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New Muslim Series: After Shahadah

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By the grace and mercy of Allah, my mother accepted Islam last year in April. After having made du’a for this for my entire existence, I can safely classify that as the best day of my life. By the next day, the news of her conversion had spread throughout the community. My mom had just taken her shahādah, was not yet wearing ḥijāb, and was still adjusting to such a huge change, when a nice Bengali auntie in niqāb took it upon herself to give my mom her first and most important advice (sarcasm intended). She approached my mom and said in a thick accent “Sister, what is your name?” My mom responded, “Tara…” The auntie asked her, “No, no….I mean your new name.” So my mom says “Uhhh…I’m going to keep my name.” The woman looks troubled and then proclaims, “No, no, I must now give you a nice Islamic name. I have re-named you………Fatima.”

We’ve all seen it happen time and time again…There’s a crowd gathered in the masjid. The Imam goes up to the microphone and happily shares the news that someone would like to publicly accept Islam. Everyone gets out their camera phones, the women flood into the main hall, and the more often than not nervous new Muslim approaches the microphone to repeat the shahādah in a language completely unknown to them. The moment they finish their proclamation, the foundation of the building shakes with the sound of hundreds of excited Muslims screaming “Allāhu Akbar!” at the top of their lungs. The new Muslim is then showered with more hugs and kisses they have likely ever received in the span of their life, and voila: we have a new member of the Muslim community. Everyone goes home feeling elated and inspired, but far too often that is the last time they will think of that new Muslim, now alone somewhere driving home from the masjid.

We are living in a time where Muslims are no longer living in the shadows, and people are flooding to Islam without ever having been given “organized da‘wah.” This fact is one that needs to be accepted by every masjid and every Muslim community in the West. We no longer have the luxury of remaining unprepared and unorganized in the field of New Muslim Support. With da‘wah coming to our doorsteps, the least we can do is have a system in place to teach, mentor, and support our new Muslim brothers and sisters.

The Need for New Muslim Support Systems

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When a person accepts Islam, aside from the peace and contentment they gain from submitting to Allah’s way, they are also diving headfirst into an entire new lifestyle and belief system. Shahādah is only the first step of the journey, and what follows it is not always an easy path. Firstly, a new Muslim must learn the basic beliefs and actions of being a Muslim. Additionally they must learn how to make wuḍū’ and pray properly, eventually learning the prayer in Arabic. As they have just stepped into a new faith, they will often have multitudes of questions regarding a variety of Islamic issues. On top of this, they are most likely dealing with one or more of the following issues: Problems with family, being kicked out of their residence, drinking or drug issues, poverty, work related challenges, or any number of other things.

As the icing on the cake, many also have to deal with drama from the Muslim community itself. Common issues include being pressured to change everything about their life overnight, being judged for not yet wearing ḥijāb or dressing properly, accusations of being a spy because of their non-Arab/desi heritage, and many other issues. A story from my local community displays this all too well: A brother had recently taken his shahādah, and soon after, he came to his first Friday prayer. A man in the masjid heard this new Muslim brother praying in English and approached him saying, “You’re going to Hell if you pray like this.”

New Muslims need mentors to teach them, support them, and guide them through their new journey as a Muslim. When they have someone that has warned them about these issues and is constantly helping them, teaching them, and answering questions, they feel supported and confident that they have someone to go back to. The lack of such a person, however, will leave the new Muslim feeling isolated and unaware. Attempting to go through any combination of these issues alone without any support is often the reason why many new Muslims end up leaving Islam. In recognizing and highlighting these issues, the need for New Muslim Support Systems becomes blatantly clear.

In 2009, a group of brothers and sisters at the Islamic Institute of Orange County (IIOC) sat down to define the scope of the newly created Dawah and Outreach Committee. It didn’t make logical sense to give da‘wah, bring people into Islam, and then have no system in place to take care of the new Muslims. So it was decided the responsible thing to do was to create a New Muslim Support Group (NMSG) before planning any da‘wah endeavors. Under the leadership of Br. Khalid Mansour, we began working to develop this system. Yet as we looked to other communities hoping to benefit from their examples, we were shocked to find that roughly 95% of masājid in the U.S. had absolutely no system in place for new Muslims. Realizing what a magnanimous void existed, the team at IIOC developed and continues to update and improve the NMSG: a model that can be implemented in any community.

