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8 Ramadan Nibbles for New Muslims

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I’ve had some awkward Ramadans as a new Muslim. When I converted it was the holiday season here in America, and I’ll never forget the look my cousin gave me when I told her at Thanksgiving dinner that I wasn’t going to eat because I was fasting. Seriously, it was meme-worthy.

I also fasted while attending an American high school, where you have to go the cafeteria at lunch, so I found myself doing a lot of sitting and staring at food and generally feeling hungry while my friends made wisecracks. Because at sixteen, I was way too lazy to get up for suhoor.

“Aren’t you hungry, Liv?” they’d ask while I tried very hard not to salivate onto the laminate tabletop in confirmation.

Ramadan can be a weird thing to explain to family and friends. The concept of fasting, though it once existed in Judeo-Christian teachings, has mostly been abandoned to the point of forgotten. I was Catholic and the closest I ever got to “fasting” was giving up something of my choice for Lent, which was usually something both trivial and an indulgence to begin with, like giving up candy bars.

I have found in my own situation that to my non-Muslim family and friends, Ramadan seems extreme, like something you would associate with ascetic monks or starving people in third-world countries.

Ramadan can be a lot to take in for a new Muslim, a strained time with not-Muslim family, friends, and co-workers/peers as you explain your extreme worship (yes fasting seems extreme to non-Muslims) while simultaneously not trying to feel like an awkward loner around community iftars and Taraweeh.

After all, it is a kind of “holiday” wherein we see an abundance of various traditions, some faith-based and others cultural, like the foods people eat and how they take their meals. Sitting on the floor and eating communally can be odd for many new Muslims, as can some of the menu items.

I never even tasted a date until my first Ramadan and let me tell you, I was a little intimidated by the brown squishy thing EVERYONE was eating. Like I had to eat this thing or I’m doing something very unramadan-ish.

At no other time of year, except maybe for Eid, can feelings of sadness or loneliness become more apparent to a convert; feelings like you don’t fit in, missing your own family holidays or wishing you had your own Muslim family, and feeling like for all the hard work you’re putting in, you aren’t really feeling the joy coming back to you.

You have no loved ones to share iftar with; you have no one to attend Taraweeh with, no one to feel groggy with at suhoor. While it’s easy to say it shouldn’t matter if you have anyone with you, you’re doing it for the sake of Allah, I highly suggest that person spend a Ramadan alone and s/he will then see just how important camaraderie is during this blessed month.

If you’ve been raised around the “hubbub” of Ramadan, you may take it for granted. I will admit that even though I abhor shirk as much as the next Muslim, I still get a warm, fuzzy nostalgic feeling at Christmas time which I shove aside, and it’s taken me years to cultivate an equally warm, fuzzy one about Ramadan with my own family traditions.

Here are a few things to think about doing to make fasting be a little easier:

1. It’s okay to feel sad

You may go to the masjid during iftar or Taraweeh, and feel like a ghost. You may see all these smiling faces, people hugging and greeting each other, and feel a sad empty pit in your stomach. You may feel bitter Muslim friends are suddenly too busy with family affairs to remember you exist. Ramadan may feel really hard physically and equally so emotionally. It’s okay to feel sad, it doesn’t make you a bad Muslim. It’s normal to think about Thanksgiving or Christmas and your non-Muslim family holidays and feel a pang of longing. Don’t feel guilty and it doesn’t say anything about what kind of Muslim you are. It’s normal and inshallah your reward will be increased for the sacrifices you’ve made to follow the haqq.

2. Put suhoor next to your bed

This is advice from the teenager who missed it every day, but at least got to eat iftar in the early winter hours. Put it next to your bed, the water or juice, and when the alarm goes off, eat it right there and brush off the crumbs. There is blessing in taking suhoor and not doing so can make dehydration a real concern.

3. Have suhoor and iftar your way

Go Ramadan grocery shopping and buy some tasty things that you like and bring in suhoor and iftar your way, whether its some of those trendy vitamin waters, Doritos, or a king size candy bar. Do not feel like you need to eat ethnic Muslim foods, and if you don’t like dates, no big deal. Eat what you want to at suhoor and iftar, even if it looks like you just raided Nabisco, Little Debbie, and the Coca Cola Company.

