Since reading Muhammad Asad’s “The Road to Makkah”, I have become fascinated to explore the perspectives non-Muslims and converts have on Islam and life generally. Being born Muslim, many of us take for granted the way we think and act, rarely paying attention to the reasons why. We casually assume every person to be the same as us, unable to fathom the nuances between different perspective, the rationality behind their thought or the background with which they speak. What Asad brought to light in his book was a perspective on life which underlies all these different issues, something I had rarely ever considered before; change.
Change is a word we often hear. Though many of us understand what it is, few of us know how to actually achieve it. Ramadan has become the Muslim equivalent of a New Year’s resolutions; they come and go with promises of change but we often end up with very little to show for it. Change just seems too inconvenient.
What fascinates me with converts like Muhammad Asad is how they embody change. Every aspect of their life gradually changes over time, sacrificing the most deeply rooted of habits in order to align themselves with their new found faith. Their conversion is encapsulated through two key dimensions; an open mindedness to address the most fundamental aspect of their humanity – their faith – and a willingness to explore other perspectives of reality which were previously considered as foreign or wrong. By changing their faith, they are not only change an identity or set of values; they acknowledge that all their previous decisions and actions may have been wrong and concede that the perspective they disagreed with was right all along. If they can overcome these two obstacles, everything else becomes a walk in the park. These two things are the keys to their success. The resulting changes are all fruits of this change.
I often reflect at what made the generation of the companions (ra) of the prophet ﷺ so great. There are so many things we can cite; their support of the prophet ﷺ during the hay days of Islam, the transmission and preservation of the sacred tradition, their devoutness in following Islam in its entirety. But for me, there is a more fundamental role that each of these companions (ra) played before any of these could happen; their honesty in recognising their own misguidance and their ability to change everything in order to live in accordance to their new found faith. Imagine an entire society of individuals whose focus was on their own spiritual journey before casting judgement on others. Abu Bakr (ra), the greatest of men to walk this earth after the prophets, was named As-Siddiq for his unequivocal faith in revelation and his rush in applying it to himself.
As Muslims, we seem to have forgotten so much of this. We fail to understand that conviction is what drives the change, not our own actions. We need to ‘convert’ ourselves back to our original disposition, ridding ourselves of our intellectual and spiritual arrogance to search for the truth ourselves and recognise it wherever we see it. We must look beyond our own culture, habits and desires and be willing to place ourselves to learn what true faith and submission means. So many Muslims close their minds to any perspective other than their own, scarcely ever trying to understand the essence behind what they believe and practice. The process is gradual and the results take time, but this is the key which brought the fruits of change we witness in the great men and women in our history and the key to our own self reformation.
With this regard, converts are the modern day manifestations of the companions. Their journey is precisely what those great individuals went through in the past, and to understand them is to understand the companions of the prophet ﷺ. I recently had the privilege to discuss with a convert who only been Muslim for a few years. Here is one extract which I will never forget:
“It’s been almost one year to the day since I started practicing – praying five times a day, no pork/wine – although it took me a bit longer to take my shahadah [testimony of faith] formally since I wanted to be sure of what I was doing. There’s something indescribable about such a huge piece of your life you never knew you were missing coming back one day to fill that gap you didn’t realise you had”
“Even after I took my shahadah, in some respects it felt like getting a driver’s license but not really having a car to drive. We really need to be training our imams who do the shahadas to facilitate the spiritual process and not just the ‘repeat after me and sign here’ process”.
“The thought of having your slate wiped completely clean is actually quite a daunting one. You would think one would feel all light and spiritually weightless knowing that everything you’ve done wrong before that day has been forgiven, Alhamdulillah, but for me, it was quite a heavy feeling. It’s the weight of sensing just a molecule of the immensity of Allah (swt); that he can and would and does forgive you, even after a lifetime of disobedience. It’s the weight of knowing He still loves you after denying Him to His face, year after year, and that He never gave up on you. But most of all, it’s the weight of knowing you don’t want to let any dirt get anywhere near your now clean slate again, but the realization that you’ll definitely continue to make mistakes, because you’re human after all. But even then Allah (swt) will continue to forgive you until you get tired of asking. Subhanallah, it’s nothing short of mind-blowing.”
Reading that blew me away. So much of our perception of converts is the “all your sins are forgiven” part that we often neglect the huge struggle and reconciliation the person has to go through behind the scenes. We assume the change is “rational” and “easy” with just a simple utterance of a few words, yet we forget the difficulties that come with changing bad habits and adopting new ones, difficulties which perhaps merit the forgiveness. Rarely do we ever empathise through our own struggles of reformation yet we expect an immediate reconciliation and change in others, something we ourselves are incapable of! How many of us know that being fat is bad for us and against the sunnah yet never put anything in place to change it? How many of us know that food should Halal and Tayyib (pure) yet are content to eat the conveyor-belt meat that fill our shelves? The list can go on… relating to their struggle is far more effective than judging it.
I remember sitting with one of my teachers in Egypt as we read the ‘Letter of Imam Qurshayri’ (Risaalah Al-Qushairiyah), a book which describes the biographies of the great scholars and saints during the early period of Islam. What struck me when reading the book was the number of these people who began their life as bandits, thieves and other kinds of criminals yet went on to become some of the greatest Muslims who have walked this earth. As we read through the book, I remember asking my teacher; “I know when someone converts all their sins are forgiven, but what happens if someone is already a Muslim? Is their only route to forgiveness the penal punishment?”. As I said this, my teacher looks me in the eyes, smiles and says “Is the One who is able to forgive the greatest sin of all (shirk) at the utterance of one sentence unwilling to forgive the smaller sins in the same way? All we need is to have that same conviction they do when they make that testimony of faith”
So perhaps change is not the most difficult thing to understand or achieve after all. None of us have reached the level of criminality that some of the great people before us did before they began their process of reformation, so surely our journey shouldn’t be as difficult. In fact, how many of us regularly demonstrate the capacity to change our lives when we hear the commandments of Allah; fasting, praying and giving zakah when asked to? In this light, the words of Allah become so much more meaningful as the significance of our own inner struggle and the tribulations of this world are cast in a new light;
Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
4 thoughts on “Change”
ma sha Allah! This article is beautiful and inspiring indeed… Even for a convert! I will, in sha Allah, add something here, which you hinted to perhaps, and which could add some benefit, bi idhniLlah.
You spoke about Allah’s forgiveness of all sins committed before one’s shahada. I was thinking about it a few years ago, in my first period as a new muslim… In fact it seems to me that what is happening here is simple, from a certain perspective: we know Allah is ready to forgive the sin of a person as soon as he/she repents from that sin… Repenting means acknowledging that that was a wrong course of action, and making a firm intention to leave it and adopt what is correct. Think about it. This is exactly what a convert does when he takes his shahada. He recognizes a whole bunch of ideas and practices as being wrong and makes intention to abandon them and adopt new ones which he now recognizes to be correct. The difference between him and someone who is already muslim is in the number of wrong ideas and practices he’s leaving… And the fact that this often happens all in one go (although in fact it takes time to adapt and also to learn all the rules… Accepting them – I mean, making sure they’re really from Islam and not from extremists -, practicing them… Starting to see how they change your life and are actually better… And in my experience they are, alhamdu lillah.)
What I said is obviously from one point of view only… There are other aspects to be considered, which do make a difference between converts and born muslims… But at the end of the day I think the difference is not big. To change always requires effort, struggle and a recognition that you have always been wrong… And that now it’s not you to be right. It is Allah. Whatever evil we find is from our souls… And whatever good we find is from the mercy of Allah. He takes us from darkness to light… His light dispels our darkness… But we have no light of our own. Were it not for the rays of the sun of His Grace shining upon us and the pouring down of the rain of His blessings, we would be barren and dark land… Cold and dead. Reveling in sin and animalistic impulse.
alhamdu lillahi lladhi hadana li hadha wama kunna linahtadiya law la an hadana Allah. wala hawla wala quwwata illa biLlahi l’Aliyyi l’Azim
Jazakallah Khair for your thoughts and reflections Simone. I agree entirely – the journey is for the most part the same for all of us, regardless of our background! May Allah bring us all closer to Him, ameen!
It is a really touching and thought provoking article Masha’Allah. Reading the article made me
reminisce over my journey to Islam. it is about having the conviction and self-motivation to change, those are the parallels that one born in a Muslim family also has as we each go on the path of self-purification. What saddens me as alluded to in the article is the ”lack of training” of Imams particularly in regards to converts, speaking from experience it can be a really lonely path when you first embrace Islam, particularly if you have no Muslim friends or support groups to turn to. Alhamdulilah I am grateful to Allah for the difficulty in my initial footsteps as it has really helped me to appreciate what I have now, but I really pray that a greater awareness can be made. Not having Muslim friends, family or even a place to go for iftaar during Ramadan is enough to push to someone away from the deen as it did for me for a brief period. This a timely reminder particularly for myself that if you want change to take place, you need make the steps to make that change as we all have a part to play for the betterment of humanity.
Jazak’Allah Khair, I pray that Allah (swt) keeps you in the best of health and emaan.
Thanks Miguel for sharing your story. I think your examples are powerful because it shows precisely what this ummah lacks!
May Allah help us all to come closer to Him and be in a continuous state of betterment towards him! Ameen!