Converting to Islam: What to Look Out For

24 Feb

Prior to my conversion last summer, I spent a couple of years trying to find my bearings in this divers and often confusing world of Muslims and Islam. There are a few mistakes I made, and a few lessons I learned the hard way. It’s not always easy to see through all the trees of the forest to what Islam is really about. That’s why I would like to share my experience in finding my way.
So, what are the things you should keep in mind while navigating through so many opinions and you must’s?

1. Watch out for extreme opinions

In my experience, there are a lot of forums trying to lure you in with the message “everyone is welcome, come here to learn about Islam, it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or not!”
They seem so friendly and welcoming, so why not go ahead and become a member?
But when you have a look at the content of their forums, you notice that the message rapidly changes from “everyone is welcome” to “only the people with my views are welcome, the rest will go to hell”. Often you find yourself ignored or told off when you dare to challenge their beliefs and opinions.
I used to be a member of such a forum years back, and it really put me off. “Is this Islam?” I thought, “So intolerant? So women-unfriendly?”
Such forums/views often promote that women stay at home, accept polygamy very submissively and without question and are covered from top to bottom. Anything else is not acceptable. They also frequently use the word “kafir” for a non-Muslim, which basically means a person who is ungrateful to God, a disbeliever. They constantly stress that a good Muslim follows all the details of their interpretation of Islam. They turn what’s allowed (halal) in what’s forbidden (haram), and that’s a very bad thing!
Then I discovered luckily, that what I read was only one opinion about Islam, no matter how much those people want to make it seem otherwise.
The lesson to be learned from this all is that you shouldn’t base your knowledge of Islam on what some people tell you. It’s just their opinion. If you get a bad feeling from what they are saying, by all means, turn your back and follow your own heart! You are still finding your way, no one has the right to put pressure on you.

2. Do your own research

Go back to the original sources of Islam: Quran and sunna. When you learn about Islam only from the lips of a Muslim, it’s possible that he/she will mix the teachings of Islam with his/her own culture and beliefs. Don’t be satisfied with what someone tells you, ask questions and do your own reading and research. Don’t be afraid to explore alternative interpretations of Quran verses and hadiths (traditions). Especially as a woman, know what your Islamic rights are in marriage and divorce. They say knowledge is power, and this is very true. Never be satisfied, always look to broaden your knowledge, to read, to ask questions.

3. Take your time

Don’t rush into things, whether it’s converting, wearing headscarf full-time or other important and life-changing decisions. Think about your motives. Is this what you want or what someone else wants? If you take too many decisions too fast, it will backfire. I know a lot of converts who started to wear headscarf right away, only to take it back off later. I’m not saying you can’t be ready from the start, but do take your time to make sure that everything you do comes from within, and not from what others say you should do.

4. Learn Arabic

Arabic is the language of Islam, there is no doubt about that. Make it your goal to be able to recite and read the Quran in Arabic. This will also enable you to read and study the original sources of Islam, without a translator’s view on things. Also, there are a lot of Arabic works about Islam which aren’t translated in any other language, and it would be a shame to let that chance for knowledge pass you by.

5. Know your rights

I know I mentioned this before, but I really want to stress its importance. It’s not because someone else tells you you can’t do something, that it’s actually based on Islam.
As a Muslim woman, you have the right to claim your rights when you get married. This is done by means of a marriage contract. Don’t let this chance pass you by, because you never know what life’s going to bring.
For more information on which rights you can claim in a marriage contract, I suggest you read this article: http://www.islamfortoday.com/prenuptial.htm

6. When you’re lost, go back to the essence of Islam

Everyone of us goes through ups and downs when it comes to faith. We are only human. Sometimes we feel we just can’t do it anymore, to follow a belief that’s so different from the culture in which we were raised, and the people around us. We can’t be strong every day.
My advice is to not get caught up in details. If you are having problems with the idea of wearing headscarf for example, don’t let that get in the way of your faith. Concentrate on the five pillars of Islam:

1. Shahada: There is no other god than Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet
2. Salaat: praying 5 times a day
3. Zakaat: giving money to the poor and needy
4. Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
5.Hadj: pilgrimage to Mecca

These are the basics. Although modesty is also very important in Islam, it’s not a pillar, and if you feel you are not ready to cover or wear headscarf, or whatever someone is telling you to do, that’s ok. Concentrate on the essence, so you get a feel of what Islam is really about. Also, while you are doing these things, your love for God and Islam will grow, your faith will strengthen,  and you will feel ready for things you didn’t feel ready to do before. Just give it time, and trust that God will guide you. Don’t feel inadequate or put down because you’re not ready for something. It’s your intention that counts. If you strife to be better, God will surely help you, for He is the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

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