A rare glimpse of Imam Safi Khan (may Allah preserve him) of the Dar us Salaam community in College Park, Maryland and a preview of the two-week evening intensive Strengthening Our Soul shariah program that begins in July on-site and online.
The Mormons are highly organized in their dawah/missionary work and they played a pivotal role in my acceptance of Islam. A number of years ago, two Mormon guys, dressed in their customary dark pants, white shirts, and ties riding bikes knocked on my door, and seeing that I, a female was alone at home, they didn’t come in but offered their services and asked if I needed help with anything, and said that they would send over two sisters the next day.
The next day, two sisters arrived and gave me their highly organized 15 minute dawah presentation. They did this each day for 5 days as I was shy to tell them that I was not interested in their faith and really just wanted to ask them why their church didn’t accept blacks as full members until the late 1970s. By the end of the week, they asked me if I would come to their church the following Sunday and again, I felt shy to say that I really didn’t want to go to their church.
Later, that Friday, I called the two Mormon sisters and left a message on their voicemail telling them that I wasn’t interested in their faith, that I wasn’t going to their church on Sunday, and that they didn’t need to come see me for any future sessions. When they returned my call, they were surprised and kept asking me and pushing me as to why I didn’t believe, why I couldn’t accept Jesus as my personal savior, why I didn’t believe in original sin, etc. And finally, I just replied, that I couldn’t accept those things because I was Muslim. It was the first time I had really admitted it to myself, much less declared it publicly to anyone else. So, I decided that the time had come for me take my shahada and enter into Islam.
I looked up the English transliteration of the Arabic phrase and meaning of the shahada online, printed it up, and said it, either at the computer or in my bedroom, with only Allah and the angels as my witnesses. Prior to this, I had been reading about Islam for several months post-9/11 and the essentials of Islam accorded with my fitra (nature). I didn’t know any Muslims except the occasional Muslim cab drivers I met and the random Muslims I met out in the community so for the first two years I mainly learned about Islam from books, online resources, and lectures.
Among the earliest issues I noticed that were often presented as obligatory or highly recommended for a convert was the claim that one should say the shahada in front of two or more witnesses and change one’s name. From my reading, I was quite comfortable in saying that witnesses were not required for the validity of a conversion and I have blogged extensively about the name issue.
Two years later, I was beginning to integrate into the local Muslim community and one day after the Friday prayer, some sisters asked me about my conversion story, and when I mentioned the part about taking my shahada alone sans human witnesses, they were both surprised and expressed concern about the validity of my shahada. They called the masjid and the office admin or perhaps just a brother that happened to answer the phone said that I would have to repeat my shahada asap in front of witnesses. So these two sisters and I went back to the masjid, we prayed asr, found the brother and I took my shahada for the second time, two years after the first one to satisfy my witnesses moreso than to ensure the validity of my shahada, which I had always believed to be valid.
After my second shahada, we headed to George Mason University to attend my very first AlMaghrib seminar, Conquest: History of the Khulafaa and my life and my perspective of Islam was forever altered for the better.
Last month, I attended Ilm Week in Toronto and I had the oppurtunity to ask two of the instructors, Shaykh Waleed Basyouni and Dr. Reda Bedeir if my original conversion without human witnesses was valid and both said that it was and that there is no authentic proof to say otherwise, although there may be some benefits to having witnesses but that is a separate issue.
A few months ago, my mother introduced me to one of her colleagues from work and said, “This is my daughter” and then she hesitated and said, “her name is… what is it.., Zainab, right?”
Me: Wrong. My name is Ify.
Mom: You don’t go by Zainab anymore, your Muslim name?
Me: Mom, where have you been, I haven’t gone by Zainab in years. My name is Ify, I like my name, and I don’t intend to change it.
