September 13, 2015
On my first day here I spotted another convert. He was pretty easy to spot, since his shorts and t-shirt and stubbly facial hair and white complexion were about similar to my own. Also, his backpack had the name “Joshua” written on it. And based on that alone, I assumed he was a new Muslim, perhaps sponsored to go for Hajj like some new Muslims are. Last night I actually got to talk with him. And for once I, in my khurta, felt like I as the one who became Arabized. He’s a really cool guy. He’s been Muslim almost as long as I—7 years—and is here with his wife and father-in-law. He’s planning on doing Umrah for himself first, then on behalf of his mother-in-law. His sister converted before him, and she lived in Edmonton (and I may actually have met her.) He was actually the mahram (male representative) for her wedding, and even though her parents were against [her] marriage, Josh did something amazing: he interviewed her suitor, spoke with his boss, co-workers, friends and others to get a feel for who he was. Then he took all this information and spread it out in front of his Dad. His Dad looked it over and said, “This is exactly what a father-in-law would want.” So he successfully convinced his Dad of the Islamic marriage process by actually doing the Islamic marriage process. [Josh] came to Islam by studying different religions, studying the Qur’an, and writing down questions. He took his questions to an Islamic conference and [spoke with] Zakir Naik. Josh said he spent months coming up with these questions, and Zakir Naik’s responses were just bullet-quick, in his usual style… [A] few months later, [Josh] accepted [Islam]. Pretty much everything I mentioned above has humbled me.
Sometimes you meet people that just end up humbling you. Not that they even intend to, but simply being in their presence and speaking with them makes you realize your own humility.
When I first saw Josh, I could tell that he was a convert. But I thought he was only recently converted—maybe a few months or so—and that the young woman and older man were like his mentors. I had no idea that they were his wife and father-in-law. I had no idea he had been a Muslim for 7 years. One thing that a convert sometimes faces is assumptions. People sometimes assume that you’re fresh off the shahada-wagon. They are well-intentioned, for sure. But now here I was, clad in khurta and for the first time feeling like the Arabized convert, assuming that Josh was brand new to Islam, and that he had been thrust into going to Hajj through a sponsorship. It was a role-reversal. I’d felt almost ashamed for all the assumptions I had made about him.
In speaking with him, I came to realize just how off I had been. Every convert has their own story about what drew them to Islam. I’ve always had an affinity for those who took the initiative to study not only Islam, but also other religions as well—not because it’s common ground, but because I never went through that. I never searched for religion beyond monotheistic Christianity. I grew up believing in God, but religion never sat well with me, so I just constructed my own view of what God was like and what He wanted from me. It was a shaky foundation for sure. As I learned about Islam, the more it became a foundation for me. Most of it I already believed in. So accepting it was quite natural.
Everything Josh told me completely shattered my preconceptions of who he was. And rightly so.