thicker skin through the last 6 years (converted in 2003). My way of dealing with it is to keep smiling and thank them for their useful advise and I ask them to pray for me to ask Allah for forgiveness for my faults and to make dua for whatever they wish for me and that I will make dua for exactly the same for them. This keeps me away from feeling offended. And sometimes people really just mean to give u an advise. Some people keep thinking you’re new to Islam every day and you need everybody’s advise even though you’ve visit the Masjid for several years.

    Another way of dealing with it is to keep studying Islam, so you will get to know the difference between faith and culture.

    But (unfortunately) your (our?) story shows that the most important place for Dawah is inside the Masjid and amongst Muslims themselves.

  17. UmA

    January 13, 2010 at 7:45 AM

    Here’s a tip: next time we are in a masjid/muslim gathering, make sure we give a smile and a handshake to the lonely ones, whoever they are.

  18. Vilas

    January 13, 2010 at 8:25 AM

    Why so adamant about wearing shorts? If at a Hindu temple the worshipers asked that you not wear shorts, out of respect, you would. Why not extend that same respect to the Muslim community, especially now since you’ve decided to worship and believe as one?

    • Brother Ryan

      January 13, 2010 at 8:43 PM

      As Salaamu Alaikum

      I have no problem with not wearing shorts to the masjid if this rule is universally applied to everyone. What I have a problem with is when I am yelled at for wearing shorts, but no one says anything to the Arab guy sitting next to me who is wearing shorts.

  19. HOW TRUE IS THIS?

    January 13, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    As a non-Muslim, and non-religious American, I read the Koran, and it said that, for Muslims, there are many, many names for God. Then it goes on to say, something like, “Say the many names of God (in order to praise God) — Most Beautiful, Most Magnificent, Most Merciful” – – and presumably, all the other names too — Allah, God, Jehovah, Krishna, Buddha, The Great Spirit. It actually can remind one a bit of Hinduism — and what people sometimes mistake for a very rich polytheism.

    But, Muslims view Jesus as a prophet, supposedly without any discrimination among a number of prophets (e.g. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed), though to outside observers, there often appears a big favoritism to Mohammed.

    I recall, in reading the Koran, however, repeated references, to the “sin” of believing that there was a “son of God”; statements kind of like, “God never begat a son! God is too far above begating a son!” While of course, in Christianity, God having a son is a sign of how much God loves mankind. So there is this interesting difference of approach in the theologies.

    Judaism likely conflicts head on with Christianity in a different way since Christians believe Jesus was the messiah of Judaism, while Jews believe that the messiah has not yet arrived. Jews and Muslims, ironically, quite on the same page there, since both believe that considering Jesus himself God is a violation of the commandments brought by Moses.

    Some Christians believe that if others don’t accept that Jesus is God, they’re going to hell. While some Muslims believe that claiming as much will send you there.

    I used to think everyone had the same God — whether God exists or not — everyone had the same thing in mind — or were feeling about in the universe the same *thing*.

    Now I’m no longer certain of that either. It seems that many people are saying we are not the same page — I’m with the innies and you’re with the outies. Though that, if I were religious (and I’m not), would seem the most blasphemous belief of all.

    I am sure that eventually people will come to their senses and end the witch-hunt against Islam in the US and the west these days. Can you condemn and judge the multitude of a whole cross section of humanity because you feel threatened by and are afraid of a tiny sect of terrorist jihadists? This is a loose-loose situation and the sooner the anti-muslim bigotry is ended the better for everyone. Otherwise you will fuel more hatred and more terrorists and more insecurity and incovenience for everyone on the planet!! enough and basta! what is all this hatred? If they’re gone crazy in Malaysia (Ipersonnally think they are nuts.) should some westerners go on with their hatemongering of all of Islam. Islam was here a longtime before 9/11 and will be here forever, might as well find a way to live with it in mutual respect. Peace to you all.

    • Abd- Allah

      January 14, 2010 at 3:52 PM

      HOW TRUE IS THIS?, I will try to address some of the things that you brought up, and i’ll try to keep it short.

