It was a cold October day, the 29th night of the blessed month of Ramadhan, when I found myself at dinner with a childhood friend. A friend who always remained my friend during our times of companionship and at times of estrangement. It had been over 2.5 years since I departed in my search for the divine; my journey for a path to empower my soul. Where did I find myself? Sitting in a sushi restaurant in my hometown, opening my long day of fasting with a dear friend during the blessed month of Ramadhan.
I recall how surreal the thought was that it was only in a matter of a few hours that I would officially be a member of the global Muslim family, “The Ummah”. Although my heart had already submitted to God’s Oneness and that Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings be upon him) Messenger-ship, I hadn’t yet publicly proclaimed it.
We drove together in his car until we reached the local mosque. I had previously visited this mosque once while talking to the shaykh (Islamic Scholar) about taking my shahada. On that previous visit to this mosque I was ready to take my shahada (testimony of faith), but decided that I couldn’t make such a move without letting my family know beforehand. They opted out of attending so, it was on this night that I had decided to make my leap of faith.
We entered the mosque, seemingly foreign, lined with faces that delivered me distant stares. We made our way to the prayer hall and joined the congregation in the evening prayer (taraweeh). We prayed for a while until the congregation took a break. This was it! The moment I had been waiting for, yet fearing at the same time.
The Director of the Mosque made an announcement in a thick subcontinental accent, ”where is that boy who said his friend wants to take his shahada?”. My nerves were stretched up to my throat and I could barely utter any words as the gentle man with a detached look on his face asked me my name.
There I stood in front of a few hundred people whom I had never met. The man began to say these words that I could hardly understand and I struggled to repeat them after him. When we reached the end of the short string of Arabic words, the crowd erupted with “ALLAHU AKBAR” “ALLAHU AKBAR” “ALLAHU AKBAR.” At this moment I was so overcome with an ethereal sense of serenity that everything became a blur.
Here was where it all began. Welcomed with a line of men, young and old, white, black and brown, all waiting to come give me a hug, bestow upon me some sagely wisdom, and welcome me to this religion. Such a warm welcome from so many unfamiliar faces. Many of those faces remain etched in my heart to this day. However, the tears of loneliness from the weeks to follow also remained in my memories until this day.
This feeling of isolation from the community and loneliness that I felt is not unique to myself. It is a common narrative in the experiences of converts to Islam. When we see someone become Muslim we should do our utmost to try to become a friend to that person and do what we can to make their development in this faith easy and sustainable for them.
For converts who feel lonely or feel like they don’t have community, I highly recommend you go out and seek it! You might have some bad experiences along the way, but I know that every community has people out there that are caring and can support us through this journey. Never stop seeking for a sense of community. Try looking into your local MSA, local mosque, or even try going to a nearby Muslim business and become friends with the owner. If you are in Chicago there are many great opportunities to find a safe and welcoming space.
May God guide us all to the straight path and provide us the strength to care for one another as God says in the Qur’an “the believers are compassionate towards one another” (Surah Fath)- ameen