I have recently become very interested in Islam. Your website has been very helpful and I would like to thank you for the educational service you provide.
I am a westerner and have been working in the Middle East for the last 2.5 years. I have met and worked with many Muslims who have all impressed me with their honesty and integrity.
Although you have mentioned that your role is not to answer questions, perhaps you would consider answering mine as I do not see the question on your list of sample letters and I consider it an important question.
I would like to ask what is the process required for a westerner to become a Muslim? Furthermore as I was previously not a very religious person what would conversion mean in terms of my soul and the hereafter?
* * *
Our response to your question is to first of all say that Islam is a universal religion. That means that it is all-inclusive, for it welcomes people from all cultures - whether they be Oriental, Middle Eastern, Indian, African, North American, etc. Islam is a world faith which treats all human beings as equals. All those who subscribe and adhere (in practice) to the Islamic Ideology and its standard of morality as prescribed in the Islamic Law (Shari'ah) become members of (i.e. 'citizens' of) the Muslim Ummah (community, 'nation') regardless of their place of residence. Therefore, no one nationality can claim it as its own. So even though you describe yourself as a 'westerner,' this does not preclude the Islamic religion for you. In fact it may be to your own advantage as you will see shortly. Currently, Islam is the fastest growing religion in Great Britain. It has been projected that in the next 20 years, the number of British converts will equal or overtake the immigrant Muslim community that brought the faith to the U.K. to begin with!
Contrary to the way the western media portrays it, Islam is a very gentle faith, and it is assumed that a person who wishes to convert will have explored the faith in greater detail. And if he/she still wishes to embrace Islam after having learned more about it, then all he or she need do is recite the following testimony (known as the Shahada) in front of a Muslim witness: La illa ha illa Allah Muhammad ur rasool Allah. (There is no god [worthy of worship] but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger). That's it! There are no documents to sign, no ceremony - just a simple pledge. Quite often this testimony is recited in front of an Imam (his role is like a Minister in Christianity, or a Rabbi in the Jewish faith, only he is Muslim).More details about this can be found on our "Who We Are" web page under the title of "And what we stand for."
With regards to your last question, when a person embraces Islam, it's like they have become a newborn baby. All of their previous sins are 'wiped from the book,' so to speak. Born Muslim's don't get that kind of preferential treatment, unless after having drifted from their faith they then sincerely repent and revert back to it - this is a beautiful gift from God's store of infinite mercy. So when a person embraces Islam, all their previous sins are forgiven by God and they can start again fresh with a clean slate. Now, starting a new life with this clean slate involves two important things: (i) upon conversion, a person must wholeheartedly believe beyond any shadow of a doubt whatsoever that all his/her past transgressions and sins have been forgiven by God in His mercy, and (ii) he/she should not let any thoughts or memories of past sins haunt him/her in their new life. In fact, one should make the utmost effort to forget them altogether and instead thank God for His guidance to the Truth.
As far as learning more information about Islam goes, we have uploaded to our website a substantial amount of material from Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah's excellent book "Introduction to Islam." Insha Allah (God willing) we will soon have almost the entire book uploaded, (as part of our on-line library project which promotes useful knowledge) but for now you can read a great deal here. Dr. Hamidullah explains Islam in a most beautiful fashion to the western reader and in terms that they will understand.
Finally I would like to point out that the most important point, really, is that a person must come to Islam voluntarily. They must be absolutely certain (in both heart and mind) that they are adopting this new way of life by exercising their fundamental human right to make their own choice in accord with their own conscience. This means that a person must come to Islam through his/her own personal choice and voluntary action, thereby exercising their basic human right to freedom of conscience. What I mean by 'freedom of conscience' is that a person has the right to choose his or her own faith without external pressure or indoctrination. The Qur'an is crystal clear in it's fundamental doctrine that, "(It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all).Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve." [Qur'an 18:29] And also "Let there be no compulsion (i.e. pressure of any kind) in (the matter of) din [religion] [Qur'an 2:256] Having said this, I think it would be appropriate to insert one caveat here, so I will quote Dr. Hamidullah, because he says it so succinctly. He says, "apostasy after embracing Islam is a political crime, [which is actually considered to be treason] revolt against the community; and so it is punished severely. Better not embrace Islam to begin with, rather than abandoning it later". . .
P.S. FYI - I myself am a westerner who was raised as a Christian but I converted to Islam over eight years ago and I've never looked back once nor regretted it Al hamdu li Allah (All praise is to God).
(This letter was drafted by Rabia, (our webmaster) and proofread and approved by Syed Mumtaz Ali.)