Over the years I have met many converts to Islam (both online and in person). One thing that I have found many of us have in common, no matter our age or background ,is an identity crisis when we first entered Islam. It shouldn’t really be all that shocking. We have made a MAJOR change in our lives and our lifestyle. Some of us were completely disowned by our families and everything we knew was suddenly turned upside down. So, there we were like awkward teenagers trying to “find ourselves” and where we fit in.
For me, when I embraced Islam, I knew that my entire identity had changed. Though, i knew my new identity was a Muslim, I didn’t fully know what that meant. I had learned quite a bit about Islam before converting and kept company with a very sweet Muslim sister. However, she graduated the same year that I took shahada, the same year that I was forced from my home, the same year that I lost contact with most of my family and felt like a social outcast in the neighborhood. So, there I was to try to figure it out for myself.
At the time, I didn’t know how to hang onto my unique self and take on the identity of a Muslim. Mistakenly, I thought that Muslim=Arab. I thought that in order to be the best Muslim that I could be that I should be the best Arab imitator that I could be. I began eating etnic food from Arab countries, listening to Arabic music, watching arabic films (no, i didn’t understand it, LOL), wearing the clothing (some of it very UN-Islamic). I even thought that I needed to change my name, although, my original name had no bad meaning.
Alhamdullilah(All praise and thanks is due to Allah), eventually, I learned enough about Islam to know that there was no need for all those changes. I learned from the Qur’an that Allah tells us: He made us all of different nations and nationalities so that we may know one another and that if He had wanted we would all have been one nation. I learned from the Sunnah that the Prophet(saw) kept company with people of other ethnicities other than His own. I learned that the handshake that the Prophet(saw) told us all to greet with was originally from the Yemeni people. All these examples, made me realize that we are all one ummah(community) and have several things that sets us apart specifically and binds us together. However, we can still continue to be our unique selves as long as we don’t do anything that goes against the Qur’an and Sunnah. Most importantly, I learned that my new Identity was not meant to be arab, It was meant to be islamic. It couldn’t be found in a certain country or on a specific continent, it could only be found in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
So, I embraced my southern self. Well, minus the ham and sausage (who wants clogged arteries anyway?!)