After a long day of fasting, grab a Frappuccino or order a pizza. Don’t eat some lame, boring meal just because you don’t have a family to eat biryani with. To this day, even though I have a Muslim husband and four kids, my kids know its Ramadan not by a special rosewater drink or samosas, but because I have mini-cans of Coke and Fanta in the fridge and chips in the pantry.

And don’t worry about suddenly having to cook/eat zabihah meat (if you don’t eat it already) because it’s Ramadan (go ahead and crucify me for saying it) but just eat whatever you chicken/beef/lamb you’ve been eating the rest of the year (I’m not going to say goat because most of us converts keep goats as pets before we’d eat them for dinner).

Don’t make Ramadan twice as hard for yourself by suddenly going vegetarian either.

Which brings me to this point. Honestly, when I was seventeen someone gave me a bag of meat and while it’s the thought that counts, someone didn’t think that one through. (Just a note to all Muslims: giving a gift of raw meat is something totally unheard of in several non-Muslim societies, you may even insult someone by giving them a bag of bloody, raw animal. Nothing says, “I don’t fit here” like receiving one for many a new Muslim, and to make it worse its usually just a plastic baggie that doesn’t even have an expiration date on it).

4. Give family simple explanations

Explaining fasting is awkward because it sounds extreme; “You starve yourself from sunrise to sunset?”

“Isn’t dehydration bad for you body?”

When I said I fasted for the month many people thought I meant I didn’t eat at all for thirty days! Non-Muslims understand concepts like prayer, modesty, or the mosque, but fasting seems really out there. Have a generic explanation ready to go, and keep it as simple and relatable as possible. There are lots of reasons and benefits of fasting, so consider your audience. If I say, “I fast because Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed” there is a connection-gap there.

So, you’re celebrating the Quran…by starving yourself?”

If I say “We fast to experience the plight of the poor” or “we fast to learn self-control” or “we fast to experience delayed gratification, to remind us that if we’re patient we will be rewarded” those are reasons that non-Muslims can understand and won’t leave you explaining why dehydration is generally bad but for Ramadan you’re willing to make an exception to commemorate your holy book.

5. Don’t Avoid your Non-Muslim family

Not only can you feel alienated at Ramadan from the Muslim community, your family may feel alienated by you when you no longer join them for dinner or sit uncomfortably at the table with your nose in a book.

As someone who will be Alhamdulillah, celebrating fourteen years as a Muslim this Ramadan, I am familiar with the urge to be as silent and avoidant as possible when it comes to non-Muslim family and the tension that can arise from awkward situations. Your family may feel like Ramadan proves just how much you’ve changed or drifted away, especially because the dinner table is considered the means by which families connect after a long day.

While it can be unnerving to attempt to dissolve tension with your family, you will thank yourself in the long run if you are. Instead of hiding out at dinner, let Ramadan be a special time that you make dessert for your family while they eat dinner. Be cheerful and smiling, ask them what they’d like. Show your family you still love them and want to be close to them and you want to compensate for missed meal time. Be proactive in spending quality time with them.

6. Read the Quran in English or read what you can in Arabic.

Let me tell you, last year was the first Ramadan I finished the entire Quran after fourteen years of trying. I’m still happy I tried, and the reward for one who struggles is more than one for whom it is easy, but I was left with a sense of un-accomplishment many times.

Finishing the Qur’an in Arabic just wasn’t a realistic goal for me, but it is the one good deed, besides Taraweeh, that we focus on to the exclusion of all else and you feel lame if you’re not doing it (and you may not even be able to read in Arabic at all). Reading the Quran and understanding it is very valuable.

Another great idea is to listen to recordings of the tafseer, or explanation, of the Quran (I would recommend Nouman Ali Khan). Don’t feel demotivated because you can’t do what everyone else seems to be doing.