      Allah has many names and attributes mentioned in the Quran and mentioned by Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, but Allah is One. That is different than what other religions say, like for example in Christianity, they say the father, the son, and the holy spirit, and they refer to each of the three as a separate individual entity. Where as in Islam, The Most Magnificent and The Most Merciful are two names of Allah, and they are not separate beings. Allah is only One, and He has many attributes, where as many of the other religions believe in several divine beings that are separate and not one.

      As for why Muslims seem to have “favoritism” to Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, it is because he is the last Messenger that Allah sent, and in reality we only have his authentic sayings and actions completely preserved for us by his companions, and that is why he is practically the best role model for us to take. Of course we believe and follow all the other Messengers that Allah sent, peace and blessings be upon them all, but we don’t have their authentic statements and complete way of life like we do for Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him. So even if I was to say I want to take Moses peace be upon him as my role model and follow him and emulate him in every aspect of my life, I won’t be able to because we don’t have all this authentic information about him and his way of life preserved and available for us, where as in the case of Muhammad peace be upon him, we do have all his authentic sayings, actions, and details of his life available for us to learn, follow, and act upon.

      The other thing is that each Prophet was sent to his own people, where as Muhammad peace be upon him, being the final Messenger of Allah, was sent to his people as well as to all of mankind, since the time he was sent and until the day of judgment. That is why Muslims might seem to show some sort of “favoritism” towards Muhammad peace be upon him, but in reality, we believe in all the messengers that Allah has sent, and we love them and respect them all. It is part of every Muslim’s faith to believe in all the prophets and messengers that Allah has sent.

      I hope what I have said addressed some of your concerns, and if you have any other questions or comments, please feel free to respond.

  20. YourShortsAreTooShort

    January 14, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    This article was posted in Muxlim.com. Aside from comments trail here, there is also another comment trail in the following link. You all should check it out and contribute if you feel the need to do so.
    http://blogs.muxlim.com/MuslimMatters/a-converts-dilemma-im-still-who-i-am-i-am-ryan Just thought I’d link the both trails together for an uber discussion.

    • Amad

      January 14, 2010 at 2:08 PM

      That is interesting… It seems that Muxlim runs our feeds, entire post feeds…

      • YourShortsAreTooShort

        January 15, 2010 at 2:39 PM

        Muxlim doesn’t run your posts. Muxlim is not a editorial site. MuslimMatters.org has created an account there and posts their rambling on Muxlim. Sometimes the user of that site comment on the article there, rather than here or at the link posted.

  21. Farhah

    January 14, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    Masha-Allaah. This Is A Great Post…

    I Just Wanted To Add That This Issue Of ‘Racism’ Isn’t Exactly Racism ?!?! (In My City Anyway)
    Many Young Muslim Youths Today Are Willing To Change Their Ways Alhamdullillaah, But Somehow MOST Of Us Are Struggling To ‘Fit in’ With Those Who Seem To Be Holding On To Their Deen. It Sometimes Feels Like We Are Never Going To Be Admitted Into This ‘Brother/Sisterhood’ That They Have. Most Of Those Who Give A New Leaf A Shot, Never Look Back Because They Feel It Isn’t Fair On Them To Be Singled Out (Everyone Is Fighting For Themselves) And Just Return To Their Old Ways, Maybe Even Take Things A Little Further..!

    Sub-haanallaah.. I Say The Youth Of Today, Just Like The Converts Are In Almost The Same Position As Reverts And It Is Becoming Hard For Us To Fit Into An Islamic Society That Does It’s Community Well…
    I Hope And Pray Insha-Allaah, That We Overcome This Problem And Brighten The Days Of Soo Soo Many Muslims That Are Looking For A Change And A Strengthened Imaan..
    Ameen..!

  22. avan

    January 14, 2010 at 10:37 PM

    Assalamu’alaikum

    That’s a nice post and it should open the eyes of all Moslem brothers or sisters towards a muallaf (new converts to Islam). It’s actually the duty of us to guide a muallaf for better understanding of Islam, not to yell at. Perhaps telling them to wear longer pants (to cover men’s syahwat between the knee to the waist) in a soft way is more appropriate than yelling at them.

    It’s true that culture and religion is sometimes mixed. If you come to my country (Indonesia), then it is totally different with middle-eastern countries, although you might misunderstand something that what you see is called Islam. I have an experience when I stayed in the Netherlands as a student and another Kenyan student, who is a Christian, criticized me that I didn’t look like a moslem because I didn’t wear a cap and I didn’t grow a beard.

