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In the Name of God بسم الله

Advice For New Converts

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  • Advanced Member

Hello all. I wanted to share a few pieces of advice that I think will be useful for any new converts out there. If someone else has some other suggestions to share, feel free.

1. Don't let other Muslims make you feel pressured to change your name to something "more Islamic." There is no need to do so. Muhammad was an Arab, but Islam is not an Arab religion. It is a human religion. Virtually any human name is by definition an Islamic name. Unless your name is Satan, there is no problem with it. Your name is a part of you. If you want to change your name, go ahead, but it should come genuinely from you.

2. You don't need to change the way you dress,or, rather, you don't need to wear the clothes of some particular foreign nation. Islam doesn't require you to dress like a desert Arab. It does set certain broad principles on decent dress, of how much of your body to hide, how much to reveal, but how you fulfill that is up to you. Pants and a dress shirt is just as much Islamic dress as a robe.

Similarly, there is no such thing as "Islamic food." There are general broad principles of clean foodstuffs and unclean, but how you combine and match and cook them is up to you. Burgers and spaghetti are just as much Muslim food as shish taouk and kebab.

3. Feel proud of your heritage. Becoming a Muslim does not require you to deny or feel ashamed of your heritage as a Westerner. This Western civilization historically has many great and noble values and accomplishments. While the civilization has declined greatly in recent years into decadence and immorality, the root values are good and are largely consistent with Islam. This should not be surprising; Islam was influenced by Greek thinkers who also were roots of Western civilization, and Islamic thinkers likewise influenced Western thinkers. Aquinas is known to have read Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and al-Ghazali. Islam is not a steam-roller of cultures and civilizations. It has central principles and ideas, and these ideas have expressed themseves and interacted fruitfully with different societies it has encountered.

4. Be good to your non-Muslim parents. In fact, be better to them now than you were before. It is a sunnah, and it shows a concrete improvement in manners as a fruit of your new religion. When they see that you are becoming a better human being, it will be easier for them to tolerate the change. I will note as well that by avoiding making too many drastic changes in superficial things like food and dress, it will also help to make the change less strange for your parents and family, and will help to emphasize that it is not just some weird "phase." Now of course you need to give up haram meat and alcohol, but try to make the process easier on your family.

5. Make an effort to learn Arabic. While Islam is not an Arabic religion, the Qu'ran is in Arabic, and many of the best books are in the language. It is a beautiful language, and while it's hard to learn, it's worth the effort.

6.Choose a comfortable marja that understands the life in the West. While there is a lot of talk about needing to "pick the most knowedgeable" jurist to consult for advice about Islamic law concerns. While in theory that sounds nice, it's practically pretty near impossible, especially for someone new to Islam. You're not really in a basis to make a judgement of who is best, and there is no universal agreement. Besides, the idea that you need to find the best is not universal amongst marja. Practically speaking, for most practical issues, the agreement is at least 95%. You need to find a marja that you are comfortable with, and who is easy to get in touch with. A lot of converts consult with Seestani. However, new Western converts might find it easier to consult, at least initally, with Fadlallah in Lebanon. His experience in dealing with the complexities of multi-confessional Lebanon and his willingness to write accessible books on contemporary issues and comment usefully on the news of the day make him a little more accessible. If, after a while, you find that others are wiser, you can consult with them instead.

7. Take it one step at a time. Don't rush changing your life around too quickly. It is a lifetime project. Move slowly, make simple changes but implement them consistently.

8. Stay out of sectarian debates for the first few years. Be humble. These divisions have perplexed scholars for 14 centuries; do you really think your agressive regurgitation of your small bit of newly learned understanding will solve the controversies? Be aware of the fundamentals of the faith, and be ready to simply and politely explain them,but stay out of debates until you're firmer in knowledge. Don't base your understandings of Sunnis only on Shia polemics. Talk to real Sunnis, spend time with them, read books by their authors, and experience brotherhood and spirituality with them. For they are your brethren.

9. When you speak with non-Muslims about Islam, be careful with your language. Speak English and avoid using too many Arabic terms. It just reinforces the stereotype that Islam is an exotic foreign religion. Again, it is not. It is the natural religion of mankind. While it may be normal to use "Allah" and "alhamdulillah" and "insha Allah" in Muslim company, "God" and "praise God" and "God willing" are more normal in English. Christian evangelicals play on the misconception that "Allah" is some specifically Arab/Muslim god rather than simply the Arabic word for God. Don't fall into the trap and fuel, inadvertently the same misconceptions.

10.Don't focus excessively or solely on external matters at the expense of spirituality. Shariah is important; it helps to build discipline and helps you to order your life, so work on that. But if obsession with minutiae of laws becomes the center of your religion, this is a problem. The center of Islam is to draw near to God through purification of the soul. The laws are a means to this, but there is more to the faith than external obedience to laws. Spend time crafting a relationship with God.

11. Find good friends who can help support you with your spiritual development.

12. Stay out of "Marja Wars." If you disagree with a judgement of a marja, fine. They are human, and sometimes make mistakes. But respect the insitution and recognize the difference between principled scholarly disagreement and mudslinging.

that's all I can remember for now. Perhaps I'll add to it later.

Edited by kadhim
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Guest UmmLayla

Some really valid points their kadhim.. I think that's what is hard for some converts, sometimes I think we concentrate on more trying to be a certