The Struggles of Muslim Converts

There are many Muslim converts in the West who leave Islam on a daily basis for various reasons. Sometimes it is the lack of education, while other times it is the nostalgia for their pre-Islamic lifestyle and friends. But there are times that a legitimate doubt about the validity of Islam itself enters the heart, which drives converts to leave their adopted faith. The sense of confusion they thought they would finally have resolved through becoming a Muslim persists and the answers they thought they would find turn out to have been a mirage. The end result is that not only do they remain confused, but also now they have adopted a faith that seems to be changing their identity into something alien to them. They are now confused converts with identity crises.

The news of a popular figure in the Muslim community that they have left Islam creates a shock wave. Several statements like:

“Are you sure?”

“Are you serious?”

“But why?”

“But they travelled to Medina and Mecca”

“It must be some joker using their name and lying”

“How can they when they are surrounded by all these scholars?”

are made in an effort to come to terms with the personal existential crisis each Muslim feels as they find out that someone they looked up to had left Islam. It is as if this figure’s leaving Islam makes Islam somehow less true. What seems to be missed is the utter humanity of these popular figures, and the fact that they go through existential crises of their own, which they have to deal with in some way. Their popularity does not grant them any special quality of self-assurance or certainty about what they are doing. If anything, their popularity might be a catalyst for their self-doubt and confusion.

Many converts have a similar story to tell with respect to their personal journey to Islam. The external material events that unfolded during their respective journeys may be different. But the personal struggles and battles with the questions about existence and why they are here and not somewhere else, where it is all going, what does it all mean, and what is the purpose of life are all very similar. They might all come from different backgrounds, but they are all asking universal questions that are central to our humanity.

In the midst of these struggles, Islam appears to be the Way, the Truth, and the Light. It is the one religion that seems to have all the answers to their questions. Their confusion is dissipating bit by bit, until the final point of arriving at a conviction that this religion could not have come from anyone but the Creator of this universe, and without it life is very confusing. That is the point they finally decide to make the commitment and convert to Islam. At the beginning it is the most peace they have ever felt. They finally feel settled, and they are no longer confused – for now.

Soon enough, as the initial period as a new convert loses its blissful effect, reality hits. That image that was presented in the mosque or the Muslim community center of peaceful coexistence, brotherhood and sisterhood solidarity, and heightened spiritual states was just that, an image. Because once they walked outside and started interacting with the Muslim community as a whole, reality hit. Islam is no longer the religion with the answers to clear confusion, as it once seemed from what they had read. On the ground, Islam seems to be the religion to create confusion. Unlike the image of unity and solidarity that was presented, in reality Islam seems to be the religion of division, separation, and segregation. Moreover, what were previously non-problematic activities such as listening to music, taking photographs, and greeting a member from the opposite sex all of a sudden became major hot topics for debate. This is of course not to mention who to trust as a source of knowledge in the religion and which Islam is the “true” Islam starting from whether it is Sunni or Shia, and then going down the various groups within each branch.

As the convert navigates their way through this maze in the middle of a forest, they realize that in trying to clear up their initial sense of confusion before becoming a Muslim, they have put themselves in a more confusing position. To add insult to injury, in addition to associating with a particular version of Islam, they have to become exclusivist and reject the others as misguidance leading to the Hell Fire. Even if they do not want exclusivity, they are forced into it by experiencing an “excommunication” judgement against them from those who do not agree with the Islam they follow. So now all of a sudden the same Muslim co-worker who they had no problem with before converting, becomes an enemy simply because they do not belong to the same branch, the same group, and even the same mosque as them.

This raises the question of the relevance of Islam to reality. Is Islam a utopian religion with a set of unrealistic and unreachable expectations? Are Muslim teachings not able to address the human condition? These are legitimate questions to be asked, because if it does not improve society, and in fact seems to make matters worse, Islam should be something studied as a theory but not attempted on the ground. At least for the convert, the pre-Islam confusion they were going through was much better than the one many go through after converting. On the one hand, they know through the theology and worship that they have finally reached the Truth. But on the other hand, as a religion in society, Islam seems to fail to fulfill its claimed role. Hence, some converts who leave Islam make statements like, “I’ve spiritually outgrown Islam”.

Islam is not a utopian religion. It is a religion that deals with the reality of the human condition. But it needs to be practiced before it can exert its effects. When a doctor gives a prescription, and the patient does not follow the instructions, the blame for lack of health improvement is placed on the patient, not the medication nor the doctor. Similarly, Islam is the prescription for spiritual and societal illnesses, and if Muslims do not apply its teachings both inside and outside their mosques, the blame is not to be placed on Islam. The problem is with us. Furthermore, just as prescription medications have contraindications that make it harmful to mix them with certain foods or medications, Islam also has its own contraindications, including ego, caprices, and sometimes our own cultural influences. When a convert says, “I’ve spiritually outgrown Islam”, they are making an inaccurate assessment of their state. Islam is much bigger than any individual to make the claim that they have outgrown it spiritually or otherwise. While it can be accepted that other factors might have been at play, such as the Muslim community itself that successfully manages to push converts out of Islam, statements such as these are indicative of an ego that has not been conquered. The search for spirituality outside of religious bounds is nothing but a search for increased activity in the temporal lobes of the human brain that gives the illusion of spirituality.

Unfortunately, Muslim converts are in the unfavourable position of having found the answer to clear their confusions that requires them to face the consequence of having to accept becoming part of a community, which is going through a major crisis of lack of traditional Islamic education. On the path to becoming a Muslim, converts have typically done enough research to place their Islamic education level above their born-Muslim counterparts. This in turn results in their intellectual isolation from the community they had joined, which in the West results in a dual negotiation they may not be equipped for; the negotiation of being Muslim in a non-Muslim environment, as well as the negotiation of practicing Islam among Muslims who, despite holding the highest degrees in secular fields, barely have the most basic handle on their own religion’s teachings.

Given the struggles that Muslim converts face, it becomes pertinent for them to be consciously aware of what they are getting themselves into. Islamic teachings are not unrealistic and not utopian, and the proof of that is attested to throughout history. When Muslims lived Islam and applied its teachings with knowledge as individuals, the Muslim community flourished as a whole. Despite the setbacks and struggles new Muslims might have had, the truth of Islam was not questioned in the way it seems to be currently, because of the certainty they had in their hearts. Certainty is now something that sadly seems to be tasted by converts for brief periods, but not truly experienced everlastingly.

May Allah preserve our faith in Him and give us an unshakeable certainty in our hearts that can withstand the intellectual and spiritual turbulence that many of us go through during these times, and return our ex-Muslim brothers and sisters to the Truth and educate our greater community as a whole so we do not become a cause for someone rejecting or leaving this beautiful religion that you brought to us through the most beloved and precious of your creation, our Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him.

Mohamed Ghilan

17 thoughts on “The Struggles of Muslim Converts

  1. I knew a very naïve female convert who was looking for a husband. She met an Imam who was also looking for a wife. (I mean a green card). Anyway, She was a good Muslim, Never alone with this Imam. Well one night after they had dinner the other person that was with them left. The Imam lived in the area and asked her if she wanted to see his home. She said yes cause he was an Imam. What wrong could he do? When they got into his house he forced her to have sex with him. She still talked to him after this cause she thought maybe it was her fault. Soon after she found out she could not sponsor him. He never answered his phone again. She had his child and everyone knew what happened. Not one person ever said one word to her or offered to help. The Imam still held his position in the community. No one said anything to him either.

    • Ataghfir’Allahi al-Adheem. May Allah ta’ala bless us again with righteous leaders, such as Umar ibn al-Khattab – radiy Allahu anhu – who used to even have concern for animals under his responsibility.

  2. Thank you for addressing this. It’s so true and so saddening. May Allah increase us in our knowledge of his deen.

  3. Jazakallahu Akhi Mohamed! Wallahi what you said is very important and needs a reflection from the Muslim communities who live in the West. I was watching a documentary the other day on a convert and he said it if I knew Muslims before Islam I would never have reverted. There is a lot that we need to learn. Islam is not to be practiced at the mosques only, it is a way of life that has great values and that what makes it a complete religion. It is unfortunate that for many Muslims who pray the five prayers and practice the pillars of Islam, they miss the essence of all that. Bro, inchallah will be in Victoria for my graduation (June 10-June 18), so would be nice to meet for coffee or something if you will be there.

