Life as a convert is never easy and, unfortunately, you know that you’ll have to leave a lot of things behind, but in my case it was even worse than I expected. I hoped that more people would be okay with me being Muslim, but I lost many friends due to this decision. One of the things you worry about is how the Muslim community will react.
When Muslims hear that I’m a convert, the first thing they ask me about, is my story. They are very kind, ask questions about my situation and often offer me help. However, I’ve also faced some problems. Although Muslims are very welcoming, a lot of them – especially the elder Muslims – still see me as a little less. They often see me as a child, since I’ve only recently begun learning and practicing Islam. It doesn’t matter to them if I study the religion for a few hours a day. Most of them tend to think that converts have some arrears, since they aren’t brought up as Muslims. On the other hand, the younger generation believes that converts tend to be better Muslims, since they consciously chose to be a believer.
Something else that I found out while discussing relationships with friends, is that parents rather don’t have converts marry their children. I don’t think this is necessarily because of my skin color or because I don’t speak Arabic, but that it’s moslty based on the fear of cultural differences. This is a problem in the Muslim community. It often doesn’t matter if you’re a good Muslim. Ethnic backgrounds will always play a role for some people. I can happily say that after discussing this with my friends, I came to the conclusion that this problem is getting better, I suspect due to a multicultural society in Europe.
As I’m mostly surrounded by Arab Muslims, not being able to speak Arabic and having difficulties with pronouncing the words correctly, I feel different than them.
A little while ago, I spent my Sunday in a school, together with some friends, where I taught children about Islam. I noticed that a lot of children weren’t used to see white Muslims. To them, being a native Belgian meant you’re automatically not Muslim. You’re one of the two. However, when I explained them the situation, they immediately started asking me question like: “How did it feel to be Christian? How do your surroundings respond to that?” It was clear to me that most of them never got explained that Islam isn’t something you can only get when you have roots in Islamic countries. I hope that this will change in the future, so that converts, like myself, are not an exception anymore, and that they are seen as an equal to “born” Muslims. I don’t want converts to be seen as a lesser nor as a better Muslim.
Aside from the prejudices I receive, I’ve always felt very welcome in the mosque and in Muslim-neighborhoods. A group of Muslims around my age took me in their group and started to be like a second family to me. It started with one person here in Belgium and through him I got to meet a lot more Muslims. Muslims that I now all consider as friends. They taught me a lot and helped me go through the loss of other friends that left me after making the decision to convert. With these people I can be myself, I don’t have to hide anything and we discuss a lot of topics.
To read more on Yentl’s story, read his experiences during Ramadan here.