We are constantly being told that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. We are also being told that the Muslim population is anywhere from 2 million, to six million and that a third of them are converts. That would put the number of converts from around 700,000 to 2,000,000. However, I’m not sure if those numbers are accurate because many converts are leaving Islam, and or never even begin to practice Islam in any appreciable way other than take their shahaadah (declaration of conversion), and you don’t see anywhere near those numbers reflected in the nation’s masaajid.
Nor do you see too much evidence that most people who became Muslim say, 20 years ago have stayed in the religion, raised their children upon it and started a second generation, or even third generation. The overall estimates of the Muslim population may be accurate, but the stated percentage of converts does not seem reflected on the ground. In almost every major city in America except for maybe Philadelphia and to a certain extent, Atlanta, you don’t see too many large communities of converts to Islam. You see a lot of young people who are recent converts and that’s great but where are the thousands upon thousands of Muslims who converted ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Thirty years ago? Where are their children, their grandchildren?
We need to re-evaluate the statistics that are being fed to us, because it has lolled many of us into a false sense of accomplishment to the point where we brag about how well Islam is doing amongst converts in America while in reality, it seems converts, by and large, are not faring that well and that the largest concentrations of Muslim men in America are those in our nation’s prisons. When I used to volunteer at Folsom prison in California, there were hundreds of male converts in attendance, and I have never seen hundreds of Muslim male converts at any Masjid anywhere in California.
Converting to Islam is one of the most significant life changing events that will ever happen during your time on this earth. To a true Muslim, faith is central to his or her entire being. How they understand and practice Islam will impact virtually every area of life; family, children, profession, character, marriage, and most importantly, the afterlife. So whatever you do, if you are a convert to Islam, do not ever take your Islam for granted. You have been given a gift that is more valuable than you may realize. You owe it to yourself as a Muslim to follow the guidance of the religion you have accepted as your way of life, as do we all. You also owe it to yourself to take the necessary steps in order to preserve your faith, spread it to your family, and pass it down to your children.
Statistically, there is a great chance that after a year or two, you will not be practicing Islam at all. Chances are that the euphoria that accompanied your conversion to Islam will be gone. Chances are that you won’t be attending a Masjid on a regular basis, and may not even have learned your prayers or how to purify yourself. Chances are that you will not be grounded anywhere in particular, not part of any Muslim community, and just floating from here to there, picking up bits and pieces of information when you can. All the while not finding specific the specific answers to your life’s problems that you need.
Of course this is not the case for every convert to Islam, and it may not be the case for you. However, based upon recent history, the chances are high that if you are a Muslim convert, and have been Muslim for less than 5 years, you will not be a practicing Muslims 5 years from now. There are many Muslims who convert to Islam, and gradually understand and practice the faith, get married, perhaps, have children and produce healthy Muslim families that continue into the next generation. However, that’s not the way it is for the majority of converts during these times we live in today. Most Muslim converts in America these days are a one shot deal. They convert to Islam but it doesn’t really spread to the next generation. The average convert today is simply subject to too many fluctuations, and quirky influences in his or her faith and ideology in the name of Islam to keep up.
