For me, the first year or so of being Muslim was kind of a lonely time. I lost a couple of close friends when I became Muslim, and there were many other friends I no longer saw because of the changes I made to my social life. Although many Muslims reached out to me in kindness, and I was fortunate to live in a large city and attended many lectures and events, I tended to feel overwhelmed and concerned that I might not be able to live up to expectations.
I remember my first Ramadan well. Thankfully the days of fasting were short, but every evening I would go back to the house where I lived alone, and break my fast. I attended Eid prayer alone in a masjid I didn’t find welcoming, and at that time was also having some tearful phone calls with my worried mum.
Alhamdulillah, it’s such a good reminder to me to look back at this time, and be grateful for the full life I have now. I’ll try and remember that when my children steal my Iftar despite having been eating all day!
I can only say that Allah has given me a great gift in terms of the friendships I formed over time with other Muslim women. It took a while, but I carried on attending events, especially ones aimed at new Muslims. I met a familiar soul, a relatively new convert like me, with a similar upbringing to mine, and this was a friendship which created a foundation from which further friendships blossomed.
We became involved in our local new Muslim’s project and started organising a study circle for new Muslims. Over the years I’ve been Muslim I’ve made many attempts to start initiatives, or establish some kind of meeting, and so often it fails. Then occasionally, my intentions seem to meet with the will of Allah (tawfiq) and something amazing happens.
Our little study circle was one such example. Tucked away in a shabby room, in an indescript masjid, together we created a haven of solace where we could come together and reflect upon our lives, our faith and the challenges we faced. We had several sisters who would take the study circles, each with different but valuable approaches, and two sisters who patiently helped us get our tongues around the Arabic letters and taught us the short surahs of Quran to recite in our prayers. But I would say that everyone who attended these circles contributed something to them and made them what they were. We had sisters from as far flung places as Vietnam, Botswana and Morocco. We had not-yet Muslims, recent converts, long term converts, and born Muslims.
It was a ‘come as you are’ philosophy, with no judgement, just listening ears and gentle advice. There was always tea and coffee, and more often than not, cake. Children were welcomed and not expected to be particularly quiet. Often our teachers would come with pre-prepared classes, which they would unhesitatingly leave aside if one of us had a need to discuss a particular issue.
Most importantly, Islam was taught from the inside out, which was in contrast to so many other circles I had attended. I often found Islam being taught in such a dry way – follow the rules without question, join the queue on the day of judgement, and get your place in heaven. I’m not meaning to be critical, and I know that different approaches suit different people, but I needed something more heartfelt than this, and our little circle fit the bill.
I remember one incident that demonstrated this well – a non-Muslim student came to our circle. She was studying music at University and was doing a project about music and faith. She wanted to hear the Islamic perspective on music. Alhamdulillah I was so glad it was our door she came to! Instead of stating ‘music is haram’ and sending her away, our lovely, gentle teacher sat her down, set her notes for our planned circle aside, and dedicated the hour to discussing this. She started by talking about music in nature, the sounds of animals, birds and trees, and moved gradually to discussing the role of music in Islam, the melodic recitation of Quran, the singing of qasidas and nasheeds, and last of all, discussed the differences in opinion over the legality of some forms of music in Islam. The student went away with the information she needed, and hopefully having had a good first experience of a mosque.
Everyone that came to the circle treated each other in this same way, with gentleness and respect. Over time, lives moved on, people moved away, and our little circle gradually changed shape and supported a different group of people. But the friendships formed in that time have lasted, even with some of us half the world away. In the time that I worked with the project trying to support new Muslims, I feel the most useful thing we did was introducing people to each other who became lifelong friends. To have an easy and natural connection with other Muslim women made me feel more grounded, and more able to develop my own faith: the shared humour over the unique situations we find ourselves in, the shared understanding of the pain of hurting those close to you by doing the only thing you are able to do – live as a Muslim.
Without these friendships I would have struggled so much more to establish an Islamic lifestyle, and I pray for all those who come to Islam, to be blessed with such friendships to support them on the way. It may take a while, but by continuing to engage with the Muslim community, eventually inshAllah, you will find people you feel at home with, even if they are from totally different backgrounds. Even many born Muslims will be able to relate to your experiences, as they discover faith for themselves and may reject some of their families expectations.
I would like to dedicate this particular blog to the ‘sisters of the Saturday circle’ of the past, and to those that took the project forward and supported countless new Muslims!
About the author:
Fatima-Minna lives and works in the UK. She has two lively little boys who keep her very busy, and strives to increase in nearness to Allah.