Eureka! You have finally found the missing link! Perhaps you have been feeling an emptiness lurking in your heart or a general dissatisfaction with the religion you have been taught. No matter what has led you to discover Islam, you have a huge decision to make: take Shahada or not.
For those of you unfamiliar with the steps to become a Muslim, it is quite similar to becoming a born-again Christian. Once a person has learned about the basics of faith and is ready to fully commit, it is time to reconcile with God. According to Islamic teachings, they have to take an oath or Shahada.
When I said my Shahada almost four years ago, I thought I was ready. I had read and searched and prayed for my questions to be answered and when I was asked “What are you waiting for?”
Shahada is the first of five pillars, or basic components, of following Islam. Muslims must declare: “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah” which means, “There is not true god (deity) but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.”
A person may feel a variety of emotions after the Shahada or nothing special at all. One thing is for certain, their life will never be the same again. Unfortunately, many people are not prepared for the changes that will take place making their journey in Islam painful instead of pleasing and chaotic instead of calming.
When I said my Shahada almost four years ago, I thought I was ready. I had read and searched and prayed for my questions to be answered and when I was asked “What are you waiting for?” I did not have an answer, so I went for it. To my surprise, I was not completely ready and questioned my decision for a short time.
To keep anyone else from facing the same surprises, here’s a list of tips to make your transition after Shahada as smooth as possible.
1. Be Prepared for Rejection
Not everyone is going to be happy about your decision. Your parents or caregivers may feel like you are abandoning the very values and beliefs they had hoped to instill in you. Your spouse, children, other family members or friends may be confused and unsure of your decision. They may worry that you do not fully understand what you are doing. They may not understand the difference between true Islam and the Islam portrayed in the media that is defiled by terrorists and they may worry for your safety. Although they might push away at first, give them time, they may come around once they get used to the idea.
While this is not true in all communities, some Muslims seem to avoid converts. They may treat converts differently or not acknowledge them at all. Do not let the actions of a few dictate your feelings. If you are able, try to speak to them or find a different Islamic community to be a part of. If it is obvious they are not treating you equally because you are a convert, it is their loss not yours.
2. Know What You Believe and Why
Knowing what you believe in and why will prepare you to explain your decision to others. Don’t feel the need to know every little detail about Islam, but at least know the five pillars of faith and where Islam stands on Jesus. I have found one of the biggest questions I get is how could I abandon Jesus. Knowing the importance of Jesus in Islam can help ease those worries.
When you understand why you believe something, it is easier to defend and support it with evidence. Have access to reputable websites or pamphlets to direct questions you do not feel confident answering to ease some of the stress.
While God is nothing new to the world, He may be new to your life. Worshiping Him requires a lot of time, energy, and sacrifice.
If you are thinking of converting simply because of a significant other, please reconsider. While it is great to have something in common with a partner, making an empty promise to God to live your life and believe in Him is dangerous for your eternal soul.
If your significant other is demanding your conversion, you need to really decide how you feel about God and make your next move based on that and not how much you love your partner. Anyone pushing you to make a commitment to something you do not agree with does not have your best interests at heart.
3. Prepare for the Roller Coaster of Emotions
Most people, upon deciding to accept a new way of life, are at the peak of excitement. It is like getting something new, exploring it, and being excited to share it with everyone else (or at least show it off!). It is incredibly unrealistic to expect that level happiness to last forever.
Remember the gift you begged your parents for months for or saved your money to buy? How long did it take for you to tire of it or get disappointed when it broke or wore out or the newer version came out?
While God is nothing new to the world, He may be new to your life. Worshiping Him requires a lot of time, energy, and sacrifice. The trick is to find the joy in serving God. As your excitement or level of faith shifts, try to stay positive. When you feel like you aren’t as close to God, find ways to reconnect. Talk with Him, that is what He wants. I have found that just asking God to pull me closer to Him helps raise my imaan, or faith, enough to rekindle the flames.
4. Practice Before You Commit
‘Test drive” the components of faith before making the big commitment. In Islam we are required to pray five times a day at specific times (salat) and remove certain foods from our diet (no pork or alcohol), among other tenets. While some requirements may not be difficult, others may take a lot of effort to enact.
Remember to gain all the information you can, but do not overwhelm yourself with the idea that it has to be perfect right away.
Just like making a big purchase, choosing the path of your soul should require a lot of thought and trial. Put on a headscarf, eliminate pork from your diet, or try fasting for a day just to see how it feels. It may seem awkward at first but with practice, it can become easier. Just because you feel these are difficult, just know they are areas you may have to work on or seek guidance for if you do decide to convert.
5. Be Patient
Above all, be patient. Patient with yourself and the world around you. No one else has been in your mind to follow your progress. You cannot expect everyone to immediately embrace your decision. Give them time to get used to the idea of you being a Muslim and, God willing, they will come around.
Thank those that have stood by your side and reassure those that are uncertain about your decision that this is the best decision for you and that you hope they will see how Islam will positively affect your life. Be mindful of the emotions of others and be prepared with simple explanations to avoid hurting someone’s feelings for situations like like not attending a holiday celebration or eating certain foods.
Time and time again, I have heard scholars say that the path to Islam is like climbing a ladder. You cannot expect to start out at the top of the ladder, you must start from the bottom and take one rung at a time or you will fall. If you do fall, don’t try to jump back to the top, simply grab onto the rung you are at and begin to climb back up.
This is a new experience and will require time and effort. Take the time to read and seek knowledge. Even people born into Muslim families did not come out of the womb reciting the Qur’an or knowing every part of the religion. It took time!
The path to finding religious contentment can be difficult and rewarding at the same time. Remember to gain all the information you can, but do not overwhelm yourself with the idea that it has to be perfect right away. Be patient with yourself and others and prepare to explain yourself. Whether you decide to take the shahada or not, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and prepared for what comes next!