How to Start a New Muslim Support Group in Your Community

Firstly, what exactly is a New Muslim Support Group? It’s a “buddy system” with a set curriculum and set protocols for interaction. It is an organized way of ensuring that when someone walks into the masjid and accepts Islam, you already have a trained mentor lined up who will be assigned to the new Muslim. The mentor will then be their main person of contact and will take them through the curriculum, teaching them the basics of Islam, how to make wuḍū’, how to pray, etc.

Here is what you will need:

1.  Get your local Imam or Community Leader involved and aware: This will help get the community in tune with issues facing new Muslims and how to act appropriately (And how to not act like “Your new name is Fatima” lady or “You’re going to Hell” guy).

2.  A highly dedicated and organized leader: This person will be managing the entire NMSG and therefore must be professional, responsive, and altruistic.

3.  Curriculum for new Muslims: IIOC has created a comprehensive curriculum geared towards a new Muslim who is starting from scratch. In the form of a small booklet, the curriculum will take them through all the basics of Islam and everything they need to know. It even includes quizzes to test their understanding of the material. IIOC hopes to make this curriculum available online in the next few months. I will be posting a follow up article once it is up inshaAllah.

4.  A volunteer training presentation: This is also something that IIOC will be making available online in the very near future inshā’Allāh. Until then, this presentation should include training on how volunteers (aka mentors) should deal with the new Muslim they are assigned to.

5.  Team of trained mentors: These volunteers should have gone through the training presentation and should be familiar with the curriculum they will be teaching their assigned new Muslim. Volunteers must be professional, responsive, and recognize that they cannot fall short in dealing with people’s lives and faith.

6.  Know your community resources: At times, there may be new Muslims who have special circumstances and may need extra help besides mentorship. Rather than being caught off guard, it is best to have information on your local resources ready ahead of time. You should be aware of resources for: Financial assistance, housing assistance, shelters, clothing for sisters who may need ḥijābs/modest clothing, rehabilitation centers for drugs and alcohol, job finding assistance, counselors, and anything else you think may be needed.

With the help of Allah, once those points are in place, you are well on your way to having an established New Muslim Support Group in your community.

After all is said and done, imagine the countless rewards that can be gained by teaching a new Muslim the basics of Islam. If you teach a new Muslim how to pray, perhaps you will gain the reward of every ṣalāh they perform and every ṣalāh their children perform, etc.

I will leave you with a story of a new Muslim sister from the IIOC community. The sister accepted Islam, and for an entire year she went to different masājid, never finding the support she needed. Almost every experience she had at a masjid left her feeling rejected by the community. She knew that Islam was true but she was becoming increasingly depressed. Alḥamdulillāh, after some time she stumbled across the New Muslim Support Group at IIOC and was assigned a mentor who gave her the support she needed and invested time and effort into her. She was able to work through the issues in her life, began wearing ḥijāb, and is now happily married to a Muslim man. After searching for her dīn for a long time, at the end of the day it was just a matter of someone being there for her.

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Nadya Aweinat is a Batman loving tajweed geek who spends her days hiking, learning and teaching Qur'an, and enjoying the year round superb weather of Southern California. By the mercy of Allah, she recently completed her memorization of the Qur'an and is working on completing a degree in Speech Pathology.

46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. TheColdTruth

    March 1, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Let me tell you why Muslims are like this.We are so GD insulated, and we leach off of other countries, yet look at their people with contempt. We need a little assimilation, and I think it would be done best with a cold hard boot to each of our asses, to show us we are not the chosen people.

     

  2. Yasmin

    March 1, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this very important post!

  3. Jeremiah

    March 1, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Taleef Collective in the Bay Area (and now Chicago) are doing a great job with this, mashallah.

    • Muhammad

      March 1, 2012 at 9:15 PM

      Agreed, Taleef is doing some awesome work mA, and the MECCA center in NYC addresses many of the same issues. So as far as the void is concerned, there are a few exceptions, but generally speaking, it’s true that not many similar programs exist. It’s nice to see that this one aims to be reproducible in multiple locations 

  4. Zamzam Bayian

    March 1, 2012 at 1:46 PM

     

    Jazak Allah khaira. Wonderful article.

    Your article reminded me of the obstacles faced by converts to Islam.
    They really encounter them even if they live in a Muslim community. I have met
    many converts to Islam where I live, Saudi Arabia, and their problems almost
    the same as the ones you mentioned. One convert whom I know changed her name to
    an Islamic name – as people like to call. However, many people are still
    calling her by her old name. Sometimes, I feel that though she changed her
    name, she is more comfortable with her old name, and even I think she misses
    it. But, maybe she did so because she felt that changing the name was a
    necessary step in her new life, or maybe this idea was told to her non-verbally
    by her Muslim fellows. Anyway, the points you mentioned in your article deserve
    serious care by Muslims. Jazak Allah khaira.  

    • miteypen

      March 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM

      I can relate to what you wrote about changing your name. I chose not to change mine when I converted, but I kind of miss the opportunity to take on a new identity as a new Muslim. Of course you do that anyway, but a new name seems to be a symbolic act and makes the change complete.

      This is a complex topic and needs to be explored more in convert circles.

  5. Umm Ousama

    March 2, 2012 at 3:17 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    I suggest that you contact the New Muslim Centre in East London, UK. They have a good support system. Here is the website:

    http://www.eastlondonmosque.org.uk/services/New%20Muslims%20Advice%20&%20Support 

    You can also contact Brother Usamah at info@eastlondonmosque.org.uk . His wife is also involved in the Sisters’ area. 

    • Nadya

      March 2, 2012 at 3:36 AM

      JazakiAllahu khairan for the resource! 

  6. Nadya

    March 2, 2012 at 3:28 AM

    Wa alaikum assalam,

    I checked out the website and the program looks awesome mashaAllah!! 

    You should definitely touch bases with the IIOC team and inshaAllah both programs can benefit from each other.

    Wa iyyakum!

  7. Nadya

    March 2, 2012 at 3:34 AM

    Very good point!

  8. Umm Noor

    March 2, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Thank you for this article.
    Just on the name change fixation….I’m not sure why the entire ummah that came to islam – from china to indonesia to south asia to africa to bosnia and beyond — all the converts changed their name to “muhammad” or “ali” etc. and now all their descendants sport these names. But now if a western convert changes his or her name it is viewed with pity as if they were brainwashed or duped. 

    • Umm Noor

      March 2, 2012 at 9:46 AM

      What i wished to say is, it can be yet another way to make us feel incompetent in our decisions, we have to be separately marked as “not quite there yet”, or that everyone should know that we are “Western” so that it is a little asterisk beside our identity, and finally that we have to answer for very simple things that are taken for granted for the entire ummah. I’m not saying force anyone, but it has gotten to the opposite extreme where you are viewed as very stupid if you change your name to Abdurahman or Zainab.

      • Umm Ousama

        March 2, 2012 at 10:04 AM

        The problem of the author is not of a person changing her name, it is of the person being asked to change her name as soon as he/she becomes Muslim. Actually, the first thing a person should ask is to take that person and teach her Salaat in a gentle way. Is there any evidence that all converts changed their names? Some have to change their names because of shirk issue but my guess would be that many of them started to name their children after the names of the early Muslims. Wa Allahu a’lam.

        • Umm Noor

          March 2, 2012 at 10:43 AM

          Thank you. My point is that this issue has taken a life of its own. People have become very strong in their views that no converts should change their names, and that even their kids should have western sounding, rather than traditionally Islamic, names. 

          Many years after our shahadahs this is a main discussion point that we have to revisit over and over again. It – and others like it – become a poor substitute for developing real friendships and a real sense of community, when over the course of years and years our relationships with other people continually circle back to why or why you didn’t change your name, why do you choose to wear such and such garment rather than jeans, why do you cook ethnic food (does that mean you hate America now?) and other many similar “convert” topics.I’m using this as an example of the issues we have to face in the community, and the many different perspectives and feelings we have. I’m not making a case against the author; rather, I’m using the author’s excellent points as a springboard to opening up the discussion and sharing my experiences as a convert. I guess another, subtler, layer is that the convert experience doesn’t end after a couple of years — it might change, but there are always challenges. That should be factored into these programs. Also, converts and 2nd generation of converts should be brought in as mentors and start to develop their own programs, agendas and plans for the broader community, just as immigrant muslims do.

          • Nadya

            March 2, 2012 at 3:11 PM

            Assalamu alaikum Umm Noor,

            JazakiAllahu khairan for your comments.

