By Kiah Glenn
I remember going to the masjid with my friend before I became Muslim — we were there for a Saturday Sister’s class. I was the only non-Muslim in the group, but I knew these young women and they were always kind and welcoming to me. I didn’t know what Muslims learned in their weekend classes, but I figured why not hang out. That Saturday, the class discussed Prophet Joseph (Yusuf) and the Shaykh asked questions about his story. I raised my hand because I knew the answer and remember being both amazed and confused. This was a story I knew well, and this group of Muslims knew it too. It was in that class, in that moment of comfort and familiarity, that I knew I would be Muslim.
Juz’ 9 begins about a third of the way through Surah al-A’raf and ends in Surah al-Anfal. The juz’ continues the stories of messengers that Allah sent, one after another, to the people, harkening them to believe. We are told of Shu’ayb and the message he delivered to his people, the same message delivered through all the messengers of Allah, including Moses. It is in this juz’ that we get the most detailed accounts of Moses and his trials against Pharaoh, the sorcerers and eventually his own people.
The stories in this juz’ remind me that, as one who professes belief in the Oneness of Allah, I am part of a long line of those who have also struggled for their faith. Like Shu’ayb and Moses, to profess my belief, I and other converts had to go against those who were most important and influential in our lives. We risk losing all we have for faith. The Prophet Shu’ayb himself was threatened to be turned out by his people.
The chiefs, those who were proud from among his people said: We will most certainly turn you out, O Shu’ayb, and (also; those who believe with you, from our town, or you shall come back to our faith. He said: What! Though we dislike (it)? — 7:88
Moses as well was challenged and threatened by Pharoah, and his people threatened with death and loss for their belief.
When I became Muslim, I was challenged by my parents, discarded by some family, and became, to an extent, a pariah in society. Leaving a faith I had known all my life for something my family and friends did not know about, understand, and in many cases feared, was not easy. And like Shu’ayb and Moses many of us are not safe from abuses heaped upon us from those same family and friends or from the loss of kinship and tribal membership.
Ramadan is always a difficult time for me; it isn’t a holiday I look forward to. Every year, I read about what others do with their families and friends and I feel broken. I have answered the call of the messengers of Allah; I am part of a chain of belief. But I don’t have Ramadan traditions that span generations. I don’t have a large group of family who I can eat suhoor with in the early mornings, break my fast with at sunset or who I can spend blessed time praying Taraweeh with during the long nights. Ramadan reminds me of what I gave up nine years ago. But those sacrifices are put into context when I read, “Whomsoever God guides, he is rightly guided; and whomsoever He leads astray, it is they who are the losers” (7:178).
This Ramadan I implore my community of believers to reflect on what they have done to help the converts in their communities. We often hear that Islam is the fastest-growing religion, but I believe that door to be a revolving one. Being a new Muslim is often very overwhelming. Leaving one faith for another takes a tremendous amount of courage and requires the support of the entire community far past the point of shahadah. Converts are often thrown head first into the pool and told to swim. Gifting a new Qur’an alone ain’t gonna cut it. Clapping at the masjid and offering congratulations can’t be the end. Who is there to help them learn; explain different aspects of faith; or even acclimate them to the culture of the masjid? Who is there to break bread with them during the most blessed time of the year? Where and how do they build traditions?
Over my now nine years as a Muslim, I have seen so many converts leave their practice of Islam. Racism, sexism and classism have been the cause of some of their problems, but loneliness and isolation are the biggest. How can we, a people who come from a lineage of Prophets who knew the pain of the abandonment of their friends and family, let others suffer that same pain? We know what those who first accepted a-Islam suffered, but we fail to show kindness to our new brothers and sisters today. Have we learned nothing? We are now the life lines for our new brothers and sisters. We are their new family and ones who can help guide them on this new journey; or we can abandon them. So this Ramadan let us be “al-Malā” or the “noble” ones who arerole models not only to non-Muslims, but also to those whom Allah has rightly guided. And to my new brothers and sisters in the deen, take these words from our Prophet Moses and hold them close:
Musa said to his people: Ask help from Allah and be patient; surely the land is Allah’s; He causes such of His servants to inherit it as He pleases, and the end is for those who guard (against evil). — 7:128
Kiah Glenn is a mother, daughter, anime addict and makeup hoarder. She operates We Been Here, a blog dedicated to showcasing the stories of Black and Latinx Muslim Women who are often left out of the larger narrative. She has a Masters in Islam from Duke University. Her masters focused on Women and Gender, Black, and Latinx Muslims in the West. Ms. Glenn continues to work with Muslim and non-Muslim college students on a daily basis. She also leads trainings on diversity, equity and inclusion for colleges and local communities.