    Those physical appearances: clothes, caps, beard and even your name, do not decide whether you’re a moslem or not. It’s our deeds that matter. In fact, I don’t even have a moslem name though I was born as a moslem from a moslem family (what’s moslem name anyway? an arabic?). Also that my wife doesn’t like me having long beard, and that’s the reason I don’t grow my beard.

  23. Abdussalaam

    January 15, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    I see my post was deleted. How very typical of these progressive (i.e. pandering) Muslims. If you don’t like something, just sweep it under the rug or quash the voice. All these talks about freedom of speech and things are valid so long as noone decents from the popular view. Eh.

  24. Ahmed Patrick

    January 16, 2010 at 5:38 AM

    Asalamu Alaykum,
    Thank you Brother Ryan. I am an Irish Catholic revert as well. I agree 100% with what you said.
    “So, question everything, read, learn, and ask various cultures the same question and see what you get. Most importantly, celebrate the differences amongst us and break the cycle of segregation that exists in our wonderful communities.”
    I also found myself trying to learn Islam, alone and left-out. Elhamdoulillah this did not turn me away as I suppose happens to some new reverts. Culture is intertwined with Islam very often. Right or wrong it is alive and very powerful. It took me years to sift through what is culture and what is Islam. I am still re-learning Islam as I study more.
    When I married I found some things easier but still culture would not leave. Most of the time when I found myself saying that a certain thing sounded very strange or unreal, it was culture and not Islam.
    ATTENTION: Immigrant Muslims………..We as Americans, at least the normal ones, don’t like racism and don’t respect you bringing your country problems with another country to the Masjid. This needs to be brought strong and clear so maybe you will remember that you are examples for “us reverts” for better or worse. Please don’t bring your cultural racism here! I love Islam also for the diversity which is never Racist. PLEASE PLEASE be examples for us that show us kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, respect, and brother/SISTERhood. We reverts may be quiet now but don’t expect this to last forever!
    Seriously though, isn’t example the best tool for our words?
    By the way, yelling may be OK to prove your point in your culture but it is downright rude and disrespectful for Americans. What about Islam???????????????
    I can’t tell you how many times I have been scolded and yelled at for trying to pray and speak to Allah. Talk to me nicely and bring your proofs or keep quiet.

    • Holly Garza

      January 17, 2010 at 10:26 AM

      I couldn’t agree more! I don’t even hear you if your rude, and you telling me your racial problems or opinion with or on another race will completely turn me against wanting to know you.

      Thanks for saying it.

  25. Evakatrina

    January 16, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    Asalaamu aleikum Brother Ryan and brothers & sisters,
    I think any new Muslim has experienced alienation and disprespect to some degree. I’m no exception. Part of it may be that, for example, it’s acceptable in Auntie’s culture to pull you over and adjust your hijab in front of everyone. Let’s not lose sight, though, of the many who welcome us warmly, embrace us, invite us to tea, etc. It’s a new, weird situation for everyone and we’re all having to re-adjust our comfort levels. Insha Allah if we study, reflect, and pray for guidance and understanding we can will know each other as one Ummah despite our differences.

  26. Holly Garza

    January 17, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    Asalaamu Alaikum waramatulahi wabarakatu

    very true brother Ryan.

    I have been very blessed this time around (I tried learning and doing Islam 3 and half years ago major fail) and have not had too much difficulty AlhamduliAllah. However there have been some nitpickers and judgmental biased Muslims so I know what you are saying. My response and frame of mind is “It doesn’t matter if your hijab is pinned tight if your heart is not right” so someone giving me advice will be heard then I will decide to listen. The brothers I guess can change this to say beard grown or long shirt on to apply to them.

    I don’t and refuse to listen to a racist or cruel Muslim whether they are right or wrong Allah u Alim. I don’t want any blackness on my heart as I already have my own nafs and imperfections, and don’t need to learn Islam from rude, racist; and strongly opinionated people.

    However, I have been blessed to have read enough Quran before other things and was and am beginning to to discern real Islam, opinions, habits, and the good from other things appearing to be real Islam. AlhamduliaAllah that coupled with a Great Ummah in Illinois and online I am blessed.

