Explanation by Hamza Yusuf
Explanation by Hamza Yusuf
This article is for those who may be in a confusing, stressful, and downright weird time of their life. If you’ve stumbled across this post from Googling “How to convert to Islam,” or “How to become Muslim.” I understand the vulnerability of the situation you’re in. I was there too, back in 2008, looking hard for answers that no one seemed to know much about.
Thinking of converting to Islam is a weird feeling. I remember the first time I was thinking about it seriously, about 5 months before I actually converted. I had restarted learning about comparative religion after becoming extremely distraught with my current outlook on the beliefs that were passed down to me by my parents. Essentially, I realized I had a severe case of cognitive bias.
I was only doing research to confirm what I already believed, and just seeking to “debunk” everything that disagreed with me. It was like playing whack-a-mole. I had spent more than a year doing this. Then became so upset one evening at the lack of satisfaction I was feeling, and said a nondenominational prayer to the Creator to guide me.
Deciding I was going to start from scratch, I decided that I would act as a totally neutral party with no previous experience believing anything, like an alien landing on Earth and trying to figure out the best belief system. And I began with the religion that I had “debunked” the quickest in the past, Islam.
Later I realized that this moment was actually a similar moment experienced by every convert I’ve asked. Converts to Islam feel an absolute desperation at some point in their search. They feel like there aren’t any answers, and in a completely distraught state of mind, they ask God for guidance. They then become open to Islam, and actually start to like the idea of converting, then convert after. Each person takes a varying amount of time with this, but it’s exactly what happened to me and many others.
After this change in outlook, and newly found interest in Islam, I became absolutely fascinated. How could I miss this before? It was so similar to early Christianity and Judaism. Islam seemed to have a unique, under appreciated role in comparative religion, and it wasn’t long before I became obsessed.
I still remember one of the lectures I listened to about Islam. I found a lecture by Yasir Qadhi about Islam’s perspective on Angels. I was so fascinated by the detail of faith in Islam, as well as the religion’s focus on knowledge and learning. (You can listen to that exact same lecture here.)
It took a few months for me to be convinced that Islam was actually the objective truth, but I liked the religion aesthetically for many reasons before that, but not before hitting rock bottom as I’ve described.
Whether you’re still skeptical, unsure, or considering, ask God to guide you to the truth. Make it as honest of a request as possible, and you’ll see that you have a new perspective.
Once you’ve decided to convert to Islam, there is another round of confusion. You don’t know how to pray 5 times a day, fast from dawn to sunset for a whole month, or really do anything like a Muslim. It’s overwhelming and a bit scary. Not to mention what’s going to happen with your family and friends when they find out that you’ve converted to Islam, which is in its own McCarthy era in the West.
First, realize that Islam is taken step-by-step. You’re not supposed to overwhelm yourself. Learn the basics before moving on. Having a solid foundation is very important.
To actually become a Muslim, all you have to do is make the following statement in Arabic and understand what you’re saying:
Ash-hadu an La Ilaha Il Allah
(I testify that there is no deity but God)
Wa ash-hadu anna Muhammad ar-rasullAllah
(And I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God)
Here’s a video of a sister saying it:
I didn’t say the Shahada (the Arabic word for this testimony of faith) to a congregation at a mosque. The situation was actually kind of funny. It was my third time to visit a mosque, and I prayed along with the congregation. Afterwards, my friend from high school (who was my tour guide during these visits), introduced me to one of the Khateebs (preachers) at the Mosque. He was about to bring me up to the front to say the Shahada, but I stopped him and said I wanted to talk about it first. We moved to a side room and I said it there with my friend as a second witness.
The feeling afterward was strange. What do I do now? I just made the biggest decision of my life. I converted to a foreign religion and still had so many questions. I got the Khateeb’s phone number and arranged to meet him a few days later at his restaurant. We quickly became good friends. He was more of a uncle figure in my life, and wasn’t a trained scholar. He knew a lot about Islam and knew how to answer my questions. Looking back, I realize that I was extremely blessed to find such an amazing mentor so early in my days as a Muslim.
It’s extremely important to have a support structure once you convert. Otherwise it can become an extremely isolating and lonely experience. I wrote about this more here. Having Muslim friends is the best way to build your newly found faith.
As a new Muslim, it’s easy to get overzealous when it comes to minor issues like whether chicken from KFC is Halal, or if you should stop listening to music. Some may choose to take the hard road, but realize that there are differences of opinion on almost all of the opinions that may strike you as strange. Remember to take it easy. It takes a village to raise a convert.
While converting to Islam can yield very uncomfortable and stressful experiences, realize the reason you’re doing it in the first place. You’re not converting to Islam to rebel against society, be different from others, or to garner attention. You’re doing it for God. If you have any other reason in your heart, you’re going to run into problems.
Becoming a Muslim has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding experience of my life. It was like hitting an intellectual and spiritual jackpot. Learning to read the Qur’an, learning the Seerah (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and having a satisfying spiritual outlet are irreplaceable experiences. And it’s something I wish everyone I know could taste for a moment.