Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Reflections of a Polish convert

Tareq Salik is a 25 year-old from Olsztyn, Poland . He was born into a Catholic family but converted to Shia Islam when he was 18. He has a B.A. in English Philology from the University of Warmia and Mazuria in Poland. He moved to Birmingham about 15 months ago and is currently studying in my class at Al-Mahdi Institute.

Since Tareq is a convert, he has researched about Islam in great depth and most of time, he knows more about the religion than most of us in the class. I enjoy talking to him about his life, his beliefs, goals & challenges and decided to write about some of what we talk about. Why he converted is not the focus of this entry – we have heard many of those stories before. Instead, I've chosen to emphasis some of the challenges he has faced and continues to face as a convert.

Many times, Tareq feels that some born Muslims don't completely accept converts into their communities. Many born Muslims he has come across will outwardly praise him for converting out of his convictions rather than following a faith he was simply born in. Yet, they still act as if they are better Muslims and even try to find fault with his practices, for example while performing wudhoo (ritual ablution).

Most of Tareq's challenges have been what he calls "community related." Shiaism is usually practiced by the Lebanese, Iranians, Iraqis, Indian, Pakistanis & Khojas. Since many Shia communities are divided along ethnic lines, they tend to be very exclusive. This problem becomes a huge obstacle when it comes to spouse selection. Female converts usually marry born Muslims and easily find spouses, but this is not the case for men.

Tareq finds that although many born Muslim women are willing to marry converts, they are unable to do so due to family or community pressure. Since most parents check a potential husband's family background, many male converts find it challenging since their families are not Muslim and may not be considered a "good family." Thus, for many male converts, the criteria for finding a wife have completely changed: instead of looking for compatibility, religiosity or attraction, they look for women whose families will accept them.

For Tareq, it is equivalent of saying that these girls cannot marry Salman Farsi – a close companion of Prophet Mohamed (SAW) who was a convert of Persian origin. He feels that by discriminating against converts on such matters, Muslims are not living up to the standards of Islam.

Many converts that Tareq knows end up marrying non-Muslims or Muslim women that are not religious or come from non-traditional families. In his experience, many converts are disappointed to find out that the concept of "Muslim brotherhood" is only in theory and not actually practiced. He wonders what the point of spreading Islam to non-Muslims is if converts are not accepted into Muslim communities.

At the end of conversation, I ask Tareq what he intends to do when he is ready to look for a spouse. He didn't answer. He just smiled.