    I have even been around those Cultural Muslims (aren’t we all cultural Muslims ;) but I know what you meant) but somehow found nothing but good, the non judgmental Urdu speaking niqabi who helps me in pronunciation, friendship, advice; and hope. The Dominican sister who shows me love, the sisters of all races and ages who teach me with their actions, speech; and behavior. Instead of pointing out my lack of knowledge or behavior. The “white convert” who’s been Muslim for 30 years, the Black young Muslimah who can relate to me, the Mexican Muslims who know exactly what I mean when I say “I just left the families..and I am so hungry they had food but…*sigh and totally get my love for them and my love for Islam. The brothers involved in dawah who reach to other brothers and encourage the sisters to participate by having halal opportunities for them as well at the same venues. The “mixed, interracial” Muslims who I share a lot in common with, and the born Arab Muslims or whatever nationality (you pick) who have more struggles than even I for now they are “too religious” by wearing hijab, loose clothing, praying, or growing a beard.

    Don’t get me wrong, there has been a few astray ones or people with opinions, speech and behavior that isn’t acceptable or un-Islamic however, I remind myself of my own issues and simply try not to be judgmental but I am human, and their JudgeMENTAL attitudes upset me. May Allah give me patience.

    Great post and thanks for bringing it up for those of us who need to be aware of it, JazakAllah Khayer

  27. mm

    February 4, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Thank you, brother Ryan, for that wonderful post. I sympathize with your initial troubles as a new Muslim. I would like to point out that it’s no more easy for non-converts, even Desis, to be invited to those wonderful parties, unless you have some sort of key, i.e. marrying into a circle, working together etc.. In my case, a lot of doors opened up after my son started going to school. Before that I was left out in the cold in my mosque, even though I am a lifelong Muslim and a desi to boot. (Ironically, non-practicing Muslims were quick to welcome me to their houses, but the religious Muslims I wanted to hang out with maintained an impenetrable front. ) However, that’s just people being people. It’s the newcomer who has to make the initial overtures and claw their way in. It’s new student at high school all over again.
    As for converts, I see a lot of good will toward them. I myself would love to ask a convert to my parties, but I feel kind of shy. If a convert will come forward, sit beside me at mosque and talk to me, I will definitely ask him/her to my house. And decent shorts are very welcome.
    A more important point in brother Ryan’s post, is our inflexibility in our beliefs. While, it’s right and proper to be inflexible in matters of aqeedah, there are many different ways of going about our daily business, all sanctioned by Islam. I find that the more learned a person is in the way of islam, the more contemplative, the more flexible he/she is. If we want our community to be more welcoming, we need to encouraging learning. That’s the crux of it

  28. um mariam

    February 5, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    Salaams, Ryan, and salaams to all of you other “reverts” and lifelong Muslims out there.

    Congratulations to my fellow reverts on your “conversion” to Islam, and may Allah continue to guide you, strengthen your faith, and accept and reward your sincere intentions. I’m also a convert, and I’ve listened to many other converts making similar complaints about the way they”ve been (mis)treated by other Muslims. While I sympathize somewhat with your feelings, I’d like to offer some advice to you and all converts: Don’t wait for people to approach you and be friendly. YOU be the one who reaches out. Yes, I know it “shouldn’t” be this way, but the reality is that many or most people at the masjid haven’t considered this issue, for whatever reason. They are caught up in their own little worlds. And let’s face the reality that many people today already have seriously overburdened schedules, because of crazy work schedules and perhaps intense family responsibilities, and so they don’t really feel like adding new people to their contacts–although they SHOULD at least try to be polite and kind, of course!

    I have seen new Muslims feeling terrible about being ignored at the masjid, and I’ve often been ignored myself. I have also seen converts leave Islam because of the poor or disgraceful behavior they witnessed from Muslims in their communities. But I also know that Allah asks and REQUIRES us to think and reflect. If someone is serious about Islam, nothing that anyone says or does will change their mind about it. Iman is a blessing from Allah, and Allah’s guidance comes to those who SEEK it. Yes, we should offer as much support as possible to converts! But on the other hand, converts seeking guidance from Allah should compare people’s behavior to what ISLAM says (Quran and Hadith)–and then they will recognize that what Islam teaches and what Muslims do are often two completely different things.

