Thirty years ago, five years before I was born, the woman who harbors my heaven under her feet became a Muslim. My mother left the comfort of her white Christian identity as a southern Baptist, with a pastor father and devout mother, into the Zam-Zam wells of Islam.
To those unfamiliar with the struggle of converts, they believe the hardest obstacle is reverting to the faith itself, taking Allah SWT and the Prophet PBUH into their hearts. After that, it’s minarets and maamoul happily-ever-after. But for her and many other converts, that’s only the beginning. Growing up, whenever I asked my mother about how or why she converted, she confided in me the unease she felt in praying to Jesus. She would look up, see him suffering on the cross in the hallway, always watching, and softly apologize that she’d have to pray to his Father instead. My father, the Arab Islamic nightmare of white parents everywhere, only provided an introduction to the framework her soul ached for all the while. God doesn’t make religion hard, as He states in the Quran, and He expresses nothing but ease when he talks about his creation. My mother’s greatest obstacle to her faith was her family first, and then her new community.
…The woman who harbors my heaven under her feet became a Muslim.
Opposition is too benign of a term to describe what my mother experienced from her ultra-conservative family. They were first in denial, telling her to “stop playing,” as if she were a teenager experimenting with a new identity, a different label, going through a “phase.” Then, mostly upset when they realized she wasn’t. They tolerate my mother, her head-scarf, and her Muslim life well enough now, but my grandmother’s scowl in various wedding photos at the mosque is a simple, implicit expression now, a general attitude. Nothing that can’t be remedied with shawarma, though.
Growing up, I was also very aware that my mother didn’t have many friends. Despite my mother being very Muslim, the space owed to her as one of the believers never panned out for whatever reason. My mom tried being active at my Islamic school among the other devout mothers, she made small talk at the grocery store, we went to lectures at the mosque, but my mother never felt welcomed and, by consequence, neither did I. You see, despite the big break with her parents, and the smiling, almost predatory, faces and welcoming smallahs (God bless) whenever she disclosed the story of her conversion, there was no second interview, no callback, just an eye, a check mark, and no message. My mother was a ghost, long forgotten after crossing over this side of the Safa and Marwa. After talking to some converts, my mother’s story doesn’t seem to be an anomaly.
Dear Muslim Converts/Reverts,
To those who have taken shahada and God in your heart, I won’t pretend I know your struggle, but I know that fellow Muslims aren’t making it easy for you to feel welcomed, especially during Ramadan.
It’s lonely breaking fast by yourself, having your family outright ignore or attack you for wanting to practice the religion that calls to you and aides you in this harsh world. With Islamaphobia at all-time highs, depression of individuals hitting all-time lows, along with blood-sugar and 17-hour fasting days, it goes without saying: no Muslim should be alone during Ramadan. And I’m sorry if you ever had to be, I’m sorry if your fellow Muslims are leaving you out to dry. The idea is antithetical to the joyous spirit of the holiday, rooted in communal acts across the community. Food and eating are political. We see it happening in the Holy City. We see the idea of shared meals around a table of smiling people on commercials for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and the Superbowl. Many born-Muslims already struggle with the jihad and pillar of fasting, so I can only imagine how it feels for my mother and the stories I’ve heard to be an actual lone wolf in the type of environment that shames you more often than it attempts to empower you. Support systems are vital in the taxonomy of the world, plants need soil, light and water, and converts need supportive friends, iftar invites, and Quran readings long after the congratulatory circle-jerk of “anotha one” saved, joining the winners circle.
Converts are not your trophies, fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. They are your fellows, maybe even your betters, and especially not your inferiors. Thirty years a Muslim, and my mother still only has her immediate family and no community where she feels welcome. Thirty years, I’ve heard my mother say it’s because she’s Amrekeeyah (American/not originally Muslim), and not Arab which translates to not Muslim enough. Thirty years and here I am at twenty-five, also deemed not Muslim enough because Islam has somehow evolved into a club of obedience and hierarchy and not that of kinship through God-consciousness.
Converts are not your trophies, fellow Muslim brothers and sisters.
Let’s bring back the spirit of Ramadan this year by putting God’s creation and their struggles alongside ours. Let’s open our hearts and our homes and our time to fellow Muslims.
Dear Muslim Converts/Reverts, WE SEE YOU!