As Ramadan approaches, do we as a Muslim community think of our new Muslim sisters and brothers?
Do we think of their struggle with Ramadan? Ramadan is a great spiritual and social opportunity and we all feel this spiritual boost through fasting, breaking our fast (iftar) as a family, performing the night prayer (tarawih), Qura’n reading groups (halaqa) and community social iftars. New Muslims often miss all these aspects of Ramadan for one reason or another. In most cases, the new Muslim man or woman is the only one in his/her family who is fasting Ramadan, so she/he will be fasting and breaking the fast alone. He or she might not have learned Arabic yet so they don’t feel comfortable joining Qur’an reading halaqas. They are rarely invited to community Iftars, many of which are based in region. These reasons conspire to make them miss the great opportunity of inclusion in, and solidarity with, their Islamic community; they maybe left feeling lonely. I will leave you with Julie to express her experience with Ramadan as a new Muslim woman:
“As Ramadan approaches, a persistent thought bounces around in my head – I miss the familiarity of Christmas. Reversion to Islam is an incredible blessing, and I do not regret even a second of it. But it can also be very lonely. Allah opened my heart to his word two years ago, and guided me to Imam Abuelezz who wisely recognized Allah’s timing. Through respectful conversation and debate, the sheyk guided me on an exploration of my genuine beliefs. After many weeks of exploration, I reverted to Islam on the first night of that Ramadan. It was an indescribable, unequalled joy. To this day, I can recall every moment and detail of Allah’s loving embrace.
But afterwards, the reality of reversion set in. Though I’d spent time in a Muslim-majority country, I didn’t know the mechanics of praying nor the Arabic words to do so. The imam kept in touch with me but, busy with his Ramadan responsibilities, matched me with sister Noor who generously taught me how to pray, helped me memorize the prayer, and taught me how to tie my hijab. I religiously attended taraweh but was overwhelmed by my inexperience with Islam: what was expected of me?
As days went by, a sadness crept in. Despite having been atheistic, I realized that I missed Christianity. Not it’s theological tenets or church on Sunday, but the familiarity of rituals and customs that are second nature in a culture where it is dominant. I missed instinctively knowing what prayers to say, when to stand or sit, or which days were the most important. I missed the shared experience of holy days with loved ones. I missed being in sync with the ‘joy of the season’. It is lonely getting up to eat and pray alone, to experience a spiritual revival unshared by those around you, to attend the mosque alone when everyone else is there with their families. It is also surreal to essentially have a parallel life, where your spiritual life is juxtaposed to the wider society. My feelings about this crystalized last Ramadan when I realized I was dreading a time everyone else was looking forward to. I found myself praying less and finding reasons not to go to the mosque. I felt disconnected from my Islamic community and only stayed long enough for Eid prayers before leaving again. And I felt guilty about all of it.
I am blessed with an attentive imam who checks in with those who have reverted to Islam and when I wrote him about my unease, he asked to meet with me immediately. But that’s not everyone’s experience. Converting to Islam (or any faith) is hard and those who’ve reverted need shepherding. To that end, it would be helpful if mosques established a Converts’ Corner that detailed religious dates and meanings, matches converts with a brother or sister, and gives suggestions of cultural customs at this time. What’s innate for you is strange and unfamiliar to us. I hope one day, that I won’t miss Christmas.”
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Our new Muslim sisters and brothers need more care from us during the month of Ramadan so they can enjoy the fasting spiritually and socially like the rest of the community