    Also, converts should not be disappointed that Muslims and the Muslim ummah aren’t perfect. Of course, it can take a long time for converts to acquire sufficient Islamic knowledge to realize why Muslims are in the condition that we’re in now. Eventually they will see that we are approaching the last days and are living the hadith that there will come a time when Muslims will be so many, but their weight will be like straw (they will be ineffectual because they aren’t living according to Islam and are instead disobeying Allah).

    Also, it takes time to realize that Allah doesn’t expect us to be perfect, only to try our best to worship Him. There is a hadith that if there were a perfect people, Allah would replace them with people who sin, so He could forgive them. Life is meant to be a learning process. Sin may first be a result of inexperience. We have to learn that we’re vulnerable to temptation and wrongdoing, and learn to practice patience and taqwa to avoid it. Like a child learning to walk, we stumble many times before we begin to be able to walk upright. And we often cannot recognize what we need, until we’ve “learned the hard way.” Plus, Allah’s forgiveness is a blessing, and we spiritually benefit tremendously when we seek His forgiveness and His help in purifying ourselves, and in finally realizing that WE CANNOT DO IT ALONE, without His help.

    Being a “good Muslim” is a continuous struggle, because we will always have to deal with new (and old) issues in which we are tested. Shaytan tries to influence us, people try to influence us, we are often surrounded by the influences of the media, and we”re also under the influences of our own nafs and desires. The only way we can avoid being dragged down is to continually attempt to keep making progress in our iman (A hadith informs us that if we do not keep trying to move forward as Muslims, we will slide backward). How can continue to make progress?

    First, we must purify our intentions (our niya), and resolve to try our best to worship and obey our Creator> This involves examining our behavior to see if it is in line with Islam, and examining our intentions–(am I really trying to obey Allah in this matter, or am I rationalizing or making excuses for my actions, giving in to social pressure, or just seeking whatever it is I want, even though it’s wrong?). Second, we must protect ourselves by avoiding influences and circumstances that can weaken our resolve and our iman. Third, we must arm ourselves with knowledge by studying our religion. We also need to arm ourselves with the daily spiritual uplift and protection that comes through prayer, reading and reciting Quran, and the company of good people (a hadith says, be careful who your friends are, for you may become like them).

    Try to find the good Muslims in your community–or if you can’t locate them, seek Islamically motivated sites and people online. If there are Islamic study groups in your community, attend a few classes and give them a chance. A good weekly meeting can really “recharge” your spiritual batteries.

    Last, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” YOU be the friendly one. YOU plan some gatherings and invite people (I totally agree with MM, who said about those who ignore newcomers, “that’s just people being people. It’s the newcomer who has to make the initial overtures and claw their way in. It’s new student at high school all over again.”

    And if you’re looking for the companionship of good, practicing Muslims, but are living in an area where you can’t seem to find any Muslims up to even the minimum standard where they “should” be, YOU try to be the one to motivate and elevate them spiritually. YOU try to be the good influence.

    I know that’s really hard to do if someone is a very new Muslim, so for the fresh newbies out there:
    **Don’t take it personally when you witness Muslim’s “rude” behavior and/or their ignoring you
    **Compare their behavior with what the Quran and the Prophet (pubh) have taught us. If it is incorrect,
    then chalk it up to a learning experience–now you know that many people are careless, ignorant, or under the rule of thier own personalities/desires–and then RESOLVE not to act that way yourself.
    **Remember that many people who’ve been Muslim all their lives haven’t really studied Islam and don’t always understand what is correct belief, behavior, and practice. Also, besides being ignorant of Islam, many Muslims confuse their culture’s behaviors with Islamic practice and can’t distinguish between them.
    **Again, YOU be the friendly one. A hadith tells us that the most reward goes to the one who says “salaams” first. Practice striking up conversations, and don’t just give up in despair if your first attempts aren’t successful. Persevere. DO YOU need to read the trusty old Dale Carnegie classic, “How to WIn Friends and Influence People”?? ;-) Go out and buy yourself a copy!
    **Give people the benefit of the doubt. When I was a new Muslim, I had people criticize my dress (I was new to hijab and hadn’t gotten it right at first), question whether I was REALLY a Muslim, interrupt my prayer because they’d thought I’d done something wrong (they didn’t realize their are some slight differences in accepted actions during prayer), etc., etc. In short, some people were quite rude to me. IF such things happen to you, consider that they might have good intentions in trying to advise you, and/or they might be ignorant of Islamic ettiquette (such as we are warned of by the hadith that says, “A Muslim does not involve themselves in what does not concern them”–Kindly recall this if you are asked “nosy” personal questions by someone whose indigenous culture seemingly regards such questions as normal–then resolve never to do the same).