If you are one of them, it is likely that even though you still believe in Allah, and His Prophet (SAWS), you still have not been able to connect the dots. You are still searching for what is the best Islam; one day something is haram, the next day it isn’t. Maybe you’ve put your heart into one or the other popular brands of Islam and then realized that it didn’t give you all the relevant answers you needed for your life as a Muslim convert, born and raised and living in America. Perhaps you’ve tried your hand at salafiyyism, and really believed the fatwa from 10,000 miles away that told you that you must be saddened by the happiness of any non Muslim, or that told you that you have to spend an inordinate amount of time debating with other Muslims, or that told you that you can’t wish your mother happy birthday or buy her an anniversary gift . Or maybe you tried Sufism and found that even though you sat around doing thousands of thikrs, paid hundreds of dollars to attend seminars of a visiting shaykh, or traveled hundreds of miles to kiss somebody’s hand, has not removed your inner demons. Or maybe you’ve simply given up and just kinda hold on to the basis of faith while having no real spiritual feeling or propulsion in your life. If you’ve been particularly unfortunate, you jumped on the bandwagon of Muslims who spend so much time arguing with each other, and trying to uncover faults in one another that they have lost track of their own spiritual health. If any of this is the case with you. then know that you are not alone. These are the things that happen to the majority of Muslim converts in America. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the dots can be connected and there are answers to morally dysfunctional Islam, and if you can hang on for about 5 to 7 years, you’ll have realized that the simple Islam of the Prophet (SAWS) was all you needed in the first place. If you’re still new to the deen and don’t have the time to do the merry go-round approach, it should please you to know that these faith fatalities can be avoided if you are aware of the obstacles before you. You don’t have to make things up on your own as you go along, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, and you don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping you’ll figure it out in sha Allah. None of the above methods work, and all three contribute to moral dysfunction which contradicts the whole purpose of your accepting Islam in the first place. Islam works wonders for the soul when practiced correctly. When it is not, the results can be devastating. Islam is a path, not a destination. Don’t assume that you can travel the path of Islam, without any direction, and do not ever assume that you can lead yourself. Once you do that, the devil takes the reins. Even Dorothy, had to follow the yellow brick road in order to reach the wizard of Oz.
Islam has been in America for more than 400 years and people have been converting to Islam in relatively large numbers since the seventies. Unfortunately, many new converts to Islam are deprived, and sometimes deprive themselves the opportunity to benefit and learn from people who accepted Islam 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and are still practicing it. This is due partially by the absence, or scarcity of Muslim communities, which contributes to the generational disconnect between Muslims. Not only are new Muslims, not benefitting from seasoned Muslim converts, in many cases, largely because of foreign influence, newer Muslims show less and less respect for Muslims who have practiced Islam in this country for decades. It’s not uncommon to find a two year convert to Islam, condemning an Imam or Muslim who fasted thirty Ramadans! Muslim Americans are finding themselves dealing with issues that have long been settled by their predecessors.
In virtually every human discipline on earth, new members learn from the ones who immediately preceded them and benefit from their experiences. Scientists, educators, people in the military, law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, builders, scholars of Islam, artists, carpenters, and even athletes learn from the ones who immediately preceded them in their craft. Sadly, the same is not true for many converts to Islam. Many converts to Islam are making the exact same mistakes, attempting the same failed (un-Islamic) methods of deen, falling for the same cons, arguing about the same issues, running into the same brick walls, and repeating the same misdirected actions that some Muslims have been doing for nearly half a century or more. The difference now is that we are heading into the last days and things are deteriorating very rapidly. Subsequently, the condition of the convert is steadily worsening, and the amount of confusion is much higher. It’s time that we have honest discussions about our journey so that we can learn from our mistakes. In the age where our country has elected its first African American President, American muslim converts, most of whom are African American, are third class Muslims in their own country.
I have been a Muslim for half a century. My parents converted to orthodox Islam in the fifties. I’m certainly not the best Muslim, and make no claim to be the quintessential example of everything a Muslim is supposed to be. That job has already been covered by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWS). I have managed however, through the years, to pay close attention to what was and is going on in Muslim America. After teaching classes on Islam and lecturing to Muslims and non-Muslims for nearly three decades, serving as an Imam of a Muslim community for nearly fifteen years, administering the shahaadah to hundreds of American Muslims from all walks of life, speaking with thousands of Muslim converts, I’ve started to notice recurring patterns of how Muslim converts in America have fared. Most of them seem to not practice the religion, leave it all together, or hold on to the central theme of Islam (monotheism) and languish in bewilderment about the rest. Many just wait around to see what the next CAIR inspired protest is going to be. It is interesting to note that Muslim Americans endured discrimination, torture, name calling and abuse decades ago only to arrive in the 21st century and we can’t endure a cartoon, or a simple disparaging remark. A great scholar of Islam, imam al-Qurtubi once said: “knowledge is acquired through two things; nusoos (textual evidences from the Quran and the Sunna), and tajriba (trial and error). The goal here is to learn from our experiences, connect the dots, pinpoint specific problem areas of deen practice and provide solutions based upon the Kitaab and the Sunna. Islam is a system of faith that works, when you believe sincerely, employ correct measures of knowledge, and stay focused on the prize, which is eternal bliss and salvation.