    • Jazak Allah khair for the comment. Insha’Allah you found it beneficial.

      I’ll be in Victoria around then insha’Allah so give me a shout when you’re in town 🙂

  4. Masha’Allah, that was an amazing article. I love the way how you initially try to break down the problems and thoughts of an indentity-crisis-facing convert and then address its causes along with solutions.
    What i found interesting was your statement that muslim converts often have more knowledge than their own muslim-born counterparts. Living in Pakistan, I can imagine the scenario. Over here we have many muslims who, despite their knowledge of Islam, do not understand its true essence. Such people may be constant in prayer but lack the high character and ideals of a good muslim. The situation is worse with those who really do not have much knowledge in Islam. The religion seems quite redundant to them. A religion meant for the elderly and not one to be practiced outside the mosque. Unfortunately, quite a few of such people end up in good universities abroad, including IVY league universities in the US. When muslim converts living abroad see such Pakistani’s in their university, their hearts may develop even more doubts about the validity of Islam as the truth. Ironically, Pakistanis have a reputation of being quite good muslims which, unfortunately, is not always the case.
    Insha’Allah, things will change for better in the next few decades. Islamic communities like LiveDeen have been formed and these cater islamic knowledge to the english-speaking elite of Pakistan. Change is sure to come Insha’Allah.
    Keep up your great articles!

    • the ones who leave were very rarely believers at any stage, just people who had adopted Islam for worldly or wrong reasons.

      In my experience REAL reverts are less likely to leave Islam than those people born into Muslim families, a great percentage of whom are Muslims in nothing but name – these ones of course generally still call themselves Muslims when they are nothing of the sort.

  5. I converted to Islam 7 years ago, and have left and returned multiple times. I can relate to this article. Everything I believe Islam to be disappears when I enter the masjid. Something about that makes me question everything I thought I knew- perhaps the Islam I thought I had found doesn’t exist? Maybe its only in my mind, because I have a hard time finding it in the world. And if it doesnt exist, then what is the truth? I’ve been non practicing for several months now- hoping to sort out the questions in my mind, but I haven’t.

    • This is really unfortunate and it’s a sign of the times we’re living in. The Prophet peace be upon him said that Islam began as a strange thing and will return to be a strange thing. What you’re going through with Islam is really a common occurrence among converts, as well as young Muslims who were born into Muslim families. It’s really difficult for someone to read something and then be hit with an opposing reality and not be shaken.

      The majority of mosques are unfortunately run by unqualified people who have the most pedestrian superficial understanding of Islam and they bring their cultural baggage along with them. To top it off, they drive away people of knowledge and create a massive distance between those people and the common Muslims.

      My advice to you is find people of knowledge that have been trained traditionally in the Sacred Sciences. By that I mean avoid people who restrict Islam to Saudi Arabia and people who graduate from Medina University. My experience has been that those who run the mosques in the way you’ve seen are to be avoided and you’ll find that Muslims who adhere to traditional Islam are grouped elsewhere. You just have to search for them in your locality. Where are you from? I might know some people!

  6. asalaam o alykum
    I want to commend you for this piece, subhan’Allah

    To be honest I’ve been in and out of Islam myself; met people of various sects , studied under many scholars and ive finally reached the conclusion that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and the teachings of Rasool Allah sallahu alyhe wa sallam are the only constants and all the rest are variables.

    I am a practicing Muslim now alhamdulilah but because of the difference between all that we read and actually see we find ourselves lost in this abyss of thoughts, doubts and confusions and since we don’t have many impartial, honest, learned and dedicated Muslims to address our concerns, we start living this life of oblivion.

    Maybe the only answer to finding the right way is perhaps starting this beautiful journey with a dua that He guides us on His path and makes us meet His beloved people because good friends are precious blessings of His and whats more important like what you suggested earlier in the article is reading, reflecting, analyzing, and evaluating.

    jazakAllah khayr huge!

