As a revert Muslim, I have found myself many times in situations where I sat at the opposite end of someone else’s beliefs and expectations of me, in all the different facets of my identity- White, Muslim, Female, Mother, Homeschooler… the list goes on, as I’m sure yours does.
In my experience, there are 3 situations in which a clash of beliefs may occur – either with non-Muslims, or with Muslims who have a different way to express and practice their belief:
- When there is a difference in interpretation or opinion;
- When there is a lack of understanding or knowledge; and
- Where there is an outright ( and sometimes personal ) rejection of what you believe.
I’ve encountered all three many times over the past twenty years, as I’ve journeyed through my belief from exuberant and overzealous revert, to an older, wiser and more seasoned traveller in this world, and have collated here for you, my dear sisters, my top five mistakes to avoid when beliefs clash.
1.Being unprepared and being too eager
I’ve never liked confrontations. To avoid them I would sit on the fence and agree with everyone else’s point of view. But when I became a Muslim, I had to jump off that fence and take a firmer stance. If I was asked a direct question relating to my faith, I felt I had to defend my position. I was also sometimes a little too eager, and would gladly share my faith with whoever was in my company. Over time and with practise, I realised my faith conversation needed to be selective, more tactful, relevant and ‘put together.’ It also helped if I had read extensively around the subject beforehand. If I was unprepared or ignorant on a topic, it was better to hold back and remain silent than to let any old unformulated gibberish come out of my mouth, because that would be an injustice to my faith. If I was to do that, it also meant the other person would be denied a well-deserved, rational and intelligent response. So, I learnt to say ‘I’ll get back to you on that,’ if I lacked knowledge or was caught off guard. If a person truly was interested in hearing my answer, they would be prepared to wait a day or two, or perhaps they’d even remind me when they next saw me. When I knew my facts, the facts would speak for themselves (even if people did not always agree with them).
2. Being over emotional
Navigating a clash of beliefs requires a level head and calm composure. I can never hold a civil conversation when I’m flustered or in the firing line. The moment I wobble or sound irritated, it signals a weakness. Emotions from both sides then cloud the issue making it easier for people to manipulate my words.
I know not to argue or feel I have to win the debate, especially if the other person is not prepared to listen. Some people argue because they enjoy arguing and not always because they want to be enlightened on the topic. Over time, these people have become easier to spot and then I quickly and politely close down the conversation or switch the subject before it gets out of hand. No one listens in an argument anyway.
3. Over-reacting and creating a wrong first impression
I’ve noticed some family members or work colleagues don’t want to argue. They are merely curious. They want to be reassured that I know what I’m doing and haven’t run off with a cult or been forced into Islam by a ‘crazy’ Muslim. Innocent questions are not always politically correct or sensitively worded mind you, so I overlook how they’ve asked the question and instead step back, and focus on the real underlying issue or concern. I know that the way that I respond is a direct reflection of my faith. If I use emotive language, criticism or insults, I risk them mirroring my behaviour. If I become aggressive, it only reinforces the negative stereotype that Muslims are violent and can’t control their anger. If I raise my voice, it will only cause them to raise theirs. When a question touches on a raw nerve and I feel my temperature rise, I have to somehow detach myself from their words and not take it personally. Questions will often arise from the stories they’ve read in the newspaper or seen on the television. I remind myself that perhaps they have never been exposed to a Muslim or ‘real’ Islam before and I may be their only encounter. So, when they say ‘First impressions last’ I have to make sure it’s a good one!
4. Being unfocused and irrelevant
I only answer questions I know I can answer well and only if I feel comfortable doing so. Before I answer, I’ll sometimes pause. If I feel nervous (which I often do, as it’s a big responsibility) I make the dua of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) in my head. ‘Oh, Allah remove the defect from my speech.’ I love that dua. It’s so effective when I feel tongue tied.
In the past I would excitedly jump from topic to topic, but I realised this didn’t help people understand me very well. It only bombarded them with amazing facts that were often irrelevant and only fascinating to me! So, I now remind myself not to divert off topic or get diverted otherwise it can lead to confusion or arguments. I try to avoid contentious issues, mainly because I feel unqualified to answer them; and instead I find common ground and similarities.
I rarely talk about complicated topics if the person doesn’t even have a concept of God. I tried talking about the jinn once – they looked at me as though I was mad and needed to be sectioned! I rarely talk about them now. Instead I’ll talk about science, nature or current affairs. There are times when I know people are opposed to my beliefs, so in order to live harmoniously, I avoid talking to them about Islam altogether. Even if someone throws in the bait for me to bite on, it’s not worth the hassle. I’ll just agree to disagree and let it go.
5. Being over-apologetic and lacking in confidence
Clashes of belief happen to people all the time. I witness it, hear it and even feel it all around me every day. People just don’t agree sometimes. It’s a fact of life. In the past and even before I was a Muslim, I would sometimes apologise for having a difference in opinion in case it caused offence. However, there is no need to apologise for having a legitimate opinion or stating an aspect about the faith you strongly believe in. And I’m certainly not going to apologise for someone else’s bad behaviour- unless of course it was one of my children, and then I do feel it necessary to step in and make amends. But in general, so long as I am polite and respectful and haven’t broken any law, I shouldn’t need to apologise to anyone. I now only reserve my apologies for when I really mess up and when it really matters. Too many apologies signifies a person who is lacking in confidence, and one who is easy to abuse and manipulate.
I try to remain firm like a plant that sways in the storm but doesn’t get uprooted. My beliefs are grounded by the seeds of knowledge that were sown right from the beginning, and I continue to update my belief to keep it accurate, fresh and exciting whenever I can. I remain positive, knowing why I believe what I believe is right, and being thankful for it. I embraced Islam because I believe in Allaah, and my faith in Him gives me peace, stability and purpose. The better I can convey that, with strength, empathy and compassion, the less clashes I will have with others; and for those who resist, my strength and integrity will show them that I will continue to embrace it, even when it clashes.
About the author:
Aliya Vaughan has been a Muslim for 23 years. She lives in the UK with her husband and six children. She has recently published her award winning children’s story ‘A Race to Prayer’ with Kube Publishing.