Anyone who travels is sure to face challenging circumstances during their trip. But as Muslims, we have to understand the dual nature of challenges, for it is seldom that a challenge does not also present an opportunity!
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its cure” (Sahih al-Bukhari). Truly, the challenges I faced during my travels have brought with them great opportunities – some of which I will explore in this article🤗
1. Looks can be deceiving
Perhaps the most common challenge I have faced travelling as a revert is not being recognised as a Muslim. This was a particular issue in Morocco where only Muslims are allowed to enter mosques. As I am a white British revert, I was at times questioned or stopped when entering certain mosques due to suspicion that I was not a Muslim☹️
But this presented me with an opportunity, as it led to many warm and heartfelt interactions with locals in their mosques. People were intrigued to see a white revert enter their mosque and in some cases, I may have been the first white Muslim or revert they had ever met!
I have been constantly honoured to meet so many warm-hearted and generous Muslims during my travels and perhaps because I am somewhat of a novelty, I have at times received a more generous welcome than I am deserving of.
2. Proving my ‘Muslimness’
After declaring that I am a Muslim, I would usually be asked to prove my ‘Muslimness’ in some way, such as saying the Shahada, reading Surah Al-Fatiah or to tell them the five pillars of Islam. A lot of conversations I have after declaring I am a Muslim begin around these topics.
I’m truly heartened at how many sincere Muslims are willing to give up their own time to help me learn this Deen. This has even led to some lifelong friendships! Learning from others is a humbling experience and is a reminder of how our spiritual development is dependent upon the assistance of other Muslims☺️
As the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body suffers” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. This is not only in reference to the physical state of the Ummah but also its spiritual state – and it is only through the mutual affection and love believers show to one another that we will all begin to grow closer to Allah.
3. The conversation about my family
One of the most difficult questions I face when revealing that I am a revert is with regards my family. Muslims often ask if my family has embraced Islam. While I understand and feel their genuine concern when asking such questions, I find this particularly hard to answer as it reminds me how I am the only Muslim in my family and it grieves me to think about them not having the chance to understand the beauty of this religion.
While this question is difficult, it also allows me to be grateful to Allah who has guided me to this deen despite my many failings. This reassures me of the mercy of Allah, who surely more than anyone else longs for my family too to acknowledge his existence and draw close to him. I am also grateful to have been given a family that is so accepting of my religion! I know this is not always the case and many Muslims have had to struggle to be accepted by their family after embracing Islam and tragically many have had to make a choice between their family or their religion.
4. Explaining my reversion to non-Muslims
Many travellers and non-Muslims during my journey often ask why I reverted to Islam. It’s more easy to answer when it’s a Muslim asking as we share a common frame of reference for understanding reality. However, this is not always the case when talking to non-Muslims. In some cases, the question is asked with an air of skepticism as the one questioning already has a pre-conceived notion of what Islam is and a negative attitude towards the religion in general 😢
Instead of taking it to heart, I find that it is a chance to share my own experiences with others and in doing so, invite or call them to Islam. This is not always easy, especially if the one you are presenting Islam too has already made up their mind as to what Islam is, for as Allah says “You cannot guide the blind away from their error. You will only make hear those who believe in Our verses and who have surrendered” (27:81)
But I believe reverts have an edge in engaging with such people as in many cases, they have occupied the same shoes as the one asking about Islam. Having been skeptical of the religion myself, I know where many non-Muslims are coming from and can better relate to them through our common experiences! That said, ultimately, we should understand that whether or not the individual accepts the invitation is ultimately in the hands of Allah.
5. The Single Vision of Islam
One of the great benefits of travelling is having the chance to see the many different cultures and people that comprise humanity. As Allah says, “O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.” (49:13)
A challenge that arose for me was when others I met during my travels presented a vision of Islam that does not incorporate this diversity. This is especially true when one is a revert, as well-intentioned Muslims are often keen to present to you what they believe to be the ‘correct’ understanding of the Islamic tradition – which may not always be inclusive of the Ummah’s inherent diversity.
But it always pays to keep an open mind and heart while staying true to your own beliefs🙂. By being exposed to various opinions, one would slowly know how to sift through the different positions Muslims hold, identify which ones are truly universally shared by the Ummah and which ones are part of a specific cultural or even a certain individual’s belief.
6. The Struggle of Acquiring Knowledge
One of the primary reasons me and my wife set off on our travels was to improve our Arabic as a way to better our understanding of the deen. But it was not easy as I believe for reverts, the challenge in acquiring knowledge is somewhat different. Like most reverts, I became a Muslim as an adult – so while I had matured in a physical sense, in a spiritual sense I was still incredibly immature. I had to start from scratch and begin to learn the very basics of the religion that most Muslims learnt during their childhood!
While this can be a frustrating process, there are many benefits that come with it. The most apparent to me is the humility it imposes on you. Unlike a child, whose is initially unaware of how little they know, adults are acutely aware of their shortcomings. Upon entering this deen, reverts have to humble themselves in order to acquire knowledge.
However, as we know, there are great benefits that come from any struggle that is undertaken for Allah. Acquiring knowledge to grow closer to Allah is surely among the most noble struggles one can undertake in this life and it therefore reaps the greatest rewards!
This is illustrated in the Hadith which says, “My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him.” (Bukhari)
7. Being Treated as a Customer rather than a Brother
The last challenge might not be unique to reverts, but it is something I realized through my travels where I often had difficulties transcending the customer-seller relationship. At the root of this issue is the commercialisation of human interaction, where tourists are approached and seen as nothing more that means to financial ends. In turn, tourists limit the trust they place in those working in the countries they are travelling in. What is then lost on both sides is the common understanding and appreciation of our humanity.
That said, we as Muslims should be the bigger person and return to what our Prophet taught us – to recognize our common humanity when interacting with one another. In doing so, Muslims can re-initiate a movement that transcends the commercialization of the human spirit and re-recognises the dignity of the human being, which is not based on their financial value but on the value of their character☺️
My personal challenges as a Muslim revert traveller might not be unique to reverts alone, because as Muslims, I believe we are not only united by a common set of beliefs but also by our common experiences of the world. We will always face challenges but it is how we ultimately perceive and overcome them that matters! The best part is that we can be rest assured that our struggles are not in vain as Allah reminds us, “I have prepared for My pious worshipers such things as no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard of, and nobody has ever thought of” (Sahih Bukhari) 🤗