Accepting Islam: What does it mean?
Amr ibn al-‘Aas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
“… When Allah placed Islam in my heart, I went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, “Give me your right hand so I can pledge allegiance to you.” He held out his hand and I closed my fist. He said, “What is wrong, ‘Amr?” I said, “I wanted to stipulate a condition.” He said, “What is the condition?” I said, “That I be forgiven.” He said, “Do you not know that Islam wipes away what preceded it…?”
– Sahih Muslim, Book One (The Book of Faith), Chapter 54, Hadith 121.
Taking your shahadah symbolically ushers you into your new faith, representing a new beginning in a person’s life, which can be both exciting and daunting.
For many new Muslims, one of the major struggles is learning about what you can and cannot do in your new life, as well as what obligations you need to fulfil, and how properly to fulfil them. Most notably, these include the obligations laid out within the five pillars of Islam (of which the shahadah is the first). These are:
Should you wish to learn more about the five pillars and Islam in general, please refer to our Recommended resource list.
However, we recognise that it is also in the details, such as whether and how to tell family and friends of your conversion, that new Muslims often need the most help and support. To help you navigate through this and other matters we have given some guidance below.
It is also worth bearing in mind that whilst the founding principles of Islam are not hard to understand or practise, the religion itself is as vast as the ocean. It is not possible for a person to master everything at once. Instead, consider that you are embarking on a lifelong journey of learning, that should be taken one step at a time.
Muslims can eat anything that is not specifically prohibited, or ‘haram’. This is in the interests of cleanliness and health, and also out of obedience to God. Under Islamic law, the following foods are prohibited:
For meat to be halal or ‘permissible’ the animal must have been killed quickly and mercifully while mentioning the name of God. For more details on this we recommend referring to page 24 of The Vision of Islam.
Perhaps one of the most common challenges faced by new Muslims is how to tell family, friends and colleagues of your conversion. The decision is a personal one, with some opting to tell people straight away, and others waiting until they feel ready. Whatever you decide, it is important that you feel able to deal with possible negative responses. Joining a local support group for converts, such as the Cambridge Crescent or SOFA New Muslims Circle in London (T: 0208 8740 0880) can be helpful in this respect.
Taking a Muslim name
Many converts choose to take a Muslim name, symbolising the new beginning they have embarked on. This can be in addition to their birth/former name or instead of it, depending on the individual’s preference. Some choose to name themselves after important Muslims in history, such as the prophets and their companions (e.g. Dawud, Bilal), whilst others choose names that reflect a divine attribute, such as Abd al-Rahman (Servant of the Most Merciful). Still other names may reflect a characteristic, such as Kareemah, meaning generous.
Typically, Muslim names have positive or sublime connotations, and may serve as the basis for developing one’s character. Taking a new name is a big decision, however, and should not be rushed. Many converts decide never to take a new name, and this is also a perfectly valid position.
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Did We not expand for thee thy breast
and lift from thee thy burden
that weighed heavily upon thy back?
And did We not elevate thy renown?
For truly with hardship comes ease!
Truly with hardship comes ease!
So when thou art free, exert thyself;
and let thy desire be for thy Lord.
Surat 'Al sharḥ'. Translation from 'The Study Qur'an. A New Translation and Commentary'.