7. Taraweeh is great but its not fard

Yes, mashallah, it is great to go to Taraweeh, but it’s not obligatory and the sunnah is actually to pray by your own at home sometimes too. Once again, you may have to go to work every day or school and fasting plus staying out and praying late is burning you out. No, you’re not weak, and in fact in many Muslim countries people accomplish Taraweeh every night by sleeping through the majority of the fast or having adjusted work hours. Do what you can do, but remember that Taraweeh is optional while fasting isn’t, so its better to skip Taraweeh if it enables you to maintain your fast.

8. Fasting is Hard

I’m here to validate you; fasting is hard, especially in long, summer days. As a new Muslim, you may be intimidated and wondering if you can even do it. I’m here to tell you you can do it, but if for some reason you make a mistake, or cave in to a moment of weakness, all is not lost. (Note: I’m not *justifying* doing this, as it’s not allowed; I’m merely saying that *if* you fall into this sin, don’t give up hope and repent and move on).

Ask Allah to forgive you and make you stronger and keep going; finish the rest of the day’s fast. Do not fall into the trap of thinking, “now my fast doesn’t count” or “now I have to make the day up” or “now I ruined the fast” so the day is lost. Allah rewards you for every moment you are in a fasted state— your reward is continuous. If you cave in and take that drink of water, continue your fast and inshallah you will get rewarded for setting things back to right and persevering. Allah knows what is more difficult for some than others, and Allah created us so that we would sin and then turn back to Him in repentance. Don’t give up.

Fiqh for new Muslims is a sensitive issue and should be handled with a personal approach.

May Allah accept all our good deeds during this blessed month and enable us all to grow firmer in our faith.

 

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Olivia has been married for over a decade, homeschools, and writes. She graduated from Arees Institute with a Bachelor's in Islamic Sciences and is a Certified Screamfree leader (screamfree.com). Originally from Chicago, she's been Muslim for 14 years.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    rowena

    July 15, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    As a Christ follower, I appreciate your explanation but want to point out that fasting is still very prevalent in Christian community. I am not catholic, but based on the example of Jesus Christ Who fasted for 40 days without food or drink, we as Christians do fast – just not publicly as it is a very personal matter between me and God. As I fast my walk with God is deepened but it is never a means of acceptance. When I accepted Christ as my Saviour, I was accepted by Father God even though He always loved me, I needed to choose Him first. that is free choice. He always loved me, but untill I wanted Him and accepted His love in my life, I was alone. Now I love Him in my freedom and His grace keeps me in His will. GOD BLESS YOU.

    • Avatar

      Olivia

      July 15, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      That is interesting; what denomination are you? Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that it is not longer practiced in mainstream Christianity though I am aware it is mentioned in the bible that Jesus fasted.

  2. Avatar

    June

    July 15, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    Assalamu alaykum,
    A very enjoyable article. I smiled a bit when you mentioned the king size candy bar because I TOTALLY do that. I think it’s great dense calories. 4 pieces and you’re already at 100 calories. Eat half the bar and your at 300! I also make green smoothies to make sure I get all my vitamins and minerals.

  3. Avatar

    Sarah

    July 15, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    Assalamu alaykum.

    You’ve given some useful advice for all Muslims in America, masha’Allah.

    Islam is a flexible religion that is applicable to all peoples and all times; therefore, “ethnic Muslim food” should be any permissible (Halal) foods that Muslims eat.

    Yes, certain foods, such as dates, are Sunnah (or the habit of our dear Prophet, peace be upon him). Although those foods are recommended to eat, they are not required (Fard).

    By presumably referring to the Arab diet as “ethnic Muslim” you’re putting two words together that do not make sense.

    Your posts on MuslimMatters urge Muslims to be accepting of new comers and strangers. Your effort to do so is extremely important and I admire your dedicated. Using terms like “ethnic Muslim,” especially when used as an opposite to “American” food, undermines these efforts.

    I know that is not your intention and that you’re simply employing commonly used descriptors. “Ethnic Muslim” and “Third World” are words commonly used in American discourse. I myself struggle to avoid them.

    Just because something is prevalent doesn’t mean it is right. If we really think about the meaning or semantics, these terms do not make any sense.