Nevertheless, it still remains that nearly seven out of ten Muslim converts, end up either not practicing the religion or leaving it all together. The most common causes are information overload, coupled with too many different directions of instruction, and spheres of foreign influence, and a woeful lack of facility and resources amongst indigenous American Muslim communities (most of whom are struggling). The new Muslim is often given conflicting information about what they should do, which group they should join, who and what they should love and hate, and where they can and cannot go to worship. The average muslim convert spends about 5 to 7 years literally going around in circles with their religion, sometimes embroiled in research, or dispute with other Muslims about what is haram, about what is halal, or the meaning of this or that verses in the Quran or this or that prophetic tradition. Other times they are busy trying out different types of Islam, different labels, each one requiring that he or she re-adjust their faith foundation, while repudiating the other group. One day a Salafi, the next day a Soofi, the next day a Maaliki, the next day a Habashi, the next day a Tablighi, and so on.
Multiple intra-faith changes in fundamental spiritual foundation can take its toll on any Muslim. For the children of converts, it can be devastating. Children are born in the state of fitra (natural godly disposition). No one embodies the pure fitra in his being, character and path, more than Rasoolillah (SAWS). This is why Aisha (RA) the wife of the Prophet (SAWS), has said; “His (The Prophet (SAWS)) character was the Quran”. This is the truth. If you care to believe it, al-humdu lillah, otherwise, my response is; Allahumma salli alaa Muhammadin WA alaa aali Muhammad
All of the aforementioned sub groups of Muslim, and Islam have some benefit in them. Following a madhhab can give order and stability to practicing Islam, especially in areas of technicality such as inheritance, marriage and divorce and other matters. Salafiyyism has reinvigorated the spirit of learning, despite its drawbacks. Many Muslims have learned humility and simplicity by association with Jamaa’atul Tabligh, and Sufism has its benefits as well as it directs one to focus on his or herself. However, like the other aforementioned, it is not all-encompassing. In fact none of the secondary sub-groups of Islam can offer as much as Islam itself, as a total faith. Furthermore, no one, no Imam, no sheikh, no teacher, no Sufi path, no faqih, or amir can equal the guidance found in the unadulterated sunna of the Prophet (SAWS). The best Islam for American Muslims and all Muslims across the globe is the Islam of the Prophet (SAWS). Islam can exist without Salafiyyism, Sufism, the schools of thought, the Habashis, the Shehu, the Saabiqoon, the Wahhaabis, and the Qaadirees, but none of these groups or disciplines would exist, or could exist without Islam. Laa ilaaha illa Allah!
None of the sectarian versions of Islam are good enough for us here in America. We are a free, independent, and fairly educated people. A third grade level kiddy fatwa is not good enough for us. We don’t believe that language and a foreign accent is tantamount to being better than us (well, some of us do). However, the point is that one third of American Muslims are a convert community (at least that’s what they say but the numbers are questionable), and as converts, guidance to Islam was a personal decision of Allah. Converts by nature are more spiritually intuitive upon their conversion than the average Muslim. First of all, their sins are all forgiven on the spot so the convert is operating as a person without the stain of sin, at least in the beginning of their Islam. The only Islam that will suffice us in the long run is the Islam of the Prophet (SAWS) in its original form, without the added on names, the added on ideas, and the added on culture
The second most common cause of leaving the religion or not practicing it for the convert is the ill treatment, and indifference they receive from other Muslims. Many Muslims have complained of walking into a Masjid and receiving less welcome than they would if they walked into a local Wal-Mart. Some Masaajid in America do not even allow women to come in to pray! When Umar ibn al-Khattaab wanted to prevent his wife from entering the Masjid for prayer the Prophet responded by saying; “Do not prevent the bondmaids of Allah from entering the houses of Allah”. The divide between immigrant Muslims and indigenous American Muslim converts is wider than it has ever been in our domestic history. As institutions (including masaajid) that are run by, cater to, and controlled by immigrant Muslims and their communities are flourishing whereas institutions of means that pay attention to the needs of our nations converts to Islam are virtually non-existent.
