5 Things Every Mosque Should Do for Converts
by “Lettered Wayfarer”
I’ve been complaining a lot lately. People around me have noticed, no doubt. In recent times I’ve become increasingly irked at how little is actually done for converts to Islam in American Mosques; and in some cases events I’ve tried to plan for them have been thwarted by what I refer to as “Back-Home-istanians.” -The Arab or Indo-Pak “uncles” on Masjid boards, the ultra conservative Saudi Imams, the tea-drinking “Masjids-are-for-praying-only” Muslims who inhabit every Mosque in America. And, to be honest, I’m getting quite sick of it.
I don’t want this to come off as an angry rant, and I certainly don’t want to cause any more division than there already is, but the simple fact is, something needs to be done for our converts, because, whether we like to admit it or not, we have a high turnover rate. We often tout, as Muslims, statistics that say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, but we ignore the statistics that state that much of this has to do with birth rates more so than conversion. We point to news articles that say 20,000 people convert to Islam every year in America alone, but refuse to acknowledge similar statistics that show us that 1 in 4 converts leave Islam within the first three years after identifying as Muslim. Our converts are drowning, and there IS something we can do about it.
So, rather than just giving everyone empty complaints about how “Masjids don’t do enough for converts” -I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is, and give an itemized list of what needs to be done, and why. Keep in mind that I am a convert myself of 12 years who has learned through trial and error, through making mistakes, what the pitfalls of being a convert to Islam are, what we go through, and, as such, I am more qualified to speak on what converts need than any Arab or otherwise “born Muslim.” I’ve lived it, and these points of action I’m listing below are facts deduced from fighting in the field. They are not theoretical. They are essential, and if any Masjid president, board member, or Imam chooses not to implement them, I believe you will be asked about it on the Day of Judgement.
1) Acknowledge that there is a problem:
Remember that guy you gave shahadah to a year ago and then never saw him again at the Masjid? Yeah, what happened to that guy? I’ll tell you exactly what happened: YOU. You happened. You didn’t do anything. You hugged and kissed him, made him feel all warm and cuddly, and then sent him packing. Right back to the streets, right back to the wolves, to the poverty, to his riba-based debt hanging around his neck, to his sinning friends, and his Christian family. It’s the moral equivalent of making a tuna fish sandwich, smelling it, and then throwing it in a pond full of sharks.
Why didn’t you do anything? Because you think the Shahada is it. It’s the end. It’s all that’s needed. If he’s really good, he’ll come back; and if he’s bad, he won’t; and you don’t care that he is a human soul in need of nourishment and attention. You need to undo this perception, and radically change your way of thinking. The fact that every Masjid has the “shahadah that we never saw again” story is a PROBLEM. A big one. So, stop ignoring it.
2) Get their contact information immediately and FOLLOW UP.
Why didn’t you get his number, email, and even his street address? It wouldn’t be out of line to let him know that he is part of a community now, and that you need to know how to get in contact with him. Follow up, make him feel wanted, let him know you’re glad he’s a Muslim and you appreciate and respect the choice he made. Invite him to dinner at least once a month for the first year, and let HIM tell you when he’s available. Don’t call and say, “This Thursday I’m having a get together…” -Respect HIS time. Call him and ask when he would be able to come to your house for something to eat.
3) Listen and be attentive:
When he finally does come over to eat, ask him what he wants out of the community. Don’t just tell him there is a halaqa every Saturday; instead inquire as to what his specific needs are which might go beyond halaqas. Perhaps he is shy and would feel more comfortable in a “one on one” setting. Maybe he is depressed and needs someone qualified to deal with his issues. Maybe he is full of zeal and wants to work for the community… So find an outlet for him. Maybe he wants someone to help his family understand his conversion [often times families don’t process the information well from one of their own, but hearing it from a third party could be useful], etc. There could be any of 100 things a new convert needs, and it is up to YOU to figure it out because it’s not easy for anyone to just open up and be 100% honest with complete strangers right off the bat.
4) Invest in a “Third Space.”
One of the biggest complaints I hear from converts is that they feel lonely. They don’t fit in at the Masjid because they aren’t Arab or Somali. They don’t fit in with their friends because none of their friends are Muslim. They don’t fit in with their family who, often times, might be giving them grief over their conversion. -And the Masjids are bereft of other converts, because they long ago quit coming on a regular basis due to neglect. What is a convert to do? In such a situation, the only thing that can help converts is OTHER CONVERTS. They need a support system, Muslims of their culture who meet outside the Masjid… not in the non-Muslim environments they are used to, and not at the Masjid full of all those Back-Home-Istanians… A new space. A different space. A third space…
And this is where I get most of the pushback. Every time I suggest this at any Masjid, one of the Back-Home-Istanians I’m talking to wants to know why there can’t just be a weekly meeting in someone’s house or at the Masjid. Why the Masjid (or a group of brothers/sisters at the Masjid) should fork over some dough to pay rent at some office somewhere for converts to gather and break bread together. They can’t seem to fathom why we need our own space… Well, I’m here to tell you, we love the Masjid and all, but we need a place that’s our own. Somewhere that us converts can go and do convert things, and not worry about the Arabs in the Masjid looking at us, not feeling like we’re staying too late and inconveniencing a host… We don’t want to feel like a guest, we need somewhere where we can just BE OURSELVES in a Muslim context, and have it be OURS; and it is the duty of the Masjid, if it is interested in keeping it’s converts healthy, active, and happy, to provide such a place. Happy converts, after all, will produce more converts. Other people will wonder why we’re always so happy and at peace, and they will want some of what we have.
As for what would happen in our “third spaces” -that is up to us. Maybe we’ll have a halaqa, or lessons dealing specifically with convert issues; at other times we might watch a movie, or plan a dawah-outing, or just hang out. The point is that we are there for each other, and we have that release. The real shocker is, it wouldn’t even be that expensive. There are one room office spaces available for rent for 400$ a month, often including electric and water (I know, I’ve checked). Is 400$ a month really too much to ask for the mental and spiritual health of the converts of your community?
5) Let Converts lead the Converts:
Not that the Imam can’t give his occasional halaqa for us… We certainly appreciate that. But really what Masjids need to do is find the most Islamically knowledgeable, friendly, and active convert in their building, and put that person in charge of implementing 1-4 on this list. Give the best and brightest convert you can find his or her own office there in the Masjid, and send every new shahadah to him/her immediately. Let him (or her) listen and be attentive to their needs, let him or her get their contact information and follow up, and make him or her the director of the “third space.” Converts, whether they realize it or not, want to see a familiar face in the beginning. We are often terrified that we are going to accidentally do something incredibly “culturally insensitive” to the Back-Home-Istanians to such a degree that sometimes this by itself can be a deterrent to our coming to the Masjid. It may sound absurd, but it is a reality.
I hope this list was beneficial, and I dream to see it put into practice in every Masjid in America. I firmly, and with all my heart, believe that this list of action items, if acted upon with a spirit of good will, genuine concern, and empathy, will end our high turnover rates. It’s not an end-all be-all cure to the problems and challenges of Muslim Converts in America (Because every convert is different- and it is always important to remember that), but it is a very useful start to solving the majority of their problems. It is on your soul whether you take their very real issues seriously and treat them with the respect and sacrifice they deserve. And, if this article doesn’t convince you, perhaps this short documentary made by the Ta’leef Collective -an organization which specializes in Muslim Convert Care- will move you to action: Convert Care According to Ta’leef Methodology