“Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).” Qur’an 13:11
Converting to a new religion — not just a denominational shift — can be just as much challenging as it is exciting. The learning of new knowledge and conceptualizing new understandings can be quite mentally and spiritually stimulating and refreshing; however, for many new converts to Al-Islam, regardless of their age, one of their biggest challenges can be the response of family and friends, especially for the youngster who is very much endeared to obeying and respecting their parents — individuals who, in some situations, are still dependent on parents.
For hundreds of thousands, maybe over 1 million Muslim Americans, this has been our journey to Islam (properly called “Al-Islam”). “What will momma say? How will daddy react?” Converting to Al-Islam is much more than one going from one Christian denomination to another Christian denomination because these denominational religious expressions are all under the realm of Christianity, i.e., Bible and Jesus Christ as Lord. For example, to convert from Baptist to Apostolic, or from Presbyterian to Catholicism, may require only a change of rituals or biblical emphasis; however, when one converts to Al-Islam, it is often a family news flash, even sometimes a family upheaval.
The convert to Al-Islam now has a different holy book, the Qur’an, for guidance. Though still highly respective of Jesus Christ, the convert to Al-Islam has added Prophet Muhammed, prayers and peace be upon him, to his religious conversations and life demonstrations. And “Lord have mercy,” if the convert changes her or his childhood name to an Islamic name, this, for many parents, can be super challenging — especially if the son was named after his father. So, what does one do when a loved one converts to Al-Islam?
Often family dinners and social gatherings suddenly become a challenge because your loved one is now a finicky eater who is constantly asking, “What kind of meat did you use to season those collard greens?” Or the words of the prayer over the meal end with “in the name of Jesus.” These are real concerns that come when a loved one converts to Al-Islam. How can we be more accepting and inclusive? The answers come with time — open conversations that are based on respect and trust that the creator will work it all out.
It is important to understand that one does not “convert” overnight. Often months, if not years of comparing religious ideologies while pondering personal and community concerns — often quietly and internally — occurs on various levels. The Qur’an states in Chapter 13, Verse 11: “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).” Very often the person who converts to Al-Islam, for a variety of reasons, became dissatisfied with their previous religiosity as a means to achieve spiritual, social and mental success and independence. They found in Al-Islam viable concepts which they understood to be the answers to their many years of pondering and reflecting on life challenges and life’s promises. That is why the more the convert reads and studies Al-Islam, they repeatedly say three words: “That makes sense!”
Your converted loved one is still a person of faith, an indebted duty that adherents of Al-Islam owe to Allah. Family rights are also crucially important to all Muslims, especially the rights owed to parents. The Qur’an explicitly forbids the child to ever say “uhmp” to their parents. The Muslim is to never speak back to their parents.
Allah, in Chapter 31, verses 14-15 of the Qur’an teaches us to obey our parents unless “they strive to make you join in worship with Me things of which you have no knowledge. Obey them not yet bear them company in this life with justice …”
During the 1950s to 1970s many African Americans converted to the idea of Islam due to the blatant racism that openly permeated the American mindset in education, science, politics, employment and neighborhood redlining of real estate; quite frankly, racism systemically ingrained in every aspect of American life. The converts during this middle 20th-century era had tired of trying to work with — and work within — a system that seemed bent on denying them the fulfillment of life that our creator endowed upon all of his creation. Upon hearing just a portion of the message of Islam, something new and refreshing resonated within their souls and gave insights to their minds that no other religious institutions were teaching — at least not in the neglected ghettos of America. Sadly, fast forward to the year 2021 and we still find that some of these same injustices lingering, and praises be to Allah, conversions to Al-Islam continuing!
To conclude what may be just the tip of the iceberg of a long overdue conversation, let’s summarize with these few words. The conversion of your loved ones to Al-Islam is a good thing on all levels of life. As the years pass most agree that witnessing the positive changes in the lives of their converted loved ones have benefitted everyone, maybe even saved the sanity and the lives of your loved ones. They no longer condone smoking, cursing, alcohol and drug abuse or disrespecting women. And if the new convert is still enslaved by the above-mentioned vices, at the least, they know that within Al-Islam there are solutions to those evils.
It was their dissatisfaction with their former life that led them to Al-Islam. Dear People, your converted loved one still loves you and needs you very much. The commonalities between Islam and Christianity are far more abundant than our differences. Hopefully, as the years pass, we also will discover that even our perceived “differences” are actually just different ways of saying the same thing, that our creator is one, and we all owe obedience to him!
Michael “Mikal” Saahir is the resident Imam of Nur-Allah Islamic Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 317-753-3754.