Recently, I came across an article written by Reza Aslan on Foreign Policy, entitled, “There Is No Divide Between Islam and American Culture”. In fact an American woman, who recently converted to Islam shared it with me.
It seemed to be a lifeline to her as a new Muslim. Even a beacon of hope for her in a tough situation-being attacked by most people in her life for her choice of religion. To me, it was another way of saying the same thing I have been writing about for years.
In many ways, I emphatically agreed with Aslan’s piece. I usually do as he has a great way of correcting people’s misconceptions about Islam that is urbane with a touch of “duh, you guys! this is so obvious”.
When Aslan called people who think culture and faith are incompatible, naive; I laughed literally out loud. It was fitting. When he put people on notice that they are being emotional when they think Islam clashes with being American, I thought of all the people who have harangued me through the years with this uneducated and unsophisticated understanding.
I thought of the engineer who assumed I was not allowed to go to a baseball game. The doctor who told me I was giving up my identity when I told her I converted to Islam. The countless people who are brave enough to ask where I am from and then refuse to believe my answer.
I thought of all these people who have come in and usually quickly out of my life. No matter how educated or how well-traveled, they all have an emotional reaction to my existence as an American Muslim. And when plied for their reasons, they can only produce hearsay, anecdotal evidence, and regurgitated propaganda.
This reaction to culture and religion is naive and this reaction to Islam is emotional because those who believe Islam is un-American have never measured this conception against facts.
‘Urf and Deen: Culture and Religion
The fact is that being as American as apple pie and as Muslim as five-times-daily-prayer is not only NOT incompatible, it is natural and a continuation of Islamic tradition.
As Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah writes, “For centuries, Islamic civilization harmonized indigenous forms of cultural expression with the universal norms of its sacred law. It struck a balance between temporal beauty and ageless truth and fanned a brilliant peacock’s tail of unity in diversity from the heart of China to the shores of the Atlantic.
Not everything about your past/culture/life is haraam (but some things are)
Islam is for all people of all cultures at all times, not just desert bedouins (nomadic Arabs). You will burn out in 5 seconds flat if you try to stop doing everything you did before without replacing it with something better. Too many changes at once is untenable.
You had an entire lifetime–be it 10 or 20 or even 50 years–before you embraced Islam. That is nothing to wink at! You had customs and traditions and ideas that don’t just fall out of your memory when you convert, and many of them shouldn’t.
For example, If your clothes fulfill the basic requirements of hijab, you can wear any sort of clothes you want. Hijab knows no culture. For ladies, hijab means wearing clothes that are not tight or see-through or flashy, and you need to cover everything but your hands and face. For gentlemen, hijab means you covering everything from your navel to your knees and growing your beard (even if it grows weird).
Yes, maxi dresses and cardigans with a scarf on your head and neck is totally ok for a Muslim lady, and loose jeans and and t-shirt are cool for a Muslim man.
You don’t have to wear an abaya, thobe, or shalwar kameez to be following hijab. Find out how Corbin found her hijabi sweet spot here.
Now, having said that, yes, stop the haraam. If there is something in your life that really is haraam, like drinking or doing drugs or having sex with people you are not married to, for example, it’s necessary to stop, and as soon as possible.
If it’s an addiction, seek help right now. Don’t tell yourself Allah will have mercy on you as a convert. Yes, Allah is merciful, but only if you’re trying. If it’s an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend or ex-husband/wife who is not Muslim or is not practicing to the level you need in a mate, or if he seems pretty decent but refuses to marry you, cut contact cold turkey. Period.
No man or woman is worth losing your soul over. And ask Allah to heal your heart. You will be amazed at what a sincere prayer can do to change the way you feel about someone or something.
You are who you keep company with
As a new Muslim, you might find that your old friends start dropping out of your life like leaves fall from a tree in autumn. Don’t even sweat it. Not all friendships were meant to last, and these people are not a life-long type of friend if they can’t love you as you grow and change.
Maybe some of them collected you in their friend repertoire because they thought you made them look good. Now that you are “different”, they wouldn’t come within ten feet of you. Or maybe they think you’ve gone off the deep end, or joined the dark side, and they have washed their hands of you.
It hurts. It sucks. We know.
But now that you are Muslim, you are going to start making instant friends in other Muslim converts. Truly there is no one who understands your plight like another convert. It is pretty awesome. You will be meeting people who know what you are going through, have the same goals as you, and will encourage you in good actions and help you stay clear of bad situations (see below for resources to meet other converts). And making friends with other Muslims will get easier as they get to know you.
However!, There are some misguided Muslims who want nothing more than to misguide you too. I am not talking about sects here. I am talking about isolationists and extremists. They come in every sect (speaking of sects, just don’t. We shouldn’t identify ourselves as followers of a sect. Just be Muslim. Period.)
Steer clear of Muslims who speak bad about any scholar. Sure people disagree with others’ opinions, but when a Muslim starts talking about a particular scholar in a negative way, turn and walk away. Don’t be rude or stop saying salaam to them, just keep a distance. They have a lack of respect, a lot of ego, and they are more than likely an isolationist, i.e. they believe that only people who hold their exact opinion are worthy of love and acceptance.
Also seriously watch out for the Muslim that uses emotional manipulation to try to convince you that Muslims must take extreme actions to “fix” the situation in the “Muslim world”. If you find yourself among people who do this, you have stumbled into an extremist nest. It is really rare, but it is a serious situation.
The first thing you should do is realize these kinds of Muslims have no knowledge and only negative wisdom. Watch this video for the knowledge and wisdom that they lack. Next, contact your local imam and tell him what the brother(s) or sister(s) is trying to convince you of. He can help them come back to reality.
If they have let you in on a specific plan, you have a civic and Islamic duty to notify the authorities. Ultimately, you should continue to greet them with salaams, but keep a wide berth.
Be careful who you hang with. The Prophet once told his companions:
The example of a good companion in comparison with a bad one, is like that of the musk seller and the blacksmith’s bellows (or furnace); from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would either burn your clothes or your house, or you get a bad nasty smell thereof (Reported in Abu Musa, hadith no. 314).
Check out our Podcasts, here and here, as we discuss these topics further.
Kaighla Um Dayo is a writer and story-teller extraordinaire. You can find more of her work, as well as her podcast, at her blog, Lemonade For Bitter Souls. Her work was also published in Al Jumuah Magazine, in 2011 and 2012. She is a momma of four, currently living in small-town Egypt. Before embracing Islam in 2009, she was an evangelical Christian who attended Bible college before traveling the world as a missionary. Her favorite things are procrastinating, eating chocolate, fixing things, making things and taking risks.
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