I volunteer with WhyIslam as a coach for new converts. Recently, I was assigned a local case of a man in his 70s who never married and has no family and lives alone. He converted in 1994 but over time fell out of faith because he didn’t get much support from the Muslim community. I’ve been going back and forth with him via e-mail for a week or so because he has found interest in Islam again. This is what he wrote to me in the last e-mail and I’m sharing it here to show where we fail:
“Some time after I took Shahada [in 1994], I brought up in a masjid the idea of a sort of Big Brother / Big Sister (mentor) program for converts. As a suggestion I even drew up a sort of informal questionnaire for those willing to take on the role. I was not making myself out as some sort of authority. On the contrary, I was subtly fishing for that very sort of support for myself. When someone else presented the idea to him, the da’ee immediately shot the idea down, because it did not conform to the way he wanted to do things. So I was left hanging (as were most others). The masjid was not overly friendly, at least at that time, to new converts, so I never really got to know anyone personally to whom I might turn for guidance. When I began to have issues, I was all alone with no one from whom to seek assistance, so I drifted away.”
New converts require a lot of coaching, support, and guidance especially in the beginning to solidify the faith into their hearts, otherwise, they’re likelihood of leaving is very high. In fact, a significant portion of converts do not stay within the faith for very long. Not all converts require or even want coaching but it should definitely be a default. Most conversations that i have come across with converts, they are strongly in favor of it and it honestly makes a lot of sense. Many of us who are born in Muslim families have had some sort of support and coaching throughout our lives in order for us to “stick” to our faith, why wouldn’t it be the same for converts?
I’m not really that impressed by the shahadas that take place in mosques, where they just get a hug and “welcome to the family” chant and then soon forgotten and never to be followed up again. Some da’ees, many of whom shouldn’t even have such a platform due to their poor qualifications, use their shahadas as just score cards. Many people who convert have already done a lot of homework on their own and just because someone happened to be at the end during their final phase does not mean that da’ee is the reason for it.
There are many factors that will prevent a convert from engaging. Part of it may be due to their own personal reasons but it could also be how we engage with them. We need workshops for even coaches to teach them on how to engage with new converts. For example, taking a new convert to lunch and just having a one on one connection with him/her in order to build a more personal connection goes a long way. The coach should not be a 24/7 preacher to the convert. The most important thing new coverts seek after conversion is an accepting community that makes them feel like one of their own, which unfortunately many Muslims fail in. This man in his 70s mentioned that some people that he did engage with focused on petty stuff that he did not care much for. In the end, we need to engage converts and work with them to develop a proper long term coaching strategy that takes a new convert and transitions him/her spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally from kufr to iman.
Organizations like WhyIslam and Embrace are trying to start some sort of coaching and development program that goes beyond just getting a shahadah. It still needs work and more resources so please do support them. If you are a convert, then reach out to Embrace, it’s led and run by converts.