I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of converts to Islam in my life. Most of them face a series of challenges as they seek to adjust to their new lifestyles respectively. Today I was reminded of one of my favorite experiences with a friend who is a convert from about eight years ago.
A young woman had converted in our community and the usual excitement was in the air. A large group of people had welcomed her at her conversion and then a smaller group of people began to teach her the basic things she needed to know. I thought things were going well for her but a few weeks later I noticed she was kind of down. When I asked her what the problem was she said she was concerned about how to find someone to marry. I thought for a moment and then told her that she was only 19 years old. Then I reminded her that she had been Muslim for only about three weeks and maybe she should finish learning how to pray first before thinking about the lovely hardship in a young Muslim’s life that is called marriage.
To show how much we’ve grown as a community, today, eight years later, a young woman entered into my office looking for some advice. She had been told by many of her friends that she needed to start thinking about marriage because she was getting older. She became a Muslim about a month ago.
Are you kidding me?
Marriage itself seems to plauge most Muslims’ minds across the world. The desire and pursuit of companionship most definitely becomes a critical factor in most peoples lives, making it all the more frustrating when it doesn’t happen as easily as one would like it to. For a convert though it becomes a substantially more frustrating experience, as they at times have to deal with everything a person who has been born into a Muslim family has to deal with and even more. Its important for those of us who were born into Muslim families to reflect on the experience of a convert so as to not cause undue hardship on someone for the simple reason that we didn’t think where they were coming from.
Those of us who are not Muslim should really imagine what it would be like to be a part of a non-Muslim family. For most it becomes quite the struggle, as you are trying to learn the religion yourself while at the same time be a spokesperson for it to people who don’t know anything about it. Whether the family is accepting or rejecting of the conversion, it can still be a very stressful situation where one is expected to know the answer to everything. This becomes a problem when our help of those who are converts stops 10 minutes after we’ve given them a hug the day of their shahada. It becomes an even bigger problem when those of us who decide to give advice start off by saying things like “you should probably think of getting married now”. Can you imagine if you are a 19 year old girl and you come home to talk to your parents’ about your newly found religion and then tell them that you were told you have to get married soon? When I was 19 years old I told my dad I wanted to get married and he told me I was stupid and to stop saying stupid things 🙂 and my parents are Muslim alhamdulillah.
Another factor thats key to understand here is how hard it can be for a convert to find someone to get married to. I participated on a panel in which one of the speakers stated quite matter-of-factly that parents always know whats best for children and when it comes time to get married, one should fully rely on their families to help them find someone. Afterwards a young girl came up to me quite concerned, stating that not only is her family not Muslim, but they don’t even like Islam. So how can that be the way for her to get married? The cultural norms that dictate “proper” ways to get married can be quite confusing to many Muslims, not just converts. There is no expectation of someone to commit a cultural apostacy upon embracing Islam. Rather one should be able to infuse their Islam within their own cultural dynamic, allowing for even further evidence as to how truly beautiful this deen is that it can be applied anywhere and at anytime for any person or people. Yet our attachment to “our ways” can be more detrimental than we even realize.
I met a young Chinese girl once who approached me asking questions about Islam. Usually when I speak to someone who is interested in converting, I ask them what issues they have with the religion, so as to not waste time speaking about things that already make sense to them. After meeting with me a few times, the girl told me that she did have one issue with Islam. She couldn’t understand why if she became Muslim she would have to marry someone who is Chinese. I asked where she got that from. She said her friends’ parents tell them quite often that they can only marry people from their own cultural background, and if they don’t they are bad Muslims. That is what kept her from becoming Muslim.
A final point of importance would be to realize that there is a good chance that prior to entering into Islam, a person who converts might have had a relationship with someone that makes it that much harder for them to deal with the hardships of marriage after. If you’ve dated someone, been physically engaged with someone, it can become that much more of a struggle to be alone because you’ve felt what its been like to not be alone. Here its also important to realize that if someone has been in a physical relationship prior to their embracement of Islam, its not something that we should hold against anyone after they’ve become Muslim. Especially for women who are unable to cover up sexual experiences from their past, the consideration should consistently be there that they are not lacking in any way because they are not virgins. Its not for us to define someone based off of our relative definitions of whats “good” and whats “bad” when Allah has decided that these people are so good that He erases from their records anything wrong that they’ve done up until that point and keeps only that which is good.
Sorry if thats a lot of rambling. I might finish this later inshallah