This article originally appeared on www.muslisms.com before publication with Islam 101.
Being a Muslim convert means you’re almost constantly balancing this strange in-between world, living neither here, nor there. To those of your old and new life, you are an oddity.
The old life: With your family and friends, you’re no longer the same person that they have known all your life. Becoming a Muslim gives you the opportunity to change yourself for the better. Regardless of who you are and who you’ve become, there will almost always be people who shun, criticize, leave you. Things that you once did—be it celebrating certain holidays or eating certain foods or going to the bar with your friends—suddenly become off-limits. These aspects of your life become amputated, sometimes along with the people you shared it with, and while it’s for the better, you still feel the ghost-itch of that missing limb, calling you back every now and then.
The new life: With the Muslim community, you are sometimes neglected. Everyone cheers and shakes your hand when you say the shahadah, but you’re forgotten soon after. They don’t know just how much of a struggle lies ahead of you. You’re brought into a world that you can drown in, and without people to keep you afloat, you are at risk of losing yourself. And sometimes the people that try to keep you afloat just tie weights around you with “don’t do x” or “y is haram” without teaching you how to even swim properly. And tragically, if a new Muslim decides they want to leave Islam, it often has nothing to do with theology; instead, they “apostate from the community” as imam Suhaib Webb (also a convert) puts it.
Everyday extremism: Converts are often at risk of going to extremes, and more often than not it’s to the extreme of radicalism. Because they’re impressionable, they’re often targeted by extremist groups. But extremism doesn’t just exist in terrorist groups and mass killing. Extremism can also become a way of life. If the sheikh is telling you to abandon your family and friends just because they aren’t Muslim, well, he’s a sheikh so he knows more than you, right? And your name, well, no—tell me what your “Muslim name” is, you can’t use your old name anymore, right? And the saddest part is that all of the above are not part of Islam, but extremist and poisonous ideologies masquerading as Islam. The simple problem is that new converts just don’t know any better.
The in-between: The danger of swinging violently from one world to the other can be damaging to the convert’s psyche. Being a Muslim convert means navigating this in-between. It means being a part of both worlds. You need to find peace in that in-between. But being in the in-between allows you to see things objectively, from the outside looking in. You see things in society that you would have otherwise not noticed because you were engrossed in them—the self-destructiveness of “YOLO” lifestyle, rampant consumerism, vanity and entitlement. You also see things in the Muslim community that others don’t notice because they are engrossed in them—cultural practices passed off as Islamic, a venomous attitude towards people, even disregard for the core tenets of Islam.
And for that reason, converts have the potential to be the greatest agents of change. Having that experience of living in both worlds allows converts to have a unique perspective. And in doing so, they can be the bridge, connecting two worlds over the in-between.