Saturday, January 15, 2011

Convert Truths, Blog Carnival

When I saw this post I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring... Not just because I have always thought of the blogger as a kindred spirit, but because it's a topic I have been interested in recently too. I have been blogging since 2005, and I'd say things have changed a lot in my life... But then when I went back to look on the archives to see when I started my blog, I found that the oldest post was this post about not fitting in at the masjid and I just about fell over. Because here I am 6 years later about to tell you the exact same thing! I'd like to say that I decided to take the post in an entirely new direction because why rehash what's already been said, but I'd be lying to you. This issue is still very near and dear to me, so I think it merits revisiting.

Before I was Muslim I actually did attend church, I was a Sunday school teacher as a matter of fact. And I was also a vocal performer in college... So I sang at churches frequently. It may interest you to know that the minister at the church I worked at wanted to keep me on as the childcare coordinator. But after me showing up on Easter Sunday in hijab, other church members complained and I resigned. Anyway... Just an interesting back story. What I'm trying to talk about it mosques, and my experiences with them as a convert. I bring up my experiences as a Christian because obviously that's what I have to compare it to.

I have always had a problem with the cliquish nature of the masjid experience, and even after so many years as a Muslim I haven't been able to get past it. It feels way to much like the high school cafeteria for me to be comfortable there. So, for the most part I just avoid going to the mosque. Now before you shout haram, hear me out and give me a chance to explain why. In my opinion, if going to a religious institution does not enhance your religious experience there is no reason for you to go to it. And if going to a religious institution actually makes you question your chosen faith, run away and don't look back. One of the things I love about Islam is the fact that your connection with God requires no intermediaries. Now I am not so uneducated that I don't know the rewards for praying in congregation, but I think a certain amount of common sense can be used in these matters. How many converts you know have been driven away from the religion by people in the community? Food for thought.

On a personal level, I have walked away from the mosque crying. I have cowered in my car wondering if I would be turned away at the door. I have been treated with disrespect. I have been ignored. I have been marginalised. And I have gotten to a point where I just expect it. So you get it. I hate the mosque, it means nothing to me. I will go out on a limb here and say I think my experience is shared by not a few other converts, but the majority of us. Going even further out on a limb... I think it's also the experience of even born Muslims raised here in the US. And I think it's about time that drives us to action.

Our mosques are not a reflection of who we are as a diverse, educated, forward thinking community. That has to change! I know from my conversations with other Muslims that we are all thinking ahead, wondering what the community will be like in 10-15-20 years. But we leave it at wondering. We are dropping the proverbial ball here sisters and brothers. We are hating the mosque and the community and not putting forth the effort to create something that really represents us as we are. I wish I knew why that is. I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that we are afraid we will be called the k word if we ever question the way things are. And there is some truth to that.

So I say, forget the guy in the jilbab who gets his panties in a bunch every time you talk about changing something at the mosque. We need our own mosques. I'm not sure what you would call them, reformed? Definitely not progressive (but that's another post). They would be open for everyone. People would be welcomed, there would be a special new shahada committee to help converts. There would be a youth group, and a mother's group. And no one would get asked how many raka are in the isha prayer before they entered. As a matter of fact non-Muslims would be invited regularly and be given an opportunity to see that Islam is not a members only club where you have to know the secret handshake to get in... We are a religion accepting new and different people all the time. Did I mention the charity work? I think it should have a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter. Maybe even a free clinic! Wouldn't that be great?

Muslims... What makes me sad is not that we are a mess and we seem so disorganised and hostile to outsiders. It's that we even seem that way to ourselves. We have got to change that. There are great moderate Muslims out there, we just have to unite. If you know me you have probably heard me say this in 100 different ways 100 different times; until we accept each other, we can't ask people to accept us.


Anonymous said...

I'm not a convert but i avoid the mosques for the same reasons you've described.

Most people at mosques are mean, plain and simple. Others ignore them b/c they're either related to them, grew up with them or have a thicker skin.

I've only been to one where they have been truly friendly and welcoming.

jana z. said...

i would really protest if someone had shouted haram because what you describe is true and ive blogged about it several times. i dont see it changing and i find it so sad and frustrating. unless youre fortunate enough to be a member of a masjid that has alot of converts, then youre just left outside looking in the window. yes you can try to get your foot in the door and its ok for a few minutes, but it NEVER lasts. i make friends quickly but this is a different ballgame. we are welcome at the mosque yes but included..NO.

luckyfatima said...

I wasn't Christian before coming to Islam, so I don't really know what church life is like. But from what I read of former active church going Christian converts, our mosques are pathetic compared to the well organized, positive atmospheres found in some churches. I realize not all churches are that fab and I have also read accounts of similar backbiting, snubbing, etc., but generally from what I read it sounds like many churches have a noticeably more nurturing atmosphere. WHY can't we have that? Gender discrimination? Our communities are not homogenous, with people sticking vehemently to ethnic loyalties. We have that immigrant/born in the West divide. Our communities are not affluent, many people are sending extra income abroad to families and can't spare extra money in the US to build local mosques. And on. And on. You'd think Islam would just make us all better people and we would cling together and the mosque would be an awesome place. Well, it isn't an awesome place. Sigh,

Muslim&Proud said...

salam! elhomdollah, the masjid near me is very friendly. i was nervous the first time i went but i had made so many friends from my college so i knew a few people. they have never looked at me in a condescending way and the older people ask me nicely about my conversion. we've had multiple non-muslims in our masjid and even a mother who's chirstain comes on a semi regular basis. mine is also a school too so they have more halaqas (if i spelled that wrong sorry) and other groups for all ages and both genders.

i wish more mosques were like mine.

Anonymous said...

Awh that's too bad to hear. I used to me the only convert that attended our Mosque and didn't speak to anyone but I kept going and as a few new converts showed up I would hurry to introduce myself and alhamdulillah there's a little group of us now. It is cliquish but at least we converts have each other and can be there to welcome others. Please email me I would love to talk with you more about your ideas for a "new kind" of masjid. N.AndujarFrancis@gmail.Com

Asalaamu alaykum.

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Layla. Safiyyah here. Long time since we've communicated. Anyhow, glad I found your blog again and it's a great post that you've written.

Jamilah Kolocotronis said...

I like the mosque because it doesn't mean people to me, it means simply a place to worship without distraction (well, usually). I was fortunate because when I converted, thirty years ago, very few women went to the masjid. So in those days I was able to see it as a place of worship rather than a place of socializing, and that's what sticks with me.
It doesn't matter, though, because I can't really go to the masjid anymore. I'm severely allergic to perfumes, etc., and Muslims love their fragrances. I can't go to any Islamic gatherings anymore, not even Eid prayer, because of this. I have made my condition known, but Muslims really, really love their fragrances. So I won't be going back unless something changes--and I am not holding my breath on that.

Shawna said...

We definitely need our own mosques.

umm saad said...

Assalaamu alaikum

As a born Muslim I am really sad that my sisters have experienced this in a place where we are supposed to find comfort and kind words/faces.

I'm not sure if the phenomenon of cliques is entirely new as perhaps it is human nature to affiliate yourself with people who you think are like you? But I'm wondering if the bad treatment is confined to just the states or the world?

I'm so sorry you and all sisters who have commented so far have experienced a sense of not belonging - I for one love and respect my revert sisters and if you we were in my town, I would love to be friends!

(On a side note, umm layla, where can I read the novel you wrote which had an excerpt on your blog?)


Jennah said...

Assalamu Alaikum,
Great Post, thanks for the honesty.
I have to agree with Sister Jamillah. I see the Masjid as a place to connect with Allah and to learn from the Khutba. I am fortunate to have a Masjid where I can socialize and meet people as well. But as I converted over 15 years ago and have lived all over the country , I have seen my fair shair of cliquish Masjids. I stayed away for MANY years because of feeling left out, picked on (for not knowing proper dress)and lonely. But when I changed my outlook, the masjids I attented changed. Change your thinking and you will see it change insha'Allah.

Maman Imam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
My Hajj Journey said...

It seems to me that your trying to find that which you grew with in Church, which is a socializing, dancing, and singing place...Your first and foremost intention when in a mosque is to concentrate on Allah not what anyone is doing. So im sure if you go to the Masjid with that kind of an attitude you will feel fine. However, if your going to the Masjid to socialize first and second for worshipping then the whole idea is corrupted...That been said, please follow me at

Anonymous said...

AsSalaamuAleikumWarahmataAllahiWaBarakatu Dear Sister
I came across your blog during a search for craft ideas via sketched soul. Regarding the above post, i can relate (especially since i am a child of arab speaking parents and my conversational arabic speaking abilities was flawed..); but alhmadillah, where i am now, a very small town, the masjid is very welcoming to all.
please i do have questions regarding your ramadan surprise box and ramadaan calendar project. The link for the instructions to islamic parenting seems to not work. for the calendar, what size do you cut the 9" x 12" felt for each day of the month? jazakiAllahuKheirun...i want to try to begin project now so inshaAllah it will be complete before ramadaan for my almost 3 year old daughter.

um esmaa

Tinaelgamal said...

Salaam Alikum Sister,
I am sorry to hear you avoid the Mosque.
I can say from experience that not all Mosques are like this! Im just a little bit confused why you are afraid to go? Anyways your point about you don't have to go to Mosque to be connected with God is of course TRUE however for your sake I hope you stand strong for yourself and give it another chance. No one owns the Mosque. It is for us to worship ALLAH and when we go that should be our One and only focus!

Anonymous said...

Assallamu Alaykum Sister,

I am an american muslim convert too and i can relate to a point. I have lived in several different states and i found that in most mosques the majority of the people who attend are from other countries and only go to socalize. Whereas i go to pray and if i meet a fellow muslim who is nice i see it as a bonus. I have also lived in a small community in Kansas where the whole mosque was american converts who shunned the mainstream mosque over something that happened before i joined. It was a different world. We had new convert classes, childrens classes, khutba's in english. Parents got together to have tea, visited each other when someone was ill or pregnant, we had potluck dinners all during ramadan. It was a family feeling atmosphere. Noone came to the mosque and talked the whole time the imam spoke. Noone came with middrif tops on, noone was gossiping about each other it gave you the feeling that the mosque was your home. We were even given a key. Yes we also helped pay the rent, as did everyone who could. They had charity events, food drives and huge eid parties for the kids. It was what a mosque in america should be. I wish we had that same experience the other places we have lived.

I still go to the mosque but i feel like im invisible. Because i just go, sit and listen, then i leave. Last year on Eid i took a big plate of dates with me to the mosque but i left it outside in the common areas where there were plenty of trash cans and food is allowed. I wished everyone a happy eid. Most people didnt even reply, or say thank you. Then we sat and listened to the khutba. When the prayers were over everyone left and i spent 20 minutes picking up date pits they threw all over the floor of the mosque. Even though there was a garbage right by the door they entered and exited. It made me wish i hadnt even brought them. Its hard for me to take my daughter who is 6 to the mosque and let her see that noone cares, or that they dont cover or pray correctly. Noone even replied to her when she said Eid kareem. We sat by the door and greeted everyone who entered. This is just one example. But the mosques here in Connecticut if you dont speak urdu or arabic you might as well be invisible.

Its also very difficult as am american who goes to the mosque to hear the khutba when they say the whole thing in Arabic. I've been to two mosques that didnt have an english khutba. It is america, i mean Some english should be spoken atleast to be fair to all who attend.

I wouldnt quit going to the mosque because it makes me feel good to go but i know how you feel and its not the wonderful thing it should be. Going to the Mosque should be a pleasure and a blessing. We should look forward to it, which can be pretty hard for a convert with so many negative experiences.

Inshallah there will be more improvements made in the future to make it more beneficial for all who attend.

Anonymous said...

I accepted Islam 15 years ago however in the masjid the politics that are present (at least mine) only benefit you if you are a new Muslim. What amazes me is that they don't seem to get it that you don't want your hand held forever. Once a convert always a convert-in the eyes of the community. I basically have gone about ignoring it. I'm not able to participate in some of the classes because it's simply too demoralizing for me and this impacts my feeling of community but I know my limits. There is certainly a pecking order that goes on in most masjids and it comes down to whomever is in charge dictating the scope of what transpires. I agree with you that it's better to stay away from the masjid if the result is nothing but inner fitnah. It's like my decesion to stay away from certain groups and programs. I attend jumah when possible and certain activities while others I skip. I know while I miss certain people in the end it's far better for me to make the distinction for myself.

W.B. Abdullah said...

MashAllah..what a beautiful, thoughtful post. I can't avoid the masjids because of my competition with my nafs to get on Allah's Pleased List, but I do believe strongly in the hadith that basically you are who you're around...and some Muslims, unfortunately, aren't worth being around. The blemish outweighs the benefit. I love your vision for masjids of the future and I pray that the leaders of the masjids recognize this need. We have a serious problem in our ummah with complacency. Keep writing sis--we need to hear your voice.

Nabeelah said...

I'm not a convert but even as someone born a Muslim, the extent to which cultural practice and a certain cliquishness seeped into the Mosque always put me off. My local mosque is tied to a racial community, in part to preserve those cultural practices. I understand the logic, but I do wish other sorts of mosques were more common - I love your description of a Reformed Mosque with a more welcoming and open community aspect.

Heather said...

Please email me! I have a question about your blog :)

Karen Swiftly said...

Hi there,

I know this post is in 2011 and not sure if you will revisit the blog again. I am a convert and I just want to give you a big hug and laugh and cry together. I was a Christian and taught in the Sunday school, a choir in the Church and now a convert for about 17 years. Until this day, I will say I do not fit in the muslim community. We go every Sunday for the religions school as my hubby is so afraid that the kids will cling on to my way of thoughts (too loose and too acceptance to so many things which is considered to be "not so islamic".)I wish we, anyone who feel the same can come together to build a mosque like what you said. It should be a place for everyone, yes, a soup kitchen, a youth group..... and many more. I do not understand why muslim in general have so many restrictive way to regulate and measure what kind work should be done. All rules and rules and haram and haram. If one is not wearing a abaya / jibal, one will not be regarded as a deep faith muslim. This is the look they are picking for a weekend school teacher or a volunteer. I volunteer outside the mosque as they don't need me because I am "so not Islamic" for their taste! I like your "K" word joke. It is true, I know some people even query my sincerity and the dept of my faith in Islam. I do not care anymore. Our hijab is in our heart, our faith presents as how we treat others and respect their difference.
May Allah make this dream come true.

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Nur Lin said...

Assalamualaikum, thank you for the articles you have written. I am someone who has reverted to Islam 3 years ago, and am still the only Muslim in my family. It causes me a bit of anxiety and sadness sometimes, but I try to hold strong to the teachings in the Quran so that I remain having faith and trust in Allah's plan. Using my design degree background, I'm starting a t-shirt line based on Islamic positive messages, if you find these useful to share with your audience, do share. I'd greatly appreciate it and I hope it'll bring someone out there a bit of peace and serenity :)

Take care,
Nur Lin