    For instance, our Prophet, peace be upon him, said in his last Khutbah (sermon): No Arab is better than a non-Arab, and no non-Arab is better than an Arab. If we truly want to exemplify that in our lives (and I recognize your efforts to do so, masha’Allah), we have to stop using terms like “Ethnic Muslim” to refer to Arabs (or Desi or Persian or Turks or …if you keep extrapolating then the term really doesn’t make sense) and especially must stop using this term to set apart “American” Muslims from the rest. That’s not what Allah SWT intended.

    A Muslim is “one who submits to Allah SWT.” An ethnic Muslim should be anyone from any ethnicity or culture that submits to Allah SWT.

    It does seem like a small consideration, but language has a BIG effect. Allah SWT chose Arabic, a rich and potent language, to reveal the message to mankind. Each word in the Quran has special, carefully chosen meaning. We should try our best to use our words in the same way, insha’Allah.

    • Avatar

      Olivia

      July 15, 2014 at 1:17 PM

      My articles on MM always seem to be riddled with dumb white people borderline WASP language (thanks, Dad!), unfortunately to the point of derailing the message I’m trying to deliver bc I guess it’s just too much pass up. Really, I can’t believe on the on-staff brown editor missed “ethnic Muslim” and didn’t change it to “ethnic foods from majority Muslim countries”!! :P MM staffers, we really need to put up a disclaimer on all my articles so the point doesn’t get lost. I knew someone was going to jump on “third world” but my point is made; that is exactly what non-Muslim Americans often think. As a matter of fact the precise wording that I have heard directly is “You’re like a starving Ethiopian!!” Once again just trying to write an article that converts can relate to. Guess it can never be win-win ;)

      • Avatar

        Sarah

        July 15, 2014 at 4:56 PM

        Your message isn’t derailed. Rather, I admire your work and I read all your posts. Muslims need to hear your voice because you do represent so many. The upwards of 100 replies to each of your posts are testament to the necessary dialogue you’ve created.

        I decided to comment because I recognize myself in you. Part of living in this world is getting to know others, from different nations, tribes, languages, etc. (As it says in the Quran: 49:13). This is our responsibility and it is not an easy task . It takes patience and investment to truly get to know others. I’ve non-intentionally said offensive or uninformed things plenty of times. I’ve had to learn from those experiences but often times such innocent mistakes have drawn me closer to a community, masha’Allah. Allah SWT specifically created mankind fallible, to learn from such experiences so that we could be the highest of creations.

        My purpose was not to discourage you, but to enter an open dialogue so we can learn from one another. I have certainly learned from reading your posts and sincerely appreciate your time and attention to sharing your perspective.

      • Avatar

        olivia

        July 16, 2014 at 12:33 PM

        Jzk for your input :) tbh I’m not exactly one of those white hippy globetrotting types, nor has life giving me the chance to travel much, but I am very welcoming of different cultures and I think i have spent more time submerged in other people’s culture than my own since I accepted Islam, or so it feels when you’re constantly surrounded by it at the masjid and your in laws are from overseas :) I certainly do not intend to shut out other cultures and when I was single in college and was one of the first converts in the area, spent all my time around desis, malaysians, egyptians, and khaleejis. I guess I feel like I’ve done a lot of learning, tried on a few different cultures even, and am content with who I am and will take ownership of that even I’d it has its flaws that seep through the cracks bc I can’t erase my formative years and how I speak, tho I intend to be benign, reflects that. I try my best to correct it but I don’t think it has anything to with underexposure to other cultures. I realize there are aspects of understanding i lack from not travelling overseas, but until opportunity arises its not something i can do, so i will have to bleed ignorance a little i suppsose :) (My Cowife wants to take me overseas and film me as the female follow up to “An Idiot Abroad” :p) people on here sometimes feel offended by what I say, but it’s also not easy being who I am and trying to offer something and have it nitpicked when I really feel like for all that I was raised my American bedus and it shows innocently, I do also think pepole have a habit of NOT giving me the benefit of the doubt or willing to accept it as an ignorant mistake or even something I intended to say and for good reason, like the third world commentry because that has literally been said to me. It’s hard to try to write an article that “americans” can relate to without stepping on other people’s toes for not being PC :)

        • Avatar

          Sarah

          July 17, 2014 at 6:04 AM

          My point is not to make judgement on wether you’ve had exposure to other cultures or traveled to another country. Based on your experience, anyone should emulate your ability to reach out and mingle with others. When I reflect on your story of embracing Islam at such a young age and in an environment without many other reverts, I am truly inspired by you and awed by the Hidaya of Allah SWT. You are one very strong sister, masha’Allah. I have no doubt your writing inspires and assists other Muslims in America.

