A while ago, I came across a website that was exclusive to reverts in Islam. It was a place where they could come together and speak about their newfound faith, have important discussions onIslamic issues, learn about teachings of the Quran and Sunnah, and (my personal favourite) share their inspirational convert stories. It also had another section that caught my eye as I was browsing – a forum dedicated to reverts wanting to leave Islam.
When I first saw it, I was confused – why would anyone want to leave Islam, especially when they studied the religion and embraced it without force? Curiosity hit me, and I started reading through the different threads that reverts had submitted. The more I read, the more I became dismayed.
I began to notice that most of the posts had a similar theme. I also noticed that most of the posters were revert sisters. They all had one thing in common - they felt alone, lost, and unhappy, thus wanted to leave Islam and go back to their previous lives. Why? Simply because they had no support system and a lack of interaction with their local Muslim community.
Many reverts who embrace Islam give up everything they have in life to become a Muslim. This means changing the way they dress, what they eat, how they behave and interact with others. It also means they are likely to experience lost or strained relationships with their parents, spouses, friends, family and sometimes, even their children. Can you imagine doing that? Cutting yourself off from the world you know and exist in, only to adopt a life that is completely different in contrast?
As a Born-Muslim, there are so many things that we take advantage of. Praying salah, reading the Quran, attending tarawee, or fasting during Ramadan - it all comes naturally to us because we’ve been doing these things since we were little. We had our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to guide us through the years to help us become the devoted and obedient Muslims that we are today. Many of us come from countries that have cultures so aligned with the teachings of Islam that we can tell no difference between the two. We've always had a system in place that supported us and allowed us to perform even the most mundane religious tasks without much thought, effort or hesitation.
But have you thought about the reverts who didn’t have these things growing up? Who just embraced Islam after years of living in a completely opposite world? About how they struggle with praying salah correctly or on time? Face difficulties reading the Quran despite their efforts? Break their fast all alone during Ramadan, because they have no one to break it with?
Many reverts have no support from their families because they don’t approve of their new faith and way of life. They don’t have anyone to share their worries, anxiety, and struggles with because none of their family and friends can understand what they’re going through. Many of them struggle to make friends or find spouses because there’s no way for them to socialize with other Muslims, other than attending Jummah prayers or the occasional event at the masjid. They rarely get invitations from fellow Muslims throughout the year that could help them get acquainted and adjusted to their newfound faith.
The sad reality is, many members of our community leave the responsibility of welcoming a new Muslim to others, assuming that there is enough support for the revert when in fact there’s absolutely none. While many may have the best of intentions towards their new brothers and sisters of Islam, they often fail to follow up with them because they get too busy with their lives. The sister who took her shahada at the masjid last Friday may have received an overwhelming number of hugs, kisses and telephone numbers, but soon she’ll be left alone with empty promises of being welcomed in Muslim homes, or to be taught the Quran and Salah. It’s actually at this delicate time that new reverts need support the most, as the onset of tests pervades their life. Allah SWT says:
“We might test him who believes in the Hereafter from him who is in doubt concerning it: and the Lord watches over all things” – Quran 34:21
Ramadan came and went, but did you get a chance to think about all the reverts in your community and the challenges they must have faced this past month, or will continue to experience long after. I could tell you to make an effort to spend time with them next Eid or to remember to invite them to your social events throughout the year, but we have to go beyond that to help them.
We need to listen to our revert sisters and understand the obstacles they face every day in their life. We need to show our support, not just by offering them polite conversations or some of our spare time, but by actively pursuing to make changes in our community and way of interaction with them, so they can benefit from a boundless support system that will help them transition to their new way of life.
How can we do this? Firstly, by asking them questions and learning about their biggest fears, worries, anxieties, and problems. By doing so, we can attempt to understand them better and realize why they want to leave Islam instead of advancing in it. Try to learn about their culture or their previous life and what they miss the most from it. If you can help them find a balance between Islam and a part of their culture or traditions, they won’t feel such a loss of identity.
Secondly, we need to bring our community up-to-date with this situation and have open, sincere discussions with our leaders and community members. Many Born-Muslims are unaware of the difficulties faced by reverts and don’t realize they are ignorant towards this issue. Through these discussions, we can identify our role to help reverts overcome the obstacles they face as new Muslims and help change the communities’ attitude towards them. While you may not do so, you’d be surprised at some Born-Muslim’s who refrain from socializing with reverts, or approve their children to marry them (which is another major topic, and needs a post all by itself!).
Lastly, we should develop programs that are aimed at educating Born-Muslims and reverts in Islam. Born-Muslims need to realize their responsibility towards new Muslims, and programs should be introduced by the local masjids and other Muslim organizations on how to help new Muslims assimilate with the community. Alternatively, we should also focus on offering free workshops and classes to reverts that teach them about the fundamentals of Islam – whether its demonstrating how to pray, read the Quran with tajweed, or network with other Muslims in their community.
If new Muslims are supported through these efforts, they would not be alone. They would have the tools and strength of faith to deal with the tests that face them. They would not feel secluded the next time Ramadan approaches because they know they have a community that supports them and helped them become a more aware and mature Muslim.