Following the CNA interview where my family and I shared about my journey to Islam, I've had several people get in touch with me on Facebook. A group of them were Muslims whose other halves were learning more about Islam. They asked for tips and advice on how they can be a greater support to their partners, which was really heartening.
Having spoken to them, I realized that most of the issues that they were facing were similar, and they often revolved around the same aspects of Islam. They were the exact same issues I struggled with at the start of my journey!
Since I was sharing my stories and churning out paragraphs of advice to every one of them, I thought of compiling them into a post that would hopefully benefit others who may find themselves in the same situation, now or in the future.
The burden is on you
Personally, I feel that the Muslims in such relationships have it harder. Converts tend to be hyper-sensitive and hyper-emotional during their journey as they are dealing with a major change not only in their life, but in their way of life. So Muslims partners have to tread so carefully in their well-intentioned efforts to guide and educate their partners about Islam. Too much, and it will be "Why are you trying to force me! Stop pressurizing me!"; too little and it's "Why can't you be more supportive. I feel I have to do it alone".
Before I embraced Islam, I would try to convince Aizat to skip his tarawih prayers at the mosque because we were not spending enough time together during Ramadhan. I would throw tantrums and accuse him of being "too extreme" and that it was scaring me into converting to Islam. That's emotional blackmail right there! And I would do it all the time.
Trying to be an exemplary Muslim and setting an example for your other half when they lack the full understanding of what your faith means to you can be so mentally draining and exhausting.
And they simply do not get enough credit for what they do.
Often, the stories of converts gets all the attention, of how they overcame challenges and found God. But the true heroes, and the one who truly deserves all praise and blessings, are really their partners. Of course, the faith I hold today without have been possible without Allah's grace. But it also wouldn't have been possible if I didn't have the immense patience, understanding and support from Aizat.
I lost count of the times I snapped at him, asked him uncomfortable questions about Islam that bordered on being disrespectful.
There were even times I accused him of not being supportive when all he ever did was try his hardest to be there for me, and to be a good guide for me. I did that not knowing about the prayers he woke up to perform in the last third of the night, every night, for Allah to open my heart until his mother told me about it.
So this is for you, all of you. You with the biggest heart. May Allah reward you ten folds for your efforts and may He ease your affairs for you.
Donning the Hijab
The hijab is going to be one of the biggest problems for girls.
When we got together, I told Aizat that I will probably never wear the hijab. Maybe I will, but that will be when I'm old and ugly at 40. He replied sheepishly that, actually, I would have to don the hijab after I converted. I was horrified.
How about I convert when I'm 40, I said. He was even more horrified.
I remember the first time I put on a shawl. It was at Bugis Junction. I had a shawl with me and was in a good mood.
"Let me try to wear the hijab!"
He immediately knew it was a bad idea.
"No, don't. We'll try it at home. I'll get my sisters to teach you ok?"
"Nevermind, I just want to try," I wrapped the shawl around my head. "How do I look?"
Aizat cracked a forced smile, "Quite nice. Ok, take it off, people are looking"
"But I want to see!"
"No, don't. You'll regret it, trust me!"
I spun around to see my reflection in the glass.
I cried in public that day.
That led to a tirade of how I'll never ever wear the hijab and if he can't accept it, we should just break up.
He was at a loss of what to do, so he asked his father for help. His father warned him sternly never to force me to don the hijab. Yes, it is obligatory, but it is not the most important thing at this stage. What's most important is for the convert to learn more about Islam and to embrace it. "Get the 5 pillars down," he said. "And it will come naturally. You won't even have to ask her to put it on. She will don it on her own accord."
When I first heard about that, I was secretly happy because it meant that I could choose to put it on only when I'm 40! I would just tell them that I wasn't ready and not feeling it. But so much changed in the months that followed.
I only fully understood the wisdom of my father-in-law when I made the deliberate choice to don the hijab full-time a year after I converted. As I developed a deeper understanding and appreciation of my faith, hijab became something I wanted to don, and not something that I had to put on.
So don't worry about the hijab too much! Yes, it's the most prominent statement of her faith, but no, it is not the most important.
Guide her into learning and loving Islam. Guide her in performing her daily prayers. Instill the remembrance and fear of Allah in her; the desire to please Allah in her. There isn't a single word about "hijab" but all these brings her closer to the hijab than anything you can ever say to her about it.
Trust in her. Trust in Allah. And more importantly, make dua.
Performing the 5 daily prayers
A few days before I converted, I had a mini panic attack. I told Aizat that he probably shouldn't expect me to pray 5 times a day. Being the ultimate zen master that he is (he learnt so well from his father):
Him: But do you believe in Allah?
Him: Do you want to please him?
Him: Okay, that's most important. Do you want all your dreams and wishes to come true?
Him: Just know that prayers is the closest you'll ever get to Him.
Me: Yes, I know that
Him: And Allah answers ALL all prayers, so why would you want to miss out any chance to do so? It's like a sure-win 4D! Won't you bet on 4D if you knew you were definitely going to win?
Me: But I can't... How can I go from not praying at all to 5 times a day!
Him: Just promise to try Ok? I'll accompany you for the prayers whenever I can.
Him: If it is difficult for you, pray to him. Ask Him for strength to perform your 5 daily prayers.
Him: If you really can't, no worries, just try your best. 2 or 3 is fine. We'll work harder from there.
But what do you know! I managed to pray my 5 the first day I converted. And it wasn't really that difficult!
I realized that I wasn't afraid of the prayers, I was afraid of the pressure I would get from Aizat and his family to perform my prayers. When he told me to just try my best, it took a load off my shoulders. I was able to pray sincerely and whole-heartedly. There was no stress at all, so it all became easy!
Stressing that they would have to pray 5 times right after their conversion would only serve to make them more anxious. It causes them to focus on how hard they think it is going to be.
Action, without intention, is worthless. Don't force them to perform the 5 daily prayers to the extent that they do it out of spite, where they are just going through the motion and building not iman, but resentment in their hearts.
Don't start with "you must", go with "let's try". Tell them the benefits of doa, inculcate the habit of dhikir and making doas.
Be a good example. Perform your prayers on time, plan your day according to the prayer timings. For instance, tell them you can't watch the movie at 7pm, because you'll have to perform Mahgrib prayers first. Or that you can only meet them after 2pm, after Zohor prayers. Make it a routine so that when they eventually do convert, they already find themselves in this rhythm of life.
Islam is a way of life. So live it.
Show them that it can be done, and it can be easy. That's the kind of reassurance they need.
Umrah was not an issue that I thought a lot about before and even after my conversion. I just knew that it was like a mini-Hajj. Imagine the shock I had when 3 months after our nikah, Aizat brought it up.
I wasn't even wearing my hijab full time, what makes him think I'm ready for Umrah? But I guess we'll never know what are Allah's plans for us. To find out how Aizat convinced me to go for Umrah instead of a honeymoon after our marriage, read here. That was no easy feat. I still can't get over how he did that! He's just really good at this.
And if it means anything coming from potentially the most anti-Umrah convert ever, here is my message to convert sisters who are hesitating about performing Umrah, because you think you're not ready:
You don't know that! Only Allah knows if you're ready. And if he presents you with the opportunity to visit him in His home, what are you waiting for? Go for it!
Umrah > honeymoon. Umrah is a thousand times better than honeymoon. Sure, I suffered a lot during Umrah. I think I cried almost every day I was there, but -
A couple is never more aligned in their hearts than during Umrah (or Hajj). Because by stripping away all worldly distractions, all the both of you will seek in every waking moment is Allah.
Because in Umrah, you strip away all the fun, the romance, and you will see your husband for who he truly is, his Nur and iman! Insha Allah, it will be the most breath-taking thing you'll ever see in him.
Managing your parents' expectations
This is extremely important, especially if your partner is going to live with your family.