            You made some really good points in your last comment. Firstly that the convert experience does not necessarily end after a couple of years, and secondly that more established converts should be reached out to in order to gain their experiences and input…For who better would know what a convert is going through than someone who has gone through it themselves. Great points mashaAllah. 

            As for your comments on name changing, I personally have not experienced what you are talking about but perhaps you have. Like Umm Ousama (may Allah reward her) mentioned, for someone who wants to change their name there’s absolutely no problem with that, and I don’t think that anyone would view them as “brainwashed” or “duped”. The issue arises when they are told that a) They have to change their name, b) That they should change their name right away now that they are Muslim, or c) That it is even better to change their name. In the time of the Prophet (SallAllahu alayhi wa sallam), the only time when a “convert”, a companion of the Prophet (SallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) would change their name is when it had a bad or un Islamic meaning. 

            I know converts who have changed their names because they felt more connected with the Muslim community that way and that’s fine. I also know converts who keep their names whether for personal reasons, family reasons, or even dawah reasons! I personally think it’s SO cool when you meet someone named Sally or Jennifer or Albert and they are Muslim. I think it’s an excellent display that anyone regardless of their race or background can be Muslim and it shows how diverse the Muslim community is. 

            My apologies, this comment is like an article in and of itself. 

          • Umm Noor

            March 2, 2012 at 8:55 PM

            Jazaki Allahu khairan. Yes, I agree with your points about name changing, and also adding that there are developing (in my experience) very hardened views on this (on both sides). For me it has become somewhat of the “moon sighting” issue for converts and those who are interesting in helping converts…I hope we educate people on their options that you describe so well, educate non-converts that they can respect the choices converts make without having them defend their name choices (either way), and then move on with other topics. 

          • Hena Zuberi

            March 2, 2012 at 9:44 PM

            Sister if you ever want to share your experiences in an article- we always encourage guest posts

  9. Nfbe

    March 2, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    Alhumdulilah for your efforts. You could not be more on point with this.  The community at Masjid As Sabur in Sacramento started a similar effort in 2011. We have put together a 7 week group format curriculum to educate and support new Muslims.  We don”t have a mentoring component yet which I think is a great idea.  I look forward to you posting your curriculum. 

    • Nadya

      March 2, 2012 at 3:13 PM

      That’s great to hear mashaAllah!

      InshaAllah it will be up soon!

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  11. RCHOUDH

    March 4, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    Mash’allah excellent article! I look forward to seeing the curriculum and volunteer training program that IIOC will post online soon Insha’Allah. This would be greatly helpful to masajid run by immigrant Muslim communities, which I feel are least prepared to handle the issues faced by new Muslims in the West. And the bit about the wrong ways some Muslims approach new ones (and those close to believing but not quite there yet) regarding Deen reminded me of a painful story I once read.
    A young mother interested in Islam once attended a prayer gathering at a masjid; throughout the salah her child was being disruptive because the masjid had no babysitting services for children. After salah an angry Muslim woman approached the young mother (who hadn’t converted yet but was close to doing so) and told her next time she should leave her child someplace else before coming to the masjid. Needless to say that was the last time this mother was ever seen at that masjid.  

    • RCHOUDH

      March 4, 2012 at 1:12 AM

      Just wanted to clarify that by immigrant community masajid, I meant the ones where most of the attendees (and masjid staff) are very recent immigrants and so they may not know English very well and understand the issues/problems faced by Muslims outside of their own communities. I realize there are also masajid run by 2nd gen communities but those aren’t the ones I’m referring to here.

      • Nadya

        March 4, 2012 at 1:51 AM

        JazakAllahu khairan for your comment. Yes, your story is another example of one of those unfortunate situations. 

        Like Dreamlife mentioned in an above comment…Some of these stories and issues don’t even have to do with the person being a new Muslim (or someone interested in Islam)…Really, many times, all it comes down to is decency, understanding, respect, and compassion that Muslims need to learn to have towards each other. 

        May Allah help us and our communities to always improve and may Allah help us grow in the areas that we are lacking in. 

        • RCHOUDH

          March 4, 2012 at 2:48 AM

          Ameen to your du’a sister.

  12. Nadya

    March 6, 2012 at 1:07 AM

    That’s awesome mashaAllah may Allah bless and increase your work!

  13. Muslimah

    March 9, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    mashaAllah what an amazing idea and joint effort!
    jazakaAllah khair for sharing this so that other communities could also implement such a model! 

