Criticism: Muslim Storekeeper & the Robber Convert

CNN: Merciful storekeeper changes robber’s mind, religion

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:

I’ve Reverted

Conversion and Name-Changing at Gun Point – Valid?

Convert Name Change Back

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

17 thoughts on “Criticism: Muslim Storekeeper & the Robber Convert”

  1. The glee for this news is not because some guy became Muslim. It is because the story gives Muslims good publicity for once. A merciful storekeeper. A criminal who confesses.

    The would-be-criminal might very well be reading books on Islam right now.

  2. When seeing an interview of this incident on the news…The brother stated that the man said he was poor and hungry FIRST….then the store owner gave him money and bread…THEN…the robber said “I want to be Muslim”…THEN the Store owner gave him shahada, and then went to go give him Milk, and that’s when the thief dipped…. If this order is true, you might want to edit the part of compulsion in religion.

    Allahu alam.

    NB: I was paraphrasing. These were not the exact words of the people…

  3. Yus: Doesn’t really change any of the main points i.e. that shahadah doesn’t mean anything in a situation of compulsion nor if the person doesn’t even know what he or she is testifying to nor the ridiculousness of changing the man’s name before even trying to teach him about his new-found faith, etc.

    My main point, which I have not seen anyone else make in their commentary on this incident is that while the storekeeper’s kindness, compassion, and generosity may have softened the thief’s heart, he also exemplifies the mistakes many, many sincere and well-intentioned Muslims make in their dawah with new converts i.e. not following up with them and emphasizing minor issues like name changing at the expense of the larger and more important ones like tawheed and the pillars.

  4. I’m not really clear on how one is supposed to follow up on the “conversion” of someone who darts when your back is turned? I really don’t think very many people are looking upon this as some great teaching experience or even a very likely sincere convert … just a nice example of a shopkeeper keeping his cool and acting with charity and grace and maybe, just maybe, planting a seed — not by picking a silly name or whatever, but by taking our religion seriously when it comes to someone who steals for need of food. Living by example, you know? It’s worth getting excited about when he could have just as easily brought harm to the thief and been just as commended for doing so. Possibly better dawah than an ordinary lecture on pillars ever could be. With the bonus of a little comic relief about the whole thing.

  5. How is it compulsion? It doesn’t mention in the article that he even told him to become a Muslim, it appears as if he was inspired by the storekeeper’s compassion and decided: “I want to become a Muslim..just like you!”

  6. M. Landers: If you read the piece carefully, you would see that I already commended the initial dawah and made that excuse for the brother for his lack of followup.

    Abs: This is beside the point, [the point being the harmful mistakes seemingly well-intentioned Muslims make in dawah to new or potential converts] but people tend to “flee” from places when they are in a state of fear and insecurity.

    Once the storekeeper pulled his gun, the man became afraid and began to plead, and as soon as the storekeeper turned his back to get him some milk, he fled the store. If every thing was peachy-keen, why flee, unless the would-be thief was still afraid of the gun or the potential of arrest. The situation itself was coercive.

  7. You mean, I can’t, say, go grabbing people, point a gun at them, and make them members of the Church of Bill? Darn. This is going to be a serious crimp in my plans for world domination.

    Seriously, yeah, I agree with what you say.

  8. I did read your words. In which I also read that it was “a classic example of a misguided and mistaken attempt at dawah” and that your main point is that the shopkeeper “exemplifies the mistakes many, many sincere and well-intentioned Muslims make in their dawah with new converts i.e. not following up with them and emphasizing minor issues like name changing at the expense of the larger and more important ones like tawheed and the pillars.” Which are, frankly, just nonsensical remarks. One can not exemplify the mistakes of some dawah efforts when one’s situation does not even begin to relate to those efforts. Nor can anyone say that this was a “classic example” of anything at all, really. There are legitimate points in your post, that I won’t argue. It just seems odd to try to attach them to this rather off-the-wall incident. Rather than addressing the legitimate issues it comes off like as though the story, perhaps the name-change line, struck a nerve. And it’s the exposed nerve that will inevitably draw attention away from the real issues you’re trying to discuss.

  9. M. Landers: We simply don’t agree. Since, writing this post I’ve had conversations with several Muslims that seem delighted over the conversion aspect and find comic relief in the name change, these are feelings I do not share.

    Two days ago, a few of us converts were walking together and a sister came up to one the girls and began calling her to wear jilbab and abaya, without even finding out anything about her. For me, this is the wrong way to do dawah, particularly toward new converts. I believe we should begin with the fundamentals of the deen and once they grasp those aspects, submission in the more minor issues becomes easy.

    I’ve seen far too many new converts adopt all the outer accouterments of Islam, name change, clothing change, men growing their beards, etc. without any fundamentals and they leave Islam just as easily as they entered it.

  10. This discussion reminds me of the time a sister approached me at the masjid and asked me if my family was Muslim. When I replied in the negative, she was adamant that I tell them to use water when they use the bathroom. What?! Insha’Allah her intentions were good, but she was completely missing the point. The first points of dawah need to be completely centered on Allah and His Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and even when a non-Muslim asks about hijab or other miscellaneous hot topic, the da’ee should answer the question by redirecting the conversation back to Allah.

  11. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I’ve often come under pressure to try and convert my family to Islam; people assume that any convert must be a good da’ee even if he didn’t receive any da’wah himself but came to Islam because of things he had read (like me, or at least, until literally days before I took my shahada and had already decided to take it). I have even been encouraged to marry one of the non-Muslim Slovakian waitresses at the local Algerian-run cafe and “make her Muslim”.

  12. It is very important to realize a few points when discussing this issue:

    We do not follow the Jewish protocol of conversion to that faith, not to belittle the Jewish faith or judge it, by having to study Judaism for years before you are even allowed to meet with Rabbis. That applies to other philosophies and faiths too, not just Judaism since I am using it as an example. In Islam, you are either Muslim or not to begin with and the fine line between the two is saying Shahada. Now, whether you say it faithfully or not, is between you and God and He only (almighty God) has the power to judge that. Now, the longer you wait to pronounce Shehada by studying Islam and preparing for that is time against you and time spent in the “non-Muslim” world. Once you have become Muslim, by pronouncing Shehada, your next duty is to be a good Muslim in which you follow the teachings, perform chores and responsibilites of a good Muslim as taught by our book and the life of the Prophet.

    There is no argument in topics like this. Again, it is your choice to pronounce Shehada at the moment of stress in which this man did. He is now before the shop owner a “Muslim”. It is up to God to judge what becomes of him as a Muslim after that. The opposite is not true, i.e, if a true Muslim had to lie under pressure to show that he or she converted back to being of a different faith when he or she did not mean that just to save life; I believe that before God, if the person did not mean to do so, he or she will continue to be Muslim until they are safe. This is not takkaya of the Shiite faith.

    Alla Aalam (God knows and I don’t)

    1. Eric, welcome to the blog.

      The main point for me in the stupidity and arrogance of changing a man’s name seconds after his conversion and the lack of followup or support that many converts face, despite the happiness of many Muslims when they enter Islam, where are they when those converts just as swiftly exit the religion?

  13. As a caucasian from the states, who grew up/attended catholic school, and who currently identifies as athiest, this entire story, follow up story, subsequent blog post, and comment thread have been very enightening. I sincerly want to thank all (seriously no sarcasm) on enightening me and giving me a non-biased, non media-based veiw on islam from personal experience. I love the differentiating point of views, discussed in a civalized manner, that accompany one of the best/most positive stories i have ever heard regarding HUMAN compasssion, which is inarguable despite anyone’s stance on religion/conversion to a religion. Again, i wish you all the best in this life, (and if it applies) the next 🙂 love and peace with dedication and resolve will ultimately save humanity.

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