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: