The IDP’s Cape Town facilitator, Sirferaaz Ebrahim, said that the event was aimed at providing an avenue for Muslims, especially those who reverted to Islam, to meet one another, share experiences, stories, challenges and suggestions, writes NONTOBEKO AISHA MKHWANAZI.
‘TAKING a decision to become a Muslim is easy but staying a Muslim is hard because it entails continuously striving in the right path, despite the issues an individual may encounter in their journey,’ noted Mariam Adams, one of the participants at the 2021 Revert Summit, in Cape Town. Islam is seen as the fastest growing religion in the world and often some of those who revert to Islam lack support from Muslims, and find themselves isolated, alone and lonely in their journey. This is what motivated the Imam Development Programme (IDP) to host the Annual Revert Summit in three different cities – Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town – on August 21. People from all works of life graced the events with their presence in all three cities.
The IDP’s Cape Town facilitator, Sirferaaz Ebrahim, said that the event was aimed at providing an avenue for Muslims, especially those who reverted to Islam, to meet one another, share experiences, stories, challenges and suggestions. ‘A support system is often the one thing that is neglected, leaving the new Muslim alone, facing unique challenges and, in some instances, the reason why others leave Islam,’ claimed Ebrahim.
‘Through the grace of Allah,’ continued Ebrahim, ‘the attendees’ journeys to Islam was not only an inspiration to those who are reverts but also to those who are born Muslims. As a person who comes from a Muslim family and was raised as a Muslim, it is quite inspiring to hear about the hardships others had to go through in their journey to Islam. It motivates me to continuously strive to do dawah and ensure that I assist reverts in order to ease their struggles.’
Numerous issues were highlighted by the attendees at the Cape Town summit, and the main issue was the lack of support from Muslims. Sara Peters, who was among the participants, said that she neglected her non-Muslim friends and family because they seemed not to understand her newly found path, and the Muslim community she thought would understand her struggles seemed to not be as welcoming as she had expected.
‘I then tried reaching out to the Muslim sisters group in my community and they were not welcoming. Acceptance in this group depended on material things, such as whether or not you wore the latest scarf or hijab brand, the type of car you drove or even your level of education counted in your favour. This was discouraging because I could not afford or had any of the things which would qualify me to be accepted. This was demotivating as I felt I did no longer fit in both worlds. But with the grace of Allah, I continued being a Muslim who had no friends or family to support my path,’ said Peters.
Participant Lukhona Mfezeko feels that it is important for Muslims to be cognisant of the practices of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and that when neglected can be the cause of a new Muslim leaving Islam. ‘When I first attended the mosque, I was shocked at the fact that some people have made it a norm to pray next to each other every day and remain total strangers. I felt alone and scared because I did not see the brotherhood I had read about in the Quran. Based on this, I had a view that it is in the masjid that I would find brothers whom I can help or who can help me in times of need. But how can we help each other when we do not even pass salaams to each other,’ asked Mfezeko.
Another issue raised was that of Islam being viewed as a foreign religion and therefore making it hard for new Muslims, especially in communities where people are not exposed to Islam. Akhona Tshazi, another of the participants, said that when he reverted to Islam, his community members insulted him and claimed that he had been recruited by terrorists. They also accused him of having neglected his culture and warned that his ancestors would punish him.
‘I also felt that when I expressed this with other Muslims who had not encountered what I had to face daily, they would insensitively just tell me to ignore those who insult me. I felt they did not understand how this does not only affect my deen but my self-esteem. I often asked myself how I would face the world when I can’t even face my own people and defend not only myself but Islam. But attending this programme and hearing the stories of what others had to endure gave me courage and inspiration to face the obstacles that I encounter with a mindset that if it is what I have to endure for Allah then I am prepared to take the insults,’ said Tshazi.
Additional issues highlighted were the confusion of which school of thought and whose Quranic interpretations to follow, Islamic knowledge not being easily accessible and not knowing which internet sources were authentic. ‘These struggles as a revert Muslim can be difficult, especially when you are learning and are not quite sure what is an opinion and what is a fact; this can be quite overwhelming. It becomes difficult to know where to start, where to look and whom to turn to,’ admitted Adams.
The participants expressed their gratitude towards the organisers of the event, Jeffrey Jonathan Kemp saying that the event was important in establishing that the wisdom of this deen is that it can speak to different people at different levels, and that with every hardship is a reward from Allah.
Eemaan Van Dieman commented, ‘We are grateful to the organisers as we all connected because of shared experiences. I personally learnt a lot and feel that this event was necessary for the development of Muslims. Such events should occur regularly so that reverts don’t have to face their struggles alone.’ Ebrahim, the Cape Town facilitator, committed the IDP to having more programmes of this nature, especially in the townships.