Happily Ever After?
Ansari, Kiran, Islamic Horizons
The necessity of following up with new Muslims.
AS MELINDA FACED THE CROWD on a bright, warm afternoon in Iune2010, she knew she would remember this day forever. It was literally and figuratively the first day of a new chapter in her life - the day she accepted Islam. After taking the shahadah, scores of women came and hugged her. Some were crying. It was a little overwhelming, but Melinda felt special and her heart testified that she had made the best decision of her life.
It was after the hugs and handshakes came to an end, that reality began sinking in. While her heart was throbbing with excitement, her head was exploding with questions. She continued to come to the mosque as often as she could but the zeal with which everyone had welcomed her the first day was hard to find. Yes, women would answer questions if Melinda asked, but she had no friends, no one to confide in, and no one to call or go out for lunch with.
Melinda's story is not unique. Scores of converts feel that "born-Muslims" are guilty of not following up as well as they can with their new sisters and brothers who take such a giant leap of faith.
"It is a sad reality that we get excited when someone takes the shahadah but the enthusiasm dissipates and the new converts are often not provided with half as much support as they need," says Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, director of GainPeace.
To help alleviate this issue, GainPeace initiated a structured mentorship program in 2006 that has helped thousands of new Muslims connect with God other Muslims and the community. Their "Welcome to Islam Package" includes a copy of the Quran in Arabic, English and Spanish, How to Pray DVD, a hijab or kufi and other basic information to inform but not overwhelm the new Muslim. Then, they are paired with a trained mentor for 100 days to help with the fundamentals and basic Quranic chapters. They are also encouraged to join classes specifically designed for reverts - whether in-person or ordine. Registration is open at www.gainpeace.com.
Ahmed suggests that when someone takes the shahadah, the imam should appeal to the community to take responsibility of staying connected with the new Muslims by exchanging telephone numbers, meeting them at least once a week and introducing them to their social network.
FACEBOOK TO THE RESCUE
For those who do not live close to a mosque or are hesitant to introduce themselves as new Muslims, Facebook has become a good resource.
Reem Saenz, a Latino convert herself, felt that there was a void in information about Islam in Spanish. She felt the available material was too complicated for reverts. So, she created a Facebook group called "No Perfectos Sino Musulmanes Conversos" which means "We are not perfect, just Muslim converts." The group is moderated by four administrators and was formed on the premise of encouraging people to ask questions without being judged. At press time, they had 150 active members, most of them new Muslims and others who have questions about Islam and are considering converting.
Catalina Cordova, 19, from Arizona, a member of this group, first heard about Islam when she saw some Muslims at her workplace. However, they were very shy to talk about their faith so Cordova turned to the Internet for answers. She had her "Aha!" moment when she had a dream that she was in a classroom wearing hijab and everyone was waiting for her to read the Quran. She started digging deeper and, a few all-nighters later, she felt happy inside.
"I love this Facebook group since Reem and the other Admins don't complicate stuff?' Cordova says. "They don't copy and paste from other websites and inundate their answers with Arabic terms. They explain with the support of Hadith but keep it simple."
By winter of 20 1 1 , Cordova took the shahadah. While it is easier for younger reverts to get used to certain things like praying or learning a new language as compared to those who accept Islam later in life, it comes with its own challenges. …