Unfortunately, Islam in America is ruled by political Islam which is built upon the agenda of fear and reaction, not faith and pro-action. Political Islam does not offer the same nurturing environment that spiritual/moral Islam does. Much of Muslim America has become a colony of one or more Muslim groups or ideological platforms from abroad. Many of whom are embroiled in conflict, fratricide and power struggle. It is a harsh environment, as Americans are learning to cooperate with one another, and live side by side with one another without conflict and chaos, the Muslim world is still struggling with basic civility and respect for differences. Much of that has crept into the American Muslim reality so we too, have become harsh, unforgiving, extremely sensitive, and impatient with each other and so on. Converts usually expect a nurturing environment when they become Muslim and often find the contrary. It is the right of every Muslim to find safety amongst his or her brethren. “The Muslim is one from whom other Muslims are safe from his hand and his tongue”  Without safety, there is no co-operation, or forward movement, except by force, and we as Americans are free, and force does not work for us in areas of faith, thus, many of us are stuck.
The third major cause of people leaving and not practicing the faith is arguing back and forth over every petty issue they can find. A decent teacher will also instruct his students not to argue with people about deen because any Muslim leader should know the damage that it causes; ”And obey Allah and His Messenger. and fall into no disputes, lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering: For Allah is with those who patiently persevere” 8:46 It was reported about the Prophet (SAWS) that he said; and if your are comfortable enough in your faith to fight and argue about it, you would be practicing it and not trying to beat it over someone else’s head. History has shown that teachers, who are more familiar with the student, and his or her condition and environment, are more suited to teach the religion to American Muslim converts. Unfortunately many indigenous American Muslim converts are still under the delusion that in order for information to be correct, it has to have an accent, thus, the few American teachers that we have, as a whole get a lot of push back from indigenous American Muslims.
Lots of Muslims bicker back and forth on the internet; most of them bicker on behalf of their group. African Americans tend to bicker on behalf of themselves since most of us are floaters without an Imam, a community, a shaykh, or a communal foundation. Many of them bicker back and forth on behalf of one of the dozen or so foreign spheres of religious, sectarian influence that has blanketed our nation’s converts to Islam. Of all the peoples in the world who share the same language, same socio-economic and demographic conditions, same race, religion, and national identity, African American Muslims are arguably the most fractionalized of them all. That’s why we have nothing, and our communities whatever is left are crumbling before our eyes like huts made of sand.
The fourth major cause of people leaving Islam is the lack of congregation , and Muslim congregations that cater to, or are at least welcoming to American Muslim converts. The Prophet ﷺ said: “I enjoin you to be in congregation for verily the wolf devours the stray sheep”. It is imperative to have to have congregations and communities of Muslims who share the same localities, the same problems, the same conditions and the same or similar backgrounds. It will be nearly impossible for African American Muslims converts to be duly served without institutions that cater to their needs. It is difficult and nearly impossible to establish viable institutions that serve their interests without critical mass, and you can never have critical mass without having congregations, and I’m not talking about Facebook congregations either. I mean real congregations with leadership, people who are focused, and willing to put in the work required to rescue a civilization. It is only through congregation that we can make use of our own elders, scholars, experienced Muslims who were also converts, and seasoned imams, and leaders who know us, care about us, and are accessible to us. Granted, there may not be many in these categories, but they are there, and they are underutilized.
The fifth cause, which I alluded to earlier in this article, and which may, or may not contribute to the hemorrhaging of the convert community, is that masaajid and communities where converts usually attend in high numbers tend to be small, poor facilities, with scant resources or funding. Converts communities are almost exclusively in the inner cities, and in the poorer neighborhoods of America. Of the billions of dollars that have been raised and spent on building and upgrading masaajid in the United States, hardly any of it was spent on indigenous American Muslim communities. It would be illogical to believe that this reality does not negatively impact converts, and convert communities in some way. These problems that I mention in this post will not go away by themselves; and what I posted here is just the tip of the iceberg. May Allah help us…..
Imam Luqman Ahmad
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Northern California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), and the CEO of ‘Mosque Without Borders’, an organization that address Muslim sectarianism in the United States. He is also and the author of the new book, “Double Edged Slavery “, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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