Mom: With a smile and a brightness on her face that seemed to light the whole room, she said, “Yeah, Ify is a good name, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
And in that instant, I regretted ever allowing myself to be pressured by a noisy, insistent, and somewhat ignorant Muslim community into changing my name. Ignorant of the realities and difficulties many converts face after their conversion in maintaining relations with their sometimes hostile non-Muslim families.
It’s common sense and simple decency to choose your battles wisely, and so in reverting to my given name, I show the love, honor, and respect for my parents that Islam commands of us. I wonder where respect for our parents ranks in the discussion among the Muslims I’ve encountered over the years, (see the Storekeeper & Robber incident), in their zeal and enthusiasm to tell us to abandon our names given to us by those same parents.
When we convert to Islam, it’s so strange how we are expected by some to not only abandon our names but also much of our culture and upbringing, which may be perfectly acceptable. We left the religion of our families, isn’t that enough? There are other actions that my parents aren’t too thrilled about since my Islam, some of which, I am not willingly to compromise on like hijab, but in the areas where I can compromise in order to serve them and make them happy, I will.
So yes, Mom and Dad, my name is Ify, I like it, thanks for giving it to me.
I do not share in the delight and glee that some of our Muslim brothers and sisters have been expressing at this strange situation. While it it amazing dawah to lower one’s shotgun at a would-be thief now kneeling, pleading, and begging for mercy and to give him $40 and a loaf a bread and to allow him to escape instead of calling the police to arrest him, it is also a classic example of a misguided and mistaken attempt at dawah, which only harms the potential or new convert. Speaking from experience, reading and watching this story and listening to the Muslim storekeeper’s words made me cringe. Why?
Point 1: A true shahadah or religious conversion cannot be me under compulsion. The would-be thief was kneeling and cowering in fear, trying not to get shot or arrested, in such circumstances, preservation of one’s own life is paramount and one might say anything in order to extricate himself or herself from the situation.
Point 2: Shahadah requires a certain level of knowledge, you don’t have to be a scholar or even know all the main points about Islam, but one should understand the words in the Arabic phrase and what is meant by those words, what such a testimony entails. Just an empty repeating of the words without any understanding is not praiseworthy and is hardly a cause for celebration to believe someone has truly converted to Islam.
Point 3: The shopkeeper didn’t teach the man anything about his new faith, not the pillars, not the prayer, not how to purify himself, didn’t take the man’s contact info so that he could follow up and help, guide, and assist the man on the road to solidifying his faith. From what I have witnessed, unless a convert is very firm in learning about his or her new faith and/or has good Muslim companions, the convert will revert to a state of disbelief pretty easily. In the storekeeper’s defense he says the man fled when he turned around to give him some free milk.
Point 4: The storekeeper changed the name of the would-be thief to a combination of the names of some Pakistani politicians Nawaz Sharif Zardari, what sense does that make? Name-changing is not obligatory in conversion unless one has a name with an improper meaning and often leads to unnecessary conflict with the convert’s family. I have posted about the pressure from other, often well-intentioned Muslims to change my own name after my conversion and the difficulty in trying to reassert my name, the name my parents so lovingly chose for me, which also has a beautiful meaning. Maintaining good ties with family is an important principle in Islam, much more important than a name change.
Some general advice, if you find a person interested in Islam, ready to take his or her shahadah and accept Islam, make them feel comfortable, be gentle, help them learn the pillars of the faith, which are not change your name as soon as possible to something “Muslim sounding”, a full wardrobe change, or halal meat. Teach them about Allah, teach them who their Lord is, and about the last Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and don’t neglect the other Prophets as well.
Tell them to be good to relatives, particularly their parents, to be patient, particularly when people try to harm them, to learn about the religion, to practice what they have learned, to read good books, to be in the company of good people, and to ask questions and not accept everything they hear.
And you, yourself, take the initiative, don’t leave them to wander and navigate alone on the confusing paths that our ummah has divided into but help them connect to Allah and be patient if they stumble, don’t expect perfection right away, Islam must learned and applied gradually or it might overwhelm the individual.
From the Storehouse: