In approaching reverts and helping them to learn and practice their new religion, one must remember not to overwhelm them and allow them to take their time. Learning to pray, for example, is not something which is achieved overnight. One of the issues facing every Muslim community in contemporary times is how to interact with the brothers and sisters who have reverted to Islam. Most of them are from backgrounds which are significantly different from ours in terms of cultural traits and customs. How then should those who are born into Islam approach those who have reverted and maintain the unity and brotherhood which Allah desires and wishes to see become a reality?
The first step towards creating such unity and avoiding problems which result from cultural differences is to always focus, in one’s heart and mind, on the commonalities which exist between all believers. For no matter how great any difference in cultural practices or traits may be, the commonality of the belief in One Infinite Creator of the universe will always overwhelm and submerge the former! Therefore, instead of looking at a revert and noticing how (s)he is different from oneself culturally and socially, one must remember the lofty principles that both parties share, namely the belief in Allah, who has created all human beings for one single goal regardless of whatever cultural influence exists. It is this unity in action amongst the believers of all races and ethnicities that Allah refers to when He says:
“And hold fast by the covenant of Allah all together, and be not disunited, and remember the favor of Allah on you when you were enemies; then He united your hearts, so by His favor you became brethren.” (3:103)
Another question regarding proper relationships with reverts that must be observed is the question of how to approach them in terms of explaining Islamic obligations (Wajibaat) and what is allowed (Halal) and forbidden (Haram). Most reverts come from a religious background in which only a few obligations, if any, are imposed upon them. They pray when they want to, as opposed to five times a day, and at most fast only a few days a year, and even then not completely from sunrise to sunset, etc.
Therefore, in approaching reverts and helping them to learn and practice their new religion, one must remember not to overwhelm them and allow them to take their time. Learning to pray, for example, is not something which is achieved overnight. A new Muslim must be helped to learn such practices with ease and not feel overburdened. Allah Himself says: “No soul shall have imposed upon it a duty but to the extent of its capacity.” (2:233)
Born Muslims and experienced reverts must recall the times when they were learning new things, and realize that it will take time for reverts to do the same. Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said something beautiful in this regard while speaking to one of his companions about the subject of guiding others:
“Verily, faith has ten degrees, like the steps of a ladder, which one climbs step by step. When you see someone who is at a lower step than yours, lift him up gently to yourself, and don’t put a burden upon him which would strain him to the breaking point.” (Lubb al-Lubab)
On the same note, if a new revert is seen doing something wrong, especially in terms of things which are forbidden, one must remember that the obligation of “enjoining good and forbidding evil”, which would of course apply in this scenario, is to be performed while keeping in mind the personality of the person. For example, whereas one person may benefit from a firm, somewhat harsh reminder of his or her duties to Allah, another person may be turned away by such an approach and instead react more positively to a reminder put forth with compassion and a softer tone.
In the case of a revert then, one must remember that the revert has been living his or her life in the West and may have been involved in dating, drinking alcohol, eating non-Halal meat, etc. Such habits are not easy to give up, especially when a person has been practicing them for years on end. Therefore, if a Muslim were to approach such a new revert with a tone which is too harsh, the new revert may feel overwhelmed and overburdened, and may as a result (God forbid) turn away from Islam.
One should here remember the example of how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) dealt with the issue of alcohol in his community through the guidance of Allah. Recognizing that the nature of man is weak, as we saw in the aforementioned verses, he knew that the people’s hearts were weak and had developed an attachment to drinking. Therefore, rather than outright forbidding it totally from the beginning, which would have been too overwhelming for them, he eased them into the prohibition by first telling them of prohibitions in general (7:33), then forbidding it during times when prayer is to be performed (4:43), and then finally putting an absolute prohibition on it (2:219, 5:90).
We must therefore respond similarly to reverts and take a middle ground regarding such issues. On one hand, we should not simply say, “They’re reverts, don’t overwhelm them,” and just allow them to freely sin without any consequences. However, on the other hand, we should also not be overbearing or speak to them in a tone which they cannot handle and make them feel that Islam is too difficult, for it says of itself: “Allah has endeared the faith to you and has beautified it in your hearts.” (49:7)
Of course, such will not be the case if we make our new brothers and sisters feel suffocated and overwhelmed. We must therefore find a way in which we can speak freely with them and openly educate them about what is permissible and what is prohibited, but in a way that they will respond positively and not lose hope of the Mercy of Allah.
In conclusion, these are only a few of many steps which must be taken while approaching new reverts to Islam and helping them adjust to their new faith. It will be of utmost importance for all of us to reflect upon what we can do in this regard, for Islam itself is a religion for any and every human being, and with the coming of our Awaited Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance), Islam will be a global religion, and the issue of reverts to the religion will surely be at the forefront.