    • Nadya

      March 11, 2012 at 10:07 PM

      Wa iyyaki :)

  14. Tara

    March 11, 2012 at 10:18 PM

    MashaAllah Nadya this is a great article. 

    By the way this is Tara, Nadya’s mom, not Fatima

    Honestly, when this situation happened, I was very well informed for a new Muslim. I actually already knew that changing your name was not a necessary component of becoming a Muslim. Having been well taught by my daughters, my first thought when she said that (which by the way I kept to myself) was…WHERE’S THE DALEEL?!?

    But, I just smiled…

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  19. Working Dawah

    September 7, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    Asalaamu wa alaykuum, masha Allah. may the masjids in america learn from this example insha Allah. please contact me @ working dawah on facebook with more good news like this insha Allah.

  20. bachita

    September 16, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    I hate muslim

  21. bashir ahmed

    October 5, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    i agree and jazakalah sheikh

  22. denise

    November 27, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Im newto islam im in need for a female to teach me about islam i live in atlantic city nj

    • sadiya

      December 3, 2013 at 7:54 AM

      this comment was from a long time ago so i dont know if u got the help u needed, but if u didnt then u can write to me at sadiyamerchant1@gmail.com

  23. Naja muhammad

    February 20, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    I am a perfect example of this, I am a new sahadah and I have no support I live in Philadelphia and it feels like the more I reach out the more I feel rejected. I can contacted many of the local muslim prayer centers asking to speak to the head sister asking if anyone could donate a few abaya and kimars to me because I can not afford them at all I have two young boys and I am a single mom and my family turned there back against me because I have converted to Islamic and did not choose to stay a Christian so I can not turn to them for help but when I called the local prayer centers the just turned me down, all I want to do is dress like the Muslim I am proud to be I want to go to the prayer centers to over my salaats on Fridays but I do not want to be disrespectful and come with no abaya or prayer abaya and Kemar on. I really feel alone and don’t know what to do, I often get scared to salaam out in public due to the fact I am not dress as a Muslim sister. The one time I tried the Muslims sister did not salaam me back.

    • zimyana

      April 18, 2014 at 6:30 AM

      salam sister Naja,
      felt so bad after reading this n I wish to contact you in any way . even through facebook is fine. my mail is ximyana@gmail.com . im not sure if you are in a better place o not right now as this post is over an year back. id like to help you in any way i can.

  24. adm

    April 22, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    asalam alaikum
    well the above posts are interesting. I live in a muslim community but there is no support network available. I have been struggling to find a muslim wife despite living in a muslim community. I asked the imam to help me find a wife and he recommended dating websites and mixed matching events. Now Im someone who doesn’t do these things and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out wether its right or wrong.

    non muslim girls have asked me out on dates and for relationships, but you see as a muslim practising male, i can only last so long with support or help.

    what do I do? do i date an honest jewish girl who works with me, or do i wait for a miracle form people and a community which is so self centred, that nothing happens

    can anyone help or advise me, where and how can i meet a revert muslim female for marriage
    would be appreciated

    email address, secretservice27@googlemail.com

    kind regards

  25. muhammad hamza

    January 13, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    i am converted muslim and i am in deep crises after accept islam some one help me. contact me on hamzakkkhan@yahoo.com

  26. Ms.Stone

    October 5, 2014 at 8:47 PM

    This is a GREAT article!! I was blessed to be connected with a “mentor” at my masjid :) however, there’s no actual mentor program available. I just happened to get referred to this kind sister by knowing someone else. Still, as a convert attending the masjid now for several months with regularity, I’m still struggling with a sense of not being welcome. There’s really nothing in place to welcome converts which is sad. I think we often show up for the first time at a masjid nervous but full of hopes and find that no one will offer a “salaam.” I wonder if Muslims understand how difficult it can be for converts. Not only are we new to the Deen and learning a LOT… many of us lose friends, even family who turn their backs when we convert, leaving us very alone. Sisters also struggle with newness of covering. This is combined with pressure from the community who would judge a sister for not covering yet, but aren’t taking the initiative to gently teach her the benefits or reasons, or even provide her with a scarf or modest clothes. These times can be confusing even depressing! if we had someone to hold our hand and walk with us a while, how wonderful that would be!!!!!

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  28. Ghada

    February 29, 2016 at 5:45 AM

    Assalamu Alaikom

    So how can we have a look at your curriculum?

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