  7. I am a muslim convert who ended up with a muslim man. In the beginning he was 100% muslim then like night and day he began to skip salaats. There was no more trying to teach me or encourage me. Thats when my confusion began watching him drink and smoke marijuana. I left my deen and him.That was a month ago but now i am back to my islamic faith with all my faith in Allah not man. Thank u.

    • May Allah keep your heart firm upon the religion. Sounds like he may not have been married to you – that was sign #1. Marriage is an important part of the religion, don’t hold this experience against a future prospect, but focus on learning real belief for yourself for now. As you said put your faith in Allah and realize that Islam is the truth, but Muslims encompass all types of human beings from the highest of belief and morality to the lowest.

  8. Assalaam Alaykum. Does any one know any da’awah group or good and practising muslim family in Groningen-netherlands? An atheist friend of mine wants to be a muslim, though she took shahaadah yesterday(10-11-2012) I need someone to help her practically on ghusl, wudhu’, salaat and other things,unfortunately we’re miles away from each other,I’m in Africa- Nigeria to be precise while she’s in Netherlands. Alhamdulillah I had her download Quran and I hope you-all will pray to Allah to guide and strengthen her heart and make her feet firm in the deen.jazakum Allahu khairan…Fatima Musa Sadiq

  9. A good article. I wish the author would explore the consequences of what would happen if Apostasy was allowed in Islam. A religion should have confidence that it is Truth. If leaving it is punishable by death, then there is something seriously wrong with it. Converts in Western Countries are safe from apostasy laws but the same benefit is not available to Arabs. Wannabe converts must do a rigorous analysis of the atrocities committed in the name of Islam before choosing to convert. For instance, Timur commanded his army to behead 100,000 prisoners in Delhi, in the name of Islam. Babies and women were also not spared. This is “proudly” recorder history from the winners, not some “Zionist Conspiracy” Historian spreading a lie against Islam.
    The fact is that Islam is just as flawed as any other religion in Human History, and there is nothing great in converting to Islam or in “Finding Christ” or in circumcising or wearing a sacred thread or breaking coconuts in temples. The only good “Faith” has always been Self Discovery of Divine Force within Humanity, that which makes us excellent human beings.
    Everything else is a form of Mind Control by those who have low self esteem, and need an external religion to cover up for their personal incompetence.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      Regarding your point about apostasy in Islam, we need to differentiate between what the Quran and biography of the Prophet peace be upon him relate (with context of course), and what scholars of Islam say. The fact is, there is precedence of individuals asking the Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him directly to let them off from the allegiance they pledged and to leave Islam, and he allowed them. The direct evidence cited by scholars of capital punishment for leaving Islam is in actually decontextualized. Once it’s contextualized, it can no longer be used as evidence to support their interpretation. We have clear and very direct verses in the Quran that say belief is a choice and that there is no compulsion in religion. Actually, belief that is forced, which is not taken up by the heart, cannot be considered belief. By unanimous consensus the scholars agree that if the external does not reflect the internal, then it’s hypocrisy.

      What you see and hear about in Muslim countries that make the ridiculous claim of applying Islamic Sharia is not even close to what the Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him taught. There is no exception to this. Not a single country in existence today actually applies Islamic Sharia, and all those who claim they do are boasting empty claims. When the law is applied to the weak and suspended against the powerful, it’s just a law of the jungle. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him foretold us about this time and how people will be corrupt as they have become.

      We really have to differentiate between Muslims and Islam. To say “Islam is just as flawed as any other religion” sounds more pop culturish than academically valid. Every example you can bring up in history is just people doing heinous things to people for ulterior motives. Some use religion as a cover, others use different dogmas and ideologies. It’s not a problem of religion. It’s a problem of people allowing others to use religion to control them. We don’t have a papacy in Islam precisely for that reason. If Muslims would just wake up and stop treating their religious leaders as infallible popes, and actually get educated on Islam and apply it as it’s meant to be applied, we wouldn’t have many of our current issues amongst Muslims. If one is sick, and they reject the medicine and in turn get sicker or even die, it’s not the medicine that’s bad!

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