I hear many of those who are new to Islam talk about how they struggle to develop a sense of belonging and community.
I understand this.
After all, most of those around me when I visit the mosque are Muslim whilst I’m seen as a Revert or Convert.
My own exploration of Islam began some 15 years ago. Af first I was simply intrigued and wanted to know more through reading the Quran. Over the years I discovered more and felt I could improve my own faith practice, which at that time was Christian. I wanted to learn how Muslims approached prayer, charity and fasting. My goal at that time was simply to become a better Christian.
Throughout all this time I met many other Christian’s wanting to learn more about Islam. But I never once encountered a Muslim – or found support from Muslims.
I visited a mosque on an open day. The tour was interesting but not engaging and I really learnt little.
Since becoming a Muslim in recent years I now attend the Mosque weekly and follow a number of chat groups yet I still have little or no interaction with other Muslims.
I’d feel more positive if my experiences were unique yet they really are not. Many others feels a sense of isolation and exclusion as they embrace Islam.
In part they often feel a sense of loss as their families distance themselves through a failure to understand. Their past faith communities also detach themselves from someone they feel is lost and even misguided.
Through Allah’s guidance I still became a Muslim.
I was also fortunate in that none of this was true for me. My family were positive and my Christian friends remained steadfast.
But we still need to ask ourselves why those new to Islam feel this way?
I’d suggest this is a mixture of culture and ethnicity. As a white Muslim I’ve been challenged in a mosque as to whether I was really a Muslim.
As a white European I am almost unique in my local Mosque.
Mosques seem to be generally closed to visitors for those seeking to know more about Islam – the Cambridge Central Mosque stands out for me in this regard welcoming visitors of all faiths and backgrounds throughout the day.
The first texts I read about Islam were sourced from Christian book shops, indeed I have yet to find an Islamic book shop in the South West of the UK, even within a mosque.
Apart from prayers there seem to be few social opportunities for Muslims or those simply interested in Islam to sit and chat and explore ideas and grow their faith, except on online of course.
Perhaps this is not that new. After all, Karen Armstrong in her book Islam – A short History reminds us that Islam did not initially set out embrace those from outside of their tribal groupings. She reminds us that:
Reading this left me wondering how many Muslims still feel this way? – That those new to Islam remain outsiders in their eyes.
Others have questioned whether the various titles of Reverts and Converts are simply unhelpful in this respect since they differentiate us rather than simply seeing us all as Muslims and followers of Islam?
Amina Wadud writes of how more than thirty years after becoming a Muslim by choice she discovered she had Muslim ancestors and once she shared this with a born Muslim friend they simply said “Now you are really one of us.”