When the Welcome Hugs Have Faded
It happens in life. There are uplifting moments, of celebration, personal achievement, congratulations and experience. It can be a wedding or honeymoon, an outcome of studying or competitive sport, having a child or simply an annual marker of some kind. At some point and quite soon, the dust settles. Normality returns. When this happens after so much expectation has been hung onto a new beginning, normality may not feel so wonderful in the moment. Feelings like “is this it?” can creep in. If this is the case for so many areas in life, it is only understandable that many who make a personal journey to the point of their “shahada”, may go on to feel a sense of disillusionment. And, based on case studies and discussions held, many do.
The period after the celebration of becoming Muslim is an important and sensitive one. Regardless of whether the celebrating was done in private, before people at a community gathering (such as a mosque), or under the gaze of the broader Muslim community (such as at public events or captured on social media). A person can convert and be praised by everyone around them and yet a few weeks or months down the line – they could be inadvertently forgotten and left to their own devices. In times of celebration, such as Eid, when family often takes precedence, converts may feel overlooked by the wider community. Yet many converts may not have those family connections. Especially at such a time, when the welcome hugs have faded, continued support is crucial. But what can such support look like?
A good supporting role as a mentor, coach, guide or tutor, will be tailored to meet the needs of an individual, and, will also borrow from approaches that have been shown to work well. There is no neat checklist for what this looks like, but there are some things we can bear in mind to help and encourage us to provide good support. It is worth noting that some aspects such support relate to the religious journey itself, and others that relate more generally to the nature of anyone venturing somewhere new in their life.
Many converts will mention the pressures and timelines imposed upon them, to be able to reach certain standards of religious practice and adherence. Not only are these often difficult to achieve but they can also create confusion and guilt that is detrimental to the growth of a convert’s journey.
Some converts also express a concern that such pressures seem to be upon them in ways they are not put upon all Muslims. It has been known many people either begin to find Islam too hard, or, retreat into a personal ‘cave’. The personal cost of retreating can be damaging, especially when we consider the (“told you so” type) responses they might receive from some family and friends.
When it comes to one’s religious learning and development, it is important to understand the role of mentoring as providing reassurance and nurturing relationships. One person may be eager to learn the Arabic language of the Qur’an and will be looking for courses. Another may want to focus on their personal relationship with God. Yet another may be more concerned about not harming the relationships with their family. In each case, support should work from the shoes and sensitivities of the person concerned, and reflect the pace of their journey.
General and established good practices of being an effective mentor or shoulder of support (such as being a good listener, not judging, being flexible with approaches, or signposting to sources of further help) should also be combined with meeting religious concerns such as prayer and other aspects of worship. It is a mistake to see those former types of support as being secondary to religious concerns. They are part and parcel of what good support at different stages should be. Being there to support someone challenged by loneliness or a fear of losing friends is sometimes the most important form of support a person may need.