“Keep the Relationship with Your Non-Muslim Family Strong”: Belgian Convert Stijn Talks about His Experiences

As a convert, since June 2014, I have been able to follow closely the evolution of Islamophobia. Islam is often portrayed in the media as something that is based on culture or nationality, as if it is only meant for Arabs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Islam remains a religion and contains a philosophy that is independent of any nationality or ethnicity. Many people make common mistakes on this topic, with the results that they not always realize how different the managing of an Islamic life is as a converted Muslim in contrary to somebody who is born a “Muslim”.

The process to Islam starts from the moment that you have claimed your religious conviction as a Muslim by doing an oath (shahada). The preceding months were more an introduction to Islam rather than a good representation of it. You also only really learn something if you really live with it.

Stijn Ledegen, picture by VRT

Many people who are interested in Islam, get during this period support from the Muslim community, but are actually left alone from the moment they claim their religious conviction. As if the accompaniment isn’t necessary anymore and that they suspect that the converted person can now start his Islamic journey on his own, by managing his own path. This is actually the other way around in reality.

It is even more important that the convert is well supervised after his conversion than before. Without the good assistance, it is possible that people could stray from faith or even worse is that they completely misinterpret the belief. Because as a convert you still have to discover a lot, you will probably look up to people with a Muslim background, despite them being a practicing Muslims or not. Everyone seems to be a scholar in the beginning, while in reality it is often a bluff or even people with a bad intention who try to influence you.

Stijn Ledegen, Pictures by VRT

I am therefore very grateful that I always have had the right people in my area, who have always motivated me to do better both on an Islamic level as on a social level. Thanks to this, I never came got involved with extremism or people with wrong and extremist thoughts. As a convert, it is also always useful that you have a non-Muslim family. In many cases, it can cause setbacks, as they do not always understand or open to what you are trying to explain to them, but in many other cases, like having extremists who try to influence you as a convert, this can certainly be of good help.

I have always been able to keep the right balance, because of the fact that my own family always pulled me back when I became too deeply involved with my faith sometimes. They always reminded me that there is nothing wrong with practicing Islam strongly, but that you should also have some compassion and sympathy with the beautiful people and things in your environment. Fortunately, there are nowadays, in order to facilitate everything, different organizations that give extra guidance to converts.

Stijn

Where you used to have only a few converts, there now are several organizations, founded by converts, who are always ready to help and support converts in every way. I can only applaud this initiative.

Furthermore, I also had a lot of help from my old Islamic teacher from secondary school. Teachers are always people who are close to the pupils and therefore will often understand their social situation or problems more easily. This can be of great application to a convert in times of conflicts between the parents or friends.

I am therefore very grateful to the people who helped me interpret and understand Islam in a good and respectful way.

Written by Stijn Ledegen

Stijn Ledegen

Stijn is a Law student at the Flemish University in Brussels. He is interested in international and European law and politics. Since several weeks, Stijn has been doing research on the religious influence in Europe for the European Parliament. Because of his big love for travelling and exploring , he's in love with cultures and languages.
Besides being a student, Stijn loves sports and often goes to the gym during the weekends. A healthy body with a good mind and a spiritual soul is the perfect match to stay strong and to keep moving forward in a positive way in life!