    As for those reverts who’ve been yelled at by others–just recall the Quranic statement to the Prophet (pbuh)–“If you (Muhammad) had been harsh with people, they would have turned away.” There is no such thing as da’wah or teaching through yelling. I’m VERY sorry for anyone who’s been on the receiving end of such despicable and ignorant behavior, and please remember that you will be amply compensated by Allah for your suffering. But a hadith says we should give people 70 excuses, anyway, so TRY not to take offence or get angry at the people who may seem insulting. –WHATEVER, but be like a duck and let it roll off of you–no point in getting all upset. They’re either ignorant of Islamic behavior or have forgotten it or disregarded it–or, perhaps they have psychological issues or are under tremendous stress in their own lives, etc. SO, please, YOU should try to be a good example to them through YOUR Islamic behavior, and also pray for them to be guided. BE PATIENT with people. How many times does the Quran advise us to be patient? Many, many, many times, and for good reason. Contemplate how many life issues require patience for a successful outcome.

    And please try to be forgiving of those who “mistreat” you. Allah is forgiving and He loves those who forgive. Remember that.

    Hey, I know it’s sometimes very tough. You become a Muslim, and suddenly you’re rejected or considered an oddball by many or most of the non-Muslims in your world. Your family may have even rejected you and your friends disowned you. Yes, that’s difficult. And then the MUSLIMS don’t even care?? What gives? IF this has happened to you, just remember the words of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), when he was experiencing, over a lengthy period, harsh rejection and mistreatment from every side–about which, he said, “Oh Allah, I don’t care so long as YOU are not displeased with me!”

    Let’s remember, people, the Quran says this life is a test, and that we should not expect to have entered Islam and then not be tested. Let’s seek the pleasure of Allah, and try not to care so much about the treatment of people. PEOPLE mistreated and betrayed the prophets. PEOPLE and MUSLIMS disobey Allah and are not loyal to HIM–then why should we be surprised when they don’t care about US??

    Last, you should know that you are not alone–there are many converts out there who have faced the same issues and whom would probably love to meet you and befriend you, and there are many very good, kind, and inspiring life-long Muslims out there as well. You may just not have been “lucky” to have found them yet. Hadith tells us that Allah answers our prayers so long as a person does not give up and say, “Allah didn’t respond to my prayer.” SO, if this is a big issue to you, and you are feeling isolated, PRAY to Allah to help you find some good companions–uplifiting friends whose companionship you enjoy and with whom you can strive to become better and better, insha’Allah. Insha’Allah, Allah will answer your prayers and bless you with good companionship.

    With my sincere best wishes, your sister in Islam

  29. Wael - IslamicAnswers.com

    February 6, 2010 at 1:31 AM

    Brother Ryan, I’m sorry to hear about the experience you’ve had as a convert. I hope it hasn’t been all bad. Whatever masjid you attend where you get yelled at, I suggest you stop going there and find a different masjid, because yelling like that is completely inappropriate behavior for a Muslim and I would be shocked if I saw such a thing in my masjid.

    Your alienation, however, is not a unique experience and is not necessarily the product of being a convert. The fact is that many masjids are cultural islands, and if you are not a member of the culture you often feel excluded. For a few years I attended a masjid where almost everyone was of Indian descent. They were very traditional and most wore shalwar khamees, had full beards, etc. It was not unusual for someone to ignore my salam, as if I were speaking Martian.

    I ended up moving to a small town in the mountains, about 90 minutes away. I’d still come down for Jum’ah when I could. Once I was at Jum’ah and in the course of a conversation with an Indian brother (one of the few conversations I had in my three years there) I mentioned where I had moved to. He chastised me and said that it was better to be close to the masjid in order to experience “the flavor of Islam.” I just laughed and told him that I had not gotten much “flavor of Islam” from this community. In my entire three years there, no one ever invited me for so much as a cup of tea. Very few even asked my name. Perhaps I should have been more outgoing and tried to make friends. But it was hard.

