When Anti-Muslim Prejudice Comes from Loved Ones

Generally, when dealing with family matters in dispute, impulses and reactions are always quite complex and personal – it is no different with cases of a conversion within a family. We can also observe that, within the last decade or so, the ethno-cultural background of people becoming Muslim is becoming increasingly diverse. This more diverse ‘international mix’ of converts to Islam also means that family connections for coverts are ever diverse and complex.

People’s experiences are different and their reactions will also be very different. One person who has been a Muslim for six months, say, may be quite self-assured with their new faith identity and the decisions they made. Another, also after six months, may still feel sensitive to being questioned about their decisions. There are no specific time periods for ‘adjusting’ as a new Muslim. Yet, how self-assured a person feels has a bearing on how a person can react to prejudices expressed from family and friends. Advice and support from people mentoring converts can make a big difference to how such scenarios are dealt with.

The expression of prejudices against different beliefs and cultural ways are, sadly, part of our common human experience. When we hear nasty things said against ourselves from someone remote and disconnected from our lives, we will normally just carry on with our lives. But, when similar things come from our family and close friends, it is something different altogether. For someone who has found a new connection with Islam and, through it, with many new people, hearing anti-Muslim prejudices from family and friends can be very difficult.

In some extreme cases, personal safety may be a consideration and thus specialist advice or action needs to be taken. Actions that threaten a person’s safety or their possessions will require urgent protection from agencies such as the police. It has been known for converts to ignore actions taken by hostile family members during their early (Muslim) days and for this to cause complication and harm down the road.

Perhaps a more common experience will be that of remarks and comments that take images and stereotypes people may have picked up from the media or popular debate. Dealing with such experiences can be emotionally and psychologically demanding and every situation will be unique. Furthermore, there is a need to balance concerns about what family members say with the need to keep up ties and relationships. Often when family members say something it is out of concern and love, even if it sounds harsh. An experience such as conversion can raise ‘trauma’ for a family and friends as well as the convert. Families can be complicated!

While in some very extreme cases a harmful relationship may need to be severed, in the long run most people will benefit by holding on to networks of people that care for them and want their best interest. This is where external advice and support can be very important. An objective ear, listening to someone’s difficulties can provide valuable advice. Without proper support, cutting family ties can seem like the required action in response to family prejudices against Islam. There are far too many cases of the uninformed (and unhelpful and sometimes extreme) voices that reach a new convert, encouraging them to make a kind of personal “hijra” away from their family and friends. These messages can apply guilt, distorted teachings about being “misguided” and even question the certainty of a person’s commitment to “their Islam” if they are not able to distance themselves from old relationships. All too often, harmful personal consequences emerge further down life’s road. A guiding hand offering a more hopeful outlook concerning family relations can make a crucial difference helping a person deal with these very difficult challenges, by showing Islamic teachings around patience, compassion and dealing with one’s family in a balanced way while maintaining one’s own dignity and rights.