Evidently, American converts face difficulty integrating into an accepting Islamic community. It’s bad enough that Islamic practice often conflicts with the American cultural milieu. Community provides the cushion and the impetus for all successful adjustments, yet instead of finding open arms and willing teachers, American converts face a paucity of learning opportunities, and sometimes then doubt their faith as genuine. Some suffer manipulation and deceitful behavior from Muslims who should know better. The most unfortunate of them face rejection from family members, as well.
I say “evidently” because I’ve rarely seen this. I believe it, however, on the strength of many, many accounts I’ve read from Muslim converts scattered all over the country. My own conversion experience is singular, and because of it, I daresay I can address this situation with some insight.
If I were to address those who are about to say shahada, I would advise:
1.) Most importantly: find a supportive Muslim community and integrate yourself into it as a potential covert. If you are not welcomed and nurtured, find another community, even on-line. Though face-to-face community is best, on-line community has become and important adjunct, and, in some cases, a life-line for those who cannot find community in their daily lives.
2. Consider all the implications of living your life as Muslim. What will be expected of you from Islam, your new sisters and brothers, and what you will expect from yourself.
3. Learn as much as you can, but be careful of your sources. Check and re-check what you learn with other sources to avoid being duped into the agenda of unscrupulous religionists.
4. Learn elementary Arabic, for the purpose of reciting prayers.
5. If you are a woman, consider whether hair-covering and modest dressing is something you believe in or are willing to do in the West.
6. Learn the requirements of polygyny. Get to know polygynous families if you are drawn to this family structure.
7. Do not inform your family of origin if you value their support and would suffer from their rejection.
8. Do not inform your family of origin if they love you and would suffer needlessly from your conversion.
9. Live Islam in secret until you can enter a more favorable situation.Learn to admit and live with the compromises you may make, especially if you live in the West.
10..Do not get married within a year of becoming Muslim. You need an adjustment period, and a foundation upon which to make a good marriage decision.
This list of tips is my own personal list, because I’ve used them all, and I’ve maintained my sense of feeling Muslim for nearly thirty years, even though I haven’t always lived a proper Islamic life. I haven’t lost my family or my religion, but I’ve made compromises that some people would not want to make.
I decided from the start that I wanted to be Muslim and I didn’t want to lose my American family of origin, nor my American culture. Balancing those two incompatible states produced cognitive dissonance which persists to this day, but I choose it, rather than risk losing my family and culture as well as my adopted religion.
You may not agree, and my not want to consider these tips, but maybe you’ve never heard anyone speak like I do about the conundrum of being an American convert in America. Maybe these tips are the breath of fresh air you’ve been needing. Allah knows best. May Allah accept my intention to help Western converts coordinate Islam with Western culture when the two can be seemingly incompatible. An American way of practicing Islam is always a work in progress.