by Shabana Diouri, January 2014
I used to rush home from work every Thursday evening to attend ‘Halaqah’, a gathering, to gain a deep understanding of the Qur’an verse by verse. I loved these gathering, they were with women from the local community and we kept things light and sociable.
One evening, I saw a new face. Week after week, the same woman would attend, but she would come later than everyone else, roughly at the time we served tea and cakes. Her face would shine with delight and I could tell she enjoyed the small talk.
Then another week passed, and the host of the gathering approached me. She told me the background story about the new lady. She had recently moved to the UK, she was feeling a bit lonely and said she wanted to accept Islam. The host wanted me to have a word with her and give her the push she needed to take the shahadah (declaration of Islamic faith).
I agreed to speak to her. We sat down on the sofa. I asked her for her name and a few questions about her background and family. I then asked her why she was here at the gathering? She said she wanted to learn how to pray and be a Muslim.
I took both her hands into mine and squeezed tight. I stared deep into her eyes as the whole time she was avoiding eye contact with me. I asked her again “Sister, tell me, why are you here?” She tried to reply but stuttered with tears in her eyes.
I really felt for her. “Are you here because you enjoy the company? The chat over tea and cakes?” I asked. She nodded her head in the affirmative.
“Sweety, you don’t need to take the shahadah to have some company. You’re always welcome to join us regardless.” She looked surprised, alhumdoulillah her tears were slowing down by now.
“Would you believe in Allah SWT if you had a beautiful house, a loving husband, healthy kids, a great job, all of us as your friends?” I asked.
“Yes! Of course!” She said with excitement.
“Would you believe in Allah SWT if you lost your house, if you or someone you loved got ill, if you lost your job, or change a lot of things in your life?” I also asked.
“No, no, no, no, I wouldn’t.” She said.
“Well that is the meaning of Shahadah. To still believe and trust in Allah SWT, not only in the good times and but also the bad.”
“No, I couldn’t, I couldn’t believe, I’m sorry.” She responded.
We stood up and hugged, I told her I had a gift for her the next time we met. It was a book on the basic beliefs and teaching of Islam, one of the best written books I’ve come across. It was simple to understand and yet comprehensive in its wide range of topics, a blessing for those who know very little about Islam.
The host and many other women, who were itching to know whether she was going to take the shahadah, lunged at me to know the outcome.
“Well, well? Is she going to say it!?!” They asked with eagerness.
“No” I replied simply.
“Why not? She was going to say it. She said so. What have you done? You’ve turned her away!” the host said with such irritation and anger at me.
“Yes, it would’ve been very VERY easy for me to get her to say it. And then what? Don’t you know she was only coming here for the company? For the chit chat over tea! Shes so lonely, she’s even willing to say the shahadah just to feel entitled to come and fit in!”
They were clearly shocked at my reply. I continued…
“There are already enough hypocrites in this religion, we don’t need another. Just remember, we need Allah, not the other way round. If she says the shahadah doesn’t mean a “victory” for Islam. Quality is better than quantity. She doesn’t know or understand the shahadah and yet you want me to get her to say something she doesn’t believe in. Well, I’m gonna meet her next week and I’ll explain it to her, if she wants to say it after that then fair enough, but not now. It just feels so wrong.”
Some people may jump down my throat about this. Maybe they disagree with me. But from the little that I do know about Islam is that there is no compulsion in religion and Islam is the religion of ikhlaas (sincerity). It is Allah SWT who guides the hearts, not us, no matter how excellent our dawa skills maybe.
And how many a time have people who have reverted to Islam felt abandoned after taking the shahadah? How many feel neglected and alone because once the shahadah was taken, they suddenly lose that ‘attention’ they were previously getting. Its not fair and not right we focus on the ‘shahadah trophy’.
We should be willing and ready to accept someone who wants to revert to Islam as a new permanent member of the family. Just like we prepare for and care for and nurture and teach our newborns after their birth until they are ready to stand on their own two feet. We should view the shahadah as the mere ‘birth’ of a new Muslim and focus on their post-shahadah nuturing, care and teaching until they feel strong enough, loved enough and ready to stand on their own two feet too.