By Talha Ghannam
Since reading Muhammad Asad’s “The Road to Makkah”, I have become fascinated with exploring the perspectives non-Muslims and converts have on Islam and life generally. Being born Muslim, many of us take for granted the way we think and act, rarely paying attention to the reasons why. We casually assume every person to be the same as us, unable to fathom the nuances between different perspective, the rationality behind their thought or the background with which they speak. What Asad brought to light in his book was a perspective on life which underlies all these different issues, something I had rarely ever considered before; change.
Change is a word we often hear. Though many of us understand what it is, few of us know how to actually achieve it. Ramadan has become the Muslim equivalent of a New Year’s resolution; they come and go with promises of change but we often end up with very little to show for it. Change just seems too inconvenient.
What fascinates me with converts like Muhammad Asad is how they embody change. Every aspect of their life gradually changes over time, sacrificing the most deeply rooted of habits in order to align themselves with their new found faith. Their conversion is encapsulated through two key dimensions: an open mindedness to address the most fundamental aspect of their humanity – their faith – and a willingness to explore other perspectives of reality which were previously considered as foreign or wrong. By changing their faith, they are not only changing an identity or set of values, they acknowledge that all their previous decisions and actions may have been wrong and concede that the perspective they disagreed with was right all along. If they can overcome these two obstacles, everything else becomes a walk in the park. These two things are the keys to their success. The resulting changes are all fruits of this change.
As Muslims, we seem to have forgotten so much of this. We fail to understand that conviction is what drives the change, not our own actions. We need to ‘convert’ ourselves back to our original disposition, ridding ourselves of our intellectual and spiritual arrogance to search for the truth ourselves and recognize it wherever we see it. We must look beyond our own culture, habits and desires and be willing to place ourselves to learn what true faith and submission means. So many Muslims close their minds to any perspective other than their own, scarcely ever trying to understand the essence behind what they believe and practice. The process is gradual and the results take time, but this is the key which brought the fruits of change we witness in the great men and women in our history and the key to our own self reformation.I often reflect at what made the generation of the companions radi Allahu `anhum (may God be pleased with them) of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) so great. There are so many things we can cite; their support of the Prophet ﷺ during the heydays of Islam, the transmission and preservation of the sacred tradition, their devoutness in following Islam in its entirety. But for me, there is a more fundamental role that each of these companions (ra) played before any of these could happen; their honesty in recognizing their own misguidance and their ability to change everything in order to live in accordance with their new found faith. Imagine an entire society of individuals whose focus was on their own spiritual journey before casting judgment on others. Abu Bakr (ra), the greatest of men to walk this earth after the prophets, was named As-Siddiq (truthful and trustworthy) for his unequivocal faith in revelation and his rush in applying it to himself.
With this regard, converts are the modern day manifestations of the companions. Their journey is precisely what those great individuals went through in the past, and to understand them is to understand the companions of the prophet ﷺ. I recently had the privilege to talk with a convert who has only been Muslim for a few years. Here is one extract which I will never forget:
“It’s been almost one year to the day since I started practicing – praying five times a day, no pork/wine – although it took me a bit longer to take my shahadah (testimony of faith) formally since I wanted to be sure of what I was doing. There’s something indescribable about such a huge piece of your life you never knew you were missing coming back one day to fill that gap you didn’t realize you had.”
“Even after I took my shahadah, in some respects it felt like getting a driver’s license but not really having a car to drive. We really need to be training our imams (religious leaders) who do the shahadas to facilitate the spiritual process and not just the ‘repeat after me and sign here’ process.”
“The thought of having your slate wiped completely clean is actually quite a daunting one. You would think one would feel all light and spiritually weightless knowing that everything you’ve done wrong before that day has been forgiven, alhamdulillah (praise be to God), but for me, it was quite a heavy feeling. It’s the weight of sensing just a molecule of the immensity of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (Glorified is He); that He can, would and does forgive you, even after a lifetime of disobedience. It’s the weight of knowing He still loves you after denying Him to His face, year after year, and that He never gave up on you. But most of all, it’s the weight of knowing you don’t want to let any dirt get anywhere near your now clean slate again, but the realization that you’ll definitely continue to make mistakes, because you’re human after all. But even then Allah (swt) will continue to forgive you until you get tired of asking. Subhanallah (glory be to God), it’s nothing short of mind-blowing.”
Reading that blew me away. So much of our perception of converts is the “all your sins are forgiven” part that we often neglect the huge struggle and reconciliation the person has to go through behind the scenes. We assume the change is “rational” and “easy” with just a simple utterance of a few words, yet we forget the difficulties that come with changing bad habits and adopting new ones, difficulties which perhaps merit the forgiveness. Rarely do we ever empathize through our own struggles of reformation yet we expect an immediate reconciliation and change in others, something we ourselves are incapable of! How many of us know that being fat is bad for us and against the sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ) yet never put anything in place to change it? How many of us know that food should halal and Tayyib (pure) yet are content to eat the conveyor-belt meat that fills our shelves? The list can go on… Relating to their struggle is far more effective than judging it.
I remember sitting with one of my teachers in Egypt as we read the ‘Letter of Imam Qushayri’ (Risaalah Al-Qushairiyah), a book which describes the biographies of the great scholars during the early period of Islam. What struck me when reading the book was the number of these people who began their life as bandits, thieves and other kinds of criminals yet went on to become some of the greatest Muslims who have walked this earth. As we read through the book, I remember asking my teacher; “I know when someone converts all their sins are forgiven, but what happens if someone is already a Muslim? Is their only route to forgiveness the penal punishment?” As I said this, my teacher looks me in the eyes, smiles and says, “Is the One who is able to forgive the greatest sin of all (shirk) at the utterance of one sentence unwilling to forgive the smaller sins in the same way? All we need is to have that same conviction they do when they make that testimony of faith.”
So perhaps change is not the most difficult thing to understand or achieve after all. Most of us have not reached the level of criminality that some of the great people before us did before they began their process of reformation, so surely our journey shouldn’t be as difficult. In fact, how many of us regularly demonstrate the capacity to change our lives when we hear the commandments of Allah; fasting, praying and giving zakah (charity) when asked to? In this light, the words of Allah (swt) become so much more meaningful as the significance of our own inner struggle and the tribulations of this world are cast in a new light:
“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an 13:11)
as salaam alaikum,
As a revert, I really dislike how we are treated by the ummah.
Either we are treated as if we should know everything magically after we say the shahadah… and when we don’t, we’re seen as suspicious since we haven’t abandoned our “Western ways”…
people put us on pedestals.
I actually stopped telling my reversion story because it started to make me feel as if it were cheapening my deen. It’s like, raised Muslims (and yes I don’t say born as we are all born Mu’min) come to us for some sort of spiritual high or something. I don’t know, it just truly bothers me.
My path is certainly different from someone who was raised within the fold of Islam, but that doesn’t make me superior or inferior. I am just different.
I avoid reconverts as much as I can- they act like the ummah owes them so much for their conversion. Big deal on being different- arent we all?
Sister Dana, Assalamu Alaikum,
That is such a rude and ugly statement. Something in your heart makes you think and feel that way. According to Allah, Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), all Muslims are equal. When you think this way, you are cheating yourself out of many blessings. EtaqAllah!
Salam @ all
yes..discriminating people is not good – whether they are muslims or not..avoiding evil is ok – but to give muslims an evil attribute out of envy is not ok..do not forget – devil is arrogant. so do not die with that sin and give yourself and other muslims and non-muslim a chance for Islam.
It’s simply a logical assumption. How could/would someone change path without knowing about the path first? So as you can see it’s a logical assumption to make. It is assumed that when someone changes path (I don’t like the word convert or revert. it’s not a metamorphosis) that the person has studied the deen and done his/her homework in order to be sure of their decision, and as such knows at least the basics of the deen to go forward and learn the details as they go along just like the rest of us do. Nobody knows everything. We all learn as we go forward.
And it’s mainly out of curiosity that people want to know what led a person change path? Changing faith/belief is a heavy thing and big deal to do. So the mind gets curious as to what mind-blowing reason/event have caused such a big change of heart (yes the change is from Allah but Allah makes something/someone as the cause). So don’t get annoyed when people ask your story. On the contrary, maybe your story will inspire them to change for the better and improve their deen. Isn’t that a good thing? And perhaps you may be new but your deen/faith may be stronger and better than the “raised-muslim” sitting next to you whom you can help. So don’t assume they know/are better than you, and under the same token don’t assume you know/are better than them. Share and find out.
No doubt The Road is one of the most enchanting books I ever read; sort of like an ecstasy. And a very good example of a man who did not not convert out of some “apocalyptic discourse” but of rationality and understanding. Hence the changes that reverts go thorough take time and effort, and it has to be something in their past “Westernized lives” that led them to Islam (under the Will of God of course), so as the great sheiks have said anyone can be eligible to be a Muslim.
Jazakallah kair for this great and thought provoking article!
Very thought-provoking article, Jazakallah ul khair for this!
Ma sha Allah, a beautifully written and deeply insightful article.
May Allah be pleased with the author! Ameen.
JazakAllah for sharing that. May Allah give us all the sincerity and conviction to put into practice what we know is right – even if it be difficult, and even though it may come in baby steps over a long period of time.
SUBHAANAL LAAH! THIS ARTICLE IS INDEED A MUST READ. JAZAAKUMUL LAAHU KHAIRAN FOR SHARING
Assalamualaykum..JazakAllah JazakAllah JazakAllah
May Allah forgive all of our sins
“Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us (Jews and Christians); our Lord! Put not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us Forgiveness. Have mercy on us..”
May we muslims keep on reminding each other in doing good deeds n sabr
Aamiin Allahumma Aamiin.
awesome article to reflect on, Mashallah! Keep it up!
I think I got the general meaning but it was a bit confusing in your explanation of the concept. Maybe more examples or a different method of explanation of what you were meaning by relating to the change instead of judging it?
I am a convert , since two years and had no help or lessons but I learned how to pray and read the Quran with help from the Internet , but its been hard on me because i came to France to live with no french and no family and i converted and married after , I got a change of heart because of lack of hop and support and faith from my both me and my wifes family , so i left and now , ive gone back but her family say ah !! he will do it again he is not muslin , and so ive become more muslin than most of them and the seem to hate me even more , and scoff at me when i pray in my home etc
I pray Allah keeps giving you patience and strength and guidance to your in-laws. Keep praying and remembering Allah, for He will never allow the believer’s good deeds to be lost.