A lot of the pressure a convert faces comes from the family. Of course, we know they mean well when they encourage your partner to join in the prayers. Or when they gift them a prayer kit or a Quran. Some converts react well to that; others might take it badly.
You'll have to gauge where your partner stands in their faith and advice your family accordingly. If they have been extremely receptive of Islam and are enthusiastic to learn. Go ahead! Invite them for prayers, get them to join in, pile on the gifts!
But if they are still hesitant and wavering in their faith, remind your family to ease up and avoid being too pushy or preachy during the first few encounters. This might upset them a bit because they are so eager to help, but just remind them that the most powerful thing they can do to help is to make dua for your partner, so they could do that instead!
Think of converts as babies. A baby isn't born to the world ready to pray and fast on the first day. None of the earliest followers of Islam were commanded to practice the 5 pillars of Islam in a day. It took months, even years.
Give them the space they need to grow her iman and build their relationship with Allah.
Be their biggest supporter
Never let them make any decisions on their own. Yes, the decision to convert to Islam is theirs to make but that doesn't mean you remove yourself entirely out of the equation.
Convert: So... does this mean that if I don't convert, we cannot be together?
Convert: What if I can't accept Islam?
Muslim: Why don't you think it through and decide for yourself and let me know?
That's not the way to go.
Don't ever say:
"I don't know. You decide for yourself"
"If you can't, then forget it"
"If you don't want to, fine. I don't care"
"I don't know what to do anymore. I give up"
"I give up. Do whatever you want"
"I don't know but I'll find out for you"
"How would you like me to help you in this?"
"Would you like me to accompany you?"
"I understand that it's hard, but I will be here to support you"
Most converts take their first step into learning more about Islam for the sake of their Muslim partners. If they aren't sure if they will be able to accept it, ask: "I understand it can be overwhelming for you, but are you open to learning more about it? We could go for a class at Darul Arqam to see if sounds like something you'll be able to accept. I could accompany you."
Don't ever let them feel that they have to do it alone.
Aizat would always attend the classes with me. When I asked him why and if he felt bored, he told me that there will always be something new for him to learn. And that he enjoys it. Plus, he wanted to be there to hear what the Ustaz/Brother taught so that if I had any problems with it, he could understand where I was coming from.
So, go for classes with them! Learn new things together, build your faith and relationship with Allah together. The class will bring up topics that the both of you could reflect upon and discuss as a couple.
Give them sufficient time for this transition
If your partner is ready, start the classes as early as you can. It took me 2 years to fully embrace Islam. I did the Beginners Course in Islam thrice because I kept dropping out of them. I would attend a class and hear something I did not like, get upset, and decide to drop out.
But Aizat never forced me to attend the classes when I didn't want to. Whenever I told him that I didn't want to attend them anymore, he would say, "Ok, maybe next cycle ok?"
A few weeks later, he would ask if I was ready, and he'd sign us up for a new cycle and we'd repeat the classes again. Never once did he complain. In fact, he would say "Actually this is a good thing! This way we learn more, Alhamdulillah!"
Do as the Prophet would
There are probably a million other issues I didn't touch upon but if you ever find yourself in a difficult spot, just ask yourself, what would our beloved Prophet (saw) do? Follow that and you'll never go wrong.
Don't stress. Relax. Take it easy.
Lead by example not by force.
Be the support they need.
Never give up on them. You're probably the only bridge to Islam they have now.
Patience, patience, patience.
Most importantly, dua. There will never be anything more powerful than that.
Guiding a person to Islam is one of the most blessed thing you could do. For something as huge as that, it might not always be smooth sailing.
Insha Allah, it will all be worth it when you see him or her recite the Shahadah in front of you.
Insha Allah, it will be all worth it the day you lead them, or have them lead you, in prayer.
Insha Allah, it will be all worth it the day you wrap your fingers tightly around theirs as you perform tawaf around the Kabaah together
Insha Allah, it will all be worth it when you see them again, in all their grace and beauty, in Jannah again.