In an interview with a woman who shall remain anonymous, I dialogued with her a little about friendship in Islam. She is a convert to Islam, and she had this to say to me on the topic, “I feel like Islam for me is a solo search for a relationship with God.” I gave a chuckle at that. I responded to her, “You chose a communal religion to do it alone. But then, that is kind of how I roll too.” Islam, for all of its emphasis on communal prayer and the Muslim community (ummah), can be a lonely journey. I think this is particularly so for some converts.
In my interview with Shaykh Mustafa Umar, part of which appears in a previous article, he spoke of his own form of conversion to Islam. He grew up in a non-practicing, Muslim family, became an atheist, and then returned to Islam as an adult. Where his family was concerned, his journey back into Islam ended up being a solo endeavor. When he became a practicing, pious Muslim, both his parents and extended family were concerned and upset. “Who do you think you are?!” was the reaction he received from them.
Shaykh Mustafa’s parents immigrated from abroad. His dad is from India, and his mom comes from Pakistan. His father is a businessman and comes from an Indian tribe famous for producing businessmen. It makes sense that his expectation was for his son Mustafa to become a businessman as well. A shaykh is a far cry from that expectation. According to Mustafa, his father still feels disappointment. Mustafa could be making much more money if he were to go into business, and any father would love for his son to be a wealthy businessman. But, as the anonymous convert from before stated, “Islam…is a solo search for a relationship with God.” Parents and family cannot dictate that relationship.
At the Islamic Institute of Orange County (IIOC), Shaykh Mustafa says there is an effort to be welcoming to converts. Converts receive kits to help them learn the basics of the faith. Because families of converts can become hostile when they learn of the conversion, IIOC also tries to be helpful to converts going through a rough time with family members. Though Mustafa claims some converts are shyer than others, and this can cause some inter-Muslim social problems.
Shaykh Mustafa pointed out to me that Islam has no hierarchy. Even with my limited knowledge, I was already well aware of this. In Islam, no clergy comes between Allah and his people. The relationship with the creator is supposed to be direct and personal, and Muslims are united under that belief. So, while the relationship with God is a “solo” one, there is still a community of believers. Perhaps some, especially converts, struggle more than others with the social aspect of the faith. But then, no one converts to Islam for the community. They convert for God.