Let’s face it, guys. Our mistreatment of Muslim reverts has shoved many of them to the brink of apostasy.
From day one of their shahāda, we pounce on them with expectations: “Toss out your shorts and tanks, don the ḥijāb; skip past the alcohol and pork dishes; quit that ḥarām job; your marriage to that pagan-kāfir? Just no. Get a divorce lawyer on the phone.”
But there are larger issues lurking in the background. Isolation, doubts and confusion shake their base, daily. Wounds from friend [ex-friend?] and family mockery are still fresh. Their hearts need work. Advise them beautifully, yes, but bear in mind the fragility of a revert’s heart. And know that any puritanical campaign to “change” them overnight is a harbinger for disaster.
Allow Qur‘ān to speak: The desert Arabs say, “We believe!” Tell them [O Muḥammad], “You haven’t believed yet. Instead they should say, ‘We have accepted Islam,’ for faith has not yet settled in your hearts.’” [Sūrat al-Ḥujurāt, 49:14]
قالت الأعراب آمنا • قل لم تؤمنوا ولكن قولوا أسلمنا ولما يدخل الإيمان في قلوبكم
Put this verse under a microscope and examine its innermost workings; note the tone, the language, the context of revelation. Each word testifies to the spiritual fragility of new reverts: [ولما يدخل الإيمان في قلوبكم] …do not proclaim yourselves as “believers” until “`imān permeates your hearts.” Allāh revealed this verse for the bedouin Arabs of Bani `Asad bin Khuzaymah. They embraced Islam, then quickly ascribed themselves to the station of `imān. So Allāh reprimands this group of new reverts; He “puts them in check,” so to speak, for feigning firmness. For submission [إسلام] and conviction [إيمان] occupy separate space on the spectrum of faith; we acquire them in stages.
So what is `imān? It is conviction-—a solidified belief in the unseen, acquired with trial, struggle and time. It is when the foundational creed of lā `ilāha `illā Allāh navigates our every action; when lā `ilāha `illā Allāh becomes something we are willing to die for. An honorable station, no? Even the born-Muslims are dangling far and loose from this station; what, then, of a new revert?
Brief tips for engaging this population [and newly practicing Muslims]: keep our stream of advice to them thin and gradual. That is, don’t throw fatwa darts at them, but stir them with a kind word. This also means avoiding the kind of language that suits cogs in machines rather than senient beings. And in initiating deen-talk, fuse all dialogue with Prophet stories and descriptions of the hereafter; they will adopt sharīʿah naturally. Take a leaf from seerah.
A tābiʿi from ʿIrāq asked ʿĀ`ishah [رضى الله عنها] on the first chapters in Qur`ān revealed, to which she said: “Know that the first thing revealed was a sūrah from al-Mufassal, mentioning heaven and hell. Later […] the verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. But if the first thing to be revealed was ‘Do not drink alcohol,’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse,’ they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.’”
Now shift your lens to the reign of khalīfah ʿUmar ibn ʿAbdulʿazīz. When he witnessed his own Muslim people straying from their obligations, his son addressed him: “O father, the Muslims are falling short of the law; why haven’t you enforced all of sharīʿah in your courts?” His father, the khalīfah, replied, “O son, if I were to hold the people upon the truth all at once [i.e. Islamic rulings], they would abandon the truth all at once.”
يابنى لو حملت الناس على الحق جملة واحدة تركوه جملة واحدة
Gradualism. And Allāh knows best.
*For more on al-Ḥujurāt and the Arab bedouins, refer to Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, vol. 4.