    Alhamdulillah, I’ve been practicing Islam for a long time and I know better than to become bitter or blame Islam. I know how truly multicultural Islam can be. I’ve tasted the sweetness of Muslim brotherhood and sisterhood. And I know that some masjids and communities are better than others, and the trick is to keep looking until you find one where you fit.

    • Sincerity

      February 6, 2010 at 11:40 AM

      +10

      SubhanAllah the struggle converts have to go through is really really disheartening and sad.

      Sahabas converted too, however they had the comfort of Prophet (pbuh) and his companions’ company where they able to flourish in their Deen….which gave them strength to go through any trials & tributlations. however converts presently do not have anyone to fall to…

      I myself being Desi, have been to many Arab Masajids to get totally ignored, however inshaAllah with 2nd gen taking in charge of masajids and other islamic organizations, hopefully things will change for better slowly.

  30. Scott

    February 13, 2010 at 2:30 AM

    As a convert as well, the culture/self-identity question was an issue for me too. I didn’t change my name because I had almost 21 years (at the time) invested in my name. Because of this I also have an issue with a lot of the supposed clothing issues (the people at sunniforum seem to be particularly obsessed with this).

    As for masjids, the one I go to is, in these terms, absolutely fantastic. I’ve never gotten any sort of rude glance or word there. When I converted, all the brothers lined up to give me a hug (and ask for a dua, although I had no idea what that meant :P). Some had tears in their eyes cause they were happy. The masjid was founded in the early 70s by three brothers who came from the Nation of Islam, so it’s pretty indigenous, but of course we have lots of immigrants too. I love being there because, in addition to the relaxing smell, you can see all sorts of different people. I’m there as an extreme minority, yet I feel so close to everyone there.

    • Abd- Allah

      February 13, 2010 at 12:50 PM

      Because of this I also have an issue with a lot of the supposed clothing issues (the people at sunniforum seem to be particularly obsessed with this).

      The ahadith that encourage wearing the turban are not authentic, but the people at sunniforum do not know any better. They use a lot of fabricated ahadith, so I would suggest you stay away from sunniforum. The only thing about the turban that was mentioned in authentic ahadith is that the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him used to wear it, but the Prophet peace be upon him never ordered us to wear a turban.

      Allah knows best.

  31. Karim

    September 8, 2010 at 5:47 AM

    Walaikum Assalam.
    Brother Ryan and all other converts. I fully share your story.
    I am a practicing muslim – whatever that means, because invariably that may mean one thing to one vs another to someone else in the same community. I fully understand the ‘left out’ thing…I am a western muslim,.. was born in the west and migrated north.. somehow Asian or Middle eastern muslims see me as different.(in my experience Africans seems less likely to judge or yell at anyone)…heck I got lectured for taking chicken /rice to the masjid, even though I verified the chicken was halal… anyway, my faith and what my parents and grand parents taught me about islam have provided me with enough information to have a good base and to be able to seek and learn more via reading english text…
    On the one hand, we muslims like to run around and tell the rest of the world we are 1.x billion strong and rapidly converting others etc etc… The problem is we do not have a program that is consistent across the board to assist converts post shadahah…I would strongly recommend every masjig immediately start a program to do so.. we need to be able to teach and share what we know so that converts and in many cases American/western born muslims can have a chance to bring their values and culture to the great faith and become integrated. I may look like everyone else in the masjid, yet at times still feel left out…..anyway I hope you and all other converts stay strong and do not give up,..I am not sure where you are or live, but there are some excellent mosques in Georgia and some even more excellent imams, who are very ‘western’ and equally fluent in Arabic/islamic teachings etc…seek out one you can develop a relationship (one who allows himself to be questioned).. with and then ask as many questions as you need to…most imams I know are very open to this kind of exchange….best of wishes to everyone and I hope this Eid al Fitr be as blessed and blissful and hopefully all of you get invited to a dinner or Eid celebration where ever you are..
    thanks,
    Karim

  32. N has

    July 6, 2017 at 1:09 AM

    Sooo true brother !! It’s very hard when people culture is forced on you . I always have to tell my hus I can be Muslim but I can’t be Arab .

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