          I myself can relate to your writing. I really love how your culture “seeps through the cracks. ” However, there are some aspects of your writing that are framed or conceptualized in a way that doesn’t make sense to me or is not reflective of my own understanding and experience, despite that demographically we may look the same (American, female, some mix of Euro ancestry, grew up in suburbs, graduated from major research university, embraced Islam at early age – albeit I did in my early twenties).

          Reading the various comments on your posts shows me that others are equally thought-provoked by your words. We’re all life long learners here and ultimately both of our ideas (all of our ideas) matter. What’s awesome is that MM is a safe space to carry out an exchange of these ideas. In that way, it is a win-win. If we didn’t accidentally step on each others toes every once in awhile, we might not be close enough to pray shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side (I know I’ve apologetically squashed a few toes in the mosque these days (sorry my sisters!), masha’Allah, may Allah SWT preserve the crowded enthusiasm of Ramadan : ) Despite our minor differences, we are one Ummah facing one direction, insha’Allah, on one straight path laid out by the One Creator, Allah SWT. To me that is one of the most incredible and beautiful qualities of Islam. Alhamdu’Allah.

      • Avatar

        olivia

        July 16, 2014 at 12:36 PM

        Sorry typos, still getting used to texting with andriod^^^ :)

  4. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    July 15, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Salaam alaikum

    MashaAllah- an excellent article and one that I found useful despite not being a revert. I especially like the points you made about taraweeh and reading quran in English.

    WAJiD

  5. Avatar

    Manna

    July 15, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    JazakAllahu khyr for the post. It would be good to get more posts by experienced, long time reverts that give tips and guidance to new reverts so they can relate to someone who’s already gone through the experience.

    Reverts who reverted long ago will be able to know the common pitfalls for new reverts and give them general guidance accordingly. I think some of the topics that can be discussed are how to overcome any sadness, depression with going through family, friend, or coworker related difficulties after reverting to Islam.

    Does anyone know of any website(s) already catering specifically to reverts?

  6. Avatar

    Hyde

    July 15, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    All the above can equally apply to people who are born Muslims as well :)

  7. Avatar

    Muttaqi Ismail

    July 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    I was born Muslim (AA parents converted decades ago), but receiving raw meat was weird for me the first time also. It is such a strange thing. It’s like giving a Bedouin a musical Hallmark card as a gift. It’s the thought that counts, but what on earth are they going to do with it?

    • Avatar

      olivia

      July 16, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      Love the analogy :) lol

  8. Avatar

    Aasiya Umar

    July 16, 2014 at 7:33 AM

    As a convert, I connected with what you said. Mashallah, I really liked the idea of reading quran (also) in English during ramadan. But one point that made me uncomfortable was your suggestion to eat non-halal meat. I won’t crucify you for saying this, lol, but it doesn’t seem right to recommend a haram act, just because ‘they were already doing it’. For eg, if somebody tries to quit smoking during Ramadan, if we can’t help them with it, then at least we shouldn’t tell them to not even bother trying. And of course, halal-haram was prescribed by Allah and hence deserves no opinion from us.

    Jazakallah khair for a well-written article. May Allah reward you for the efforts.

    • Avatar

      olivia

      July 16, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      Thanks for you feedback :) let me clarify: I’m not telling anyone to eat haraam meat, I’m telling reverts that they should keep eating whatever meat they already eat all year and not over complicate things buy changing it (unless they want to) or if you were in my shoes in college, going vegetarian which is unhealthy. In my experiences there has been something of an obsession with zabiha meat and it being over prioritized to converts when practically it may not be feasible. If anyone has a legit reason to eat thr meat of the people of the book in our society, like chicken from nonmuslim companies other shuyukh have said is slaughtered correctly, it’s a newly converted muslim. Especially if you’re still living at home and rejecting all your families meals can cause a huge rift. As an example I knew of someone who grew up with a nonmuslim father and muslim mother, and the shocked question I got from the muslim I told was “how did he eat zabiha meat???” Really? First let’s talk abt the Christmas tree and proper aqeedah, lol.

    • Avatar

      olivia

      July 16, 2014 at 11:59 AM

      I’m not referring to pork, of course :)

  9. Avatar

    Mohammed

    July 16, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    Everything said is just beautifully said. Keep up with your good writing. Wonderful!!

  10. Avatar

    Zaheer

    July 17, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    I’m not a revert, so I can’t say how useful this article is (seems like it is, given the comments).

    However it contains some of the worst dieting advice for fasting people I’ve seen in a while – candy bars, doritos, coke? Sure, these are ok once in a while, but they should definitely not be consumed on the regular, and especially not before/after a long day of fasting. Talk about blood sugar spikes.

    Just because you don’t want to eat “ethnic” food, doesn’t mean you should eat processed junk. Normal “western” salads, soups, stews, meat/chicken dishes, etc. are good too. I know Olivia probably didn’t intend for it to be one or the other; just thought I’d put it out there.

  11. Pingback: 8 RAMADAN NIBBLES FOR NEW MUSLIMS | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

  12. Avatar

    Katie

    May 25, 2015 at 12:19 PM

    Thank you for the great article! This year is my first Ramadan and your article is very helpful and encouraging.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      June 2, 2015 at 3:58 PM

      Salaam alaikum Katie,
      May Allah bless us this Ramadan. Best of luck Sister! The first few are incredibly challenging (even when the days are short in December), but after that it will inshallah get easier and easier :)

  13. Avatar

    Maryam

    June 2, 2015 at 3:56 PM

    Salaam alaikum,
    Thank you for this article! I am not a convert, and as such I hadn’t really given much thought to how difficult Ramadan must be for new Muslims. I mean it’s challenging enough for those of us with Muslim families and Ramadan traditions etc. Knowing now, I’m really going to try to be kind to and interact with my Muslim sisters who don’t have Muslim families.

  14. Avatar

    Noor

    June 23, 2017 at 9:22 PM

    This article is boring gross and kinda racist. WtF is ethnic muslim food anyway? Food has ethnicities now. I wonder if that starving kid in Yemen cares where his food comes from. Oh yeah he doesnt have any.

    Eat healthy esp during Ramadaan and esp if you are getting on in age. Soda will dehydrate you and should be combined with lots of water if you need the caffeine. No mention of coffee btw… that makes no sense. Seriously though this article was clearly written by someone with no health issues. Irresponsible.

    Its still Ramadaan. Theres still time. Read Surah Hashr. Read Baqara. Read Ikhlas. Read or listen or watch in english or otherwise. Stop going to online Muslims for mediocre advice ( inc me) READ or LISTEN TO THE QURAN. Its much more fun Much more interesting and a lot less annoying and trite than these self aggrandizing bloggers.

    And what is this business about meat and not going veg for Ramadaan? Hard boiled eggs and vegetables are life. Dates give me a toothache but they are still good for you. Oh and Stop feeding your kids “trendy” trash because you think you’re being a cool muslim mom. You’re not.

    I wish I had my mother’s cooking and not some packaged crap to eat right now. Speaking of which; Ramadaan is a great time to look at videos and images of starving communities who have nothing to look forward to eating when the sun dips below the horizon. Try teaching yourself and your over sugared spoiled first world Muslim kids that for a change.

    Btw, I have an actual reason I can’t attend Tarawih. The mosque near my house burned down. Oh and Assad is (still) murdering Muslims while well-to-do “Muslims” are partying in Idlib but keep pretending your little Ramadaan is “challenging”.

    Ramadan Kareem bishes! ?

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#Life

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

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Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship hugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

charity
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I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

1. My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

3. Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

dardir

4. People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

5. Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

6. It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

7. Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

8. It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

9. Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

10. Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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#Islam

He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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