And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good. (Qur’an 29:69)
Being a convert to Islam is a traumatic experience. It is not usually something you would hear from a convert to Islam. I myself am a convert to Islam. It is a powerful, liberating and beautiful experience to come to know the truth; and yet it is also a traumatic experience. I feel that the majority of those born and raised as Muslims do not appreciate this challenge that we as converts face.
Indonesians, Malays, Turks, Pakistanis, the Arabs in general, when they came to Islam, there were usually whole families, tribes, cities who came to Islam as a whole. At times perhaps a king, sultan or tribal leader would convert to Islam and than announce, ‘we are Muslims now’.
I often think in my particular context because of my ancestral lineage going back to the Vikings. What was that like to leave behind Thor, Odin, Freya and Loki for Christ Jesus? They embraced a new worldview. Perhaps this new world view was more cohesive and answered lingering questions in a way their previous faith did not. They had a new language for liturgy, Latin.
Yet, in all of this they still very much were Danes, or Swedes, or Welsh. They had their, culture, their language, their identity and a sense of who they were, and yet were very comfortable with the additional identity of Christian.
So for them the process was very natural and organic. We, the people who convert to Islam in South Korea, Australia, Canada, the U.K, Brazil and other places we do not get to experience any of that at all.
In fact if we were to challenge any of the traditional narratives of Islam some Muslims think of us as agents, trying to lead Muslims astray from the right path. Not only do some of our brothers and sisters look upon us with suspicion, often our very governments do as well. Who are our teachers? What are our circles/spheres of influence? Are we radicalized?
So you can imagine I was very disappointed with over simplification of Muslim identity with statements like the following from the otherwise very insightful Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad.
“Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.”― Abdal Hakim Murad
What identity does he think Muslim converts are seeking? What identity does he imagine us to have in this admittedly sea of diverse views, opinions and communities?
At one point I looked to people like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, and Abdal Hakim Murad as sources of inspiration and than I realized, I should not expect them to go against the grain because these are people who are primarily supported by immigrant Muslims or 2nd generation Muslims. As they say you do not bite the hand that feeds you.
Also, in a world where we are increasingly (at least in the West) taking on more and more of a corporate culture, who could blame people for trying to find a sense of belonging /grouping. It is like the people who say, “I don’t believe in organized religion”.
Obviously they do not mean to favour disorganized religion; but they fail to grasp that people, that humans form groups. These groups or bonds are based upon many different factors. Language, tribal affiliation, social economic factors and so forth.
There was a group in the United Kingdom known as the Murabitun. They saw some of these problems and tried to give focus to the convert community but what ended up happening with them is they became in their own eyes an elitist group. The Maliki school=Islam, not just a school among schools. The working class which should have been a focus of theirs became a point of ire.
In fact it wasn’t long that I realized that Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Abdul Hakim Murad also belonged to this mindset that does believe In hierarchy and status quo.
So they never were or never will be voices for the Muslim convert community. They are simply locked in the great power competition against another rival vision of Islam. That is a version of Islam that is better funded, and represented and does tend to go to those places (inner cities, working class communities, those not highly educated) that people like Hamza Yusuf and Abdul Hakim Murad simply cannot relate to (Muslim or not).
So the conversion to Islam will continue to be in many ways traumatic, fraught with personal upheavals, inorganic, and yes a search for identity and a search for one’s place in the greater scheme of things.
Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad is correct about one thing he said in the above statement. That is that ultimately the focus of being a Muslim is on a personal relationship with Allah. As Allah is the Truth, that also means a continued refinement of what this truth entails and what is means for one as a Muslim.
If one becomes a Muslim to form solidarity with the cause of Palestine or the Muslims this may not be the best of intentions. If one becomes a Muslim simply to marry this man or woman it may not be with the best of intentions. If one become a Muslim because they imagine themselves as Paul Mu’adib who will lead the Freeman in battle against the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, this to may not be with the best of intentions.
So what do you do if you came to Islam with such intentions? Change your intention. Read, reflect, refine. Know that Islam is ultimately the science of what it means to be a human being. It is about direct communication and awesome awareness to the sovereign of all existence.
Often this means sifting through different Islamic narratives and paradigms. Understanding that one particular view does not equate to the whole of Islam endorsing this particular understanding.
You should be comfortable with being you and who you are. Remember real personal growth comes not from always being in the familiar, or with the familiar, it often comes from being in the unfamiliar with the unfamiliar, in being completely in the unknown.
By the grace of Allah (swt) we humans got to where we are today through adaptation and mutation. This comes through adversity and not through complacency, through the familiar.
Being a Muslim is about stability and flux. Not one or the other.
If there is no change, no innovation, no adaptation, things become stagnant like dead water. A period of imitation is a period of stagnation. Yet, if we are like the tides of the ocean being tossed about here and there, there will be no continuity, to connection to past, and present. Balance is both the key and the struggle.
We trust in Allah and in Allah let the believers put their trust. You are born now in this age in this time. Allah is ever-wise.
Along the way in this journey as a Muslim you will find that there will be assistance, and at different junctures of your development, different situations, different people will present themselves in your life in different capacities, to trigger you, to fire you up and to remind you. Not to do it for you. I am only one of those triggers, a catalyst.