Sunday, May 16, 2021
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Converting to Islam cost me family, friends and a job – but I don’t regret it for a second

Friends stopped calling. My family didn’t want anything to do with me – except to know what I thought about ISIS (Picture: Getty Images/EyeEm)

Converting to Islam was one of the best choices I ever made. It gave me a sense of purpose and community that I so desperately craved.  When I said the Shahada, or declaration of faith, in my local mosque in 2020, I felt like I was reborn, that I had a fresh start in life and a new way of looking at the world.

But Islam came at a cost to me – a cost I didn’t expect to pay. 

Friends stopped calling. My family didn’t want anything to do with me – except to know what I thought about ISIS. Work colleagues held meetings without me, then used my absence at those meetings against me. They’d say that I wasn’t committed and cared more about religion than my career – as if it’s one or the other.

Ultimately, this led to me losing my job. When my boss scheduled an irregular one-on-one, I thought I was being furloughed. I was sacked there and then.

This made me feel worthless and so easily discarded – especially as I wasn’t even given a meaningful reason. I was simply told ‘we think the business is going in a different direction to you’.

Through much of the last year’s lockdowns, I have been without a job, without family, and largely without friends. At times I have felt completely abandoned by the world – a world that can be so tolerant of different life choices. Not when it comes to my personal spirituality, though.

A single mother, I converted to Islam just after I gave birth. It was a way for me to turn a new leaf and give myself the spiritual strength to be a mother on my own. 

For the last few years, I’ve lived around the corner from a mosque. I’ve always looked at the people coming out and thought how peaceful they seem, how they have a sense of community and solidarity even though they look like they are of so many different ethnicities.

I felt like something was lacking in my life, that there should be more to it than work and my social life. 

I was never particularly religious before, but I have always been spiritual and felt that there was a deeper dimension to life. Becoming a mother forced me to ask myself what values I wanted my child to have, and what it is that children need to be stable and successful in life. 

What attracted me to Islam is how universal it is, and the sense of real community between people who have nothing in common except their faith. This is especially important at a time when society seems so divided and we are so alienated from each other.

The process of converting was very simple. I went into the local mosque and they asked me what I understood Islam to be, and I said the declaration of faith. 

But even though I felt my faith made me ‘whole’, the rest of my support network did not – they felt this wasn’t me, almost like my brain had been hacked. 

I had been so reliant on friends and family before I converted. My mental health was delicate: the stress of a hectic job along with going through pregnancy without the father of my child often pushed me to the edge.

After my son was born, my mother would care for him a couple of times a week, allowing me to feel like I had some time for self-care, or to catch up on calls or emails. Once or twice I would go out with work colleagues, too.

  But when I converted, things changed. As a Muslim woman, the pub is not my natural environment. I could put up with some drunken banter, but I couldn’t put up with drug-taking.

When I was cut off by everyone, the biggest difficulty was the loneliness and the sense of failure

I felt like there was this tension between the old fun-loving, carefree me, and the responsible, spiritually centred mother that I now was.

And I didn’t feel like anyone in my life wanted the new version of me to survive. In fact, I felt like they wanted to kill her and resurrect the old me.

Whenever I tried to arrange a social event, my friends made excuses. Often I felt they weren’t even trying to hide it. My calls and FaceTimes with family became shorter and shorter, until they were often replaced by one line texts. It was like they didn’t know me any more, or couldn’t relate to me.

When I was cut off by everyone, the biggest difficulty was the loneliness and the sense of failure. I was forced to live on benefits for the first time in my life, even though – if I’m honest – part of me had always looked down on people who depend on handouts. 

I didn’t realise how quickly someone’s life can crumble, and how helpless that can make you feel.

But my faith has played a big role in helping me through this difficult period. Muslims stick together – the community knows how hard it can be for those who are new to it. Fortunately, I feel like I have new friends – and even a new family – thanks to Islam.

But it’s not just about the emotional support, there has been practical help too. 

One of the things that attracted me to Islam is Zakat – the 2.5% on disposable assets that Muslims give to charity. Unlike a lot of businesses and self-employed people who try to dodge or minimise their taxes, the Muslims I know look forward to paying it. There is no one physically forcing them to do it or taking it out of their payslips.

I liked this because it is a natural, voluntary form of solidarity when there isn’t much of that in the world. Usually, Zakat money is given to those in need in the community (it isn’t seen as charity, but as a right and an obligation on those receiving and giving it respectively). I got access to this grant by going to the National Zakat Foundation website and proving that I was genuinely in need.

I never expected to be receiving Zakat so soon after becoming Muslim. But the hardship grant I was paid helped me get out of debt, buy some modest new work clothes that fitted my post-baby body and helped me to get back to work in a new job. 

Like a lot of people through the last year, I have felt very, very alone. But I’ve also realised that there are people I’d never even thought of who are looking out for me. 

My mental health still isn’t where I want it to be, but it is – like me as a whole – a work in progress.

Some details have been changed to protect anonymity. The author was supported by the National Zakat Foundation

Source: METRO

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