I recently sat down with my good friend from middle school who reverted to Islam when we were just kids. I wanted to share her story and her struggles as a way to learn and better ourselves when it comes to helping reverts. Reverting to a religion that a majority of your family isn’t a part of can be hard and at times lonely. So if you know a revert in your community, reach out and offer them support.
Q: How did you find Islam? What led you to finally convert?
A: So, what led me to Islam were my older cousins and my uncle, just being around them and spending a lot of time at the Masjid. It was always so much fun for me and to me it felt like that the people were very genuine. Like even though I had gone to catholic school… you know Christians can be like in your face with like getting you to convert. You know you got the Jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door every weekend. You know, they’re in your face. For me it was not like a… I was just that because that’s what my grandmother was and she was raising me at the time you know? It was not anything I believed in. But going to the Masjid and learning the Quran and everything made sense to me and it made sense to me that, that would be the last religion God has send down. So I accepted it at 12 years old and I decided this is what I want to practice and this is what I believe in. Because I experienced another religion and I was able to compare and contrast the two at such a young age.
Q: How did reverting change your life? What struggles did it come with? And what was the positive aspect?
A: So there were struggles and also positive aspects of it. Most of my family is Christian and my aunt was really into Christmas like full out into Christmas but my family was respectful like for example if I don’t want to eat pork they would make everything without pork. That type of stuff was fine but it was just wanting to spend time with my family without celebrating holidays that I don’t necessarily celebrate or believe in. That’s where the struggle was; how do I spend time with my family without embracing the traditions and giving them false hope that I believe in this too.
The positive aspect is that I did have other family members who are Muslim and they supported me and it made me feel really comfortable. My family is pretty open, they aren’t judgmental people so the transition was smooth and no one made me feel uncomfortable for changing my religion.
Q: Would you say you were religious before? When you went to Catholic school?
A: No, it was more like a habit. Like you just do what you’ve always done. When you go to Catholic school, it’s like a ritual like the things they teach you and you do it mindlessly.
Q: So after your Shahada, was it easy to go to the Masjid and feel welcomed?
A: So because I was a child and went there with my cousin they embraced me as a child, but as I’ve gotten older I feel like going to the Masjid isn’t the same. You know, when I try to go to a Masjid, not having many Muslim friends, it just doesn’t feel that welcoming. There is no structure for new Muslims who are just starting to come to the Masjid. There wasn’t really an effort to try and include reverts. I wish they had some kind of program where they partner you with a sister who can help you learn and guide you through the transition.
Q: How do you think your experience is different from someone who was born into Islam?
A: When you’re born into something you know a lot of the fundamentals because you’ve grown up with it and there are people all around you actively teaching you and helping you with your knowledge of Islam, the Quran, and hadiths. But with reverts you don’t really have that direct source of knowledge. Most of the time you’re studying things on your own and online and you don’t even know if these things are accurate.
Q: When you tell Muslims that you’re a revert, what’s the reaction you typically get?
A: It depends. Being a revert and a black revert on top of that some people will make you feel like you’re not a real Muslim because they’re an Arab Muslim. But then there are other people who are welcoming and they’re usually other black Muslims. People who aren’t even Muslim will say things like “Oh you don’t look like other Muslims I know, how can you really be Muslim?” when I tell them I’m a revert. And all I can say is that “I am a Muslim but I’m still learning.” You know, people ask me all the time “Well how are you Muslim? What country are you from?” and I wish people would understand that you can be Muslim no matter who you are. Yes, a black girl from America can be a Muslim. It’s for everybody.
Q: What’s one thing that you want the Muslim community to learn about reverts?
A: That we genuinely want to be part of the Muslim community. We’re not Muslim because our parents are Muslim and they made us be Muslim. We want to learn and be included. We want advice but not in a judgmental way.
Q: How do you think Islam has affected you personally?
A: I believe that it has made me a calmer person and it has changed my judgment a lot. I think about things before I say and do it. That’s the best part of Islam to me, it has changed my character for the better. It has also made me a self-aware person and I try to strive to live by the Quran and hadiths.
Q: What were the struggles you faced when you started to learn to pray and read the Quran in Arabic?
A: That’s one thing that I wish there was more support for. I remember the first Surah I learned was Al-Fatihah and that was one that I can remember no matter what but everything else has been hard. It takes a lot of practice and I wish there was someone I could just call up and say “Hey am I saying this right?!” It’s a completely new way of life and I wish there was more support and someone who will go through it with you and share their experiences and relate to mine. The other thing I find hard is that my old friends are great and I love them they’re great people but there are things that are haram for me but not for them. So when they go out clubbing on a Friday night it’s not haram for them but it is for me. And I still want to go and enjoy myself but within the halal realm.
Q: Was it hard to go through middle and high school without the Islam support at home?
A: Yes, as a kid you want to do what everyone else is doing and it’s hard when you’re Muslim. Sometimes it felt like I was living two lives; on the weekend I would go to the Masjid and then during the week I was just another girl at school because at the time I wasn’t wearing hijab or really praying. And that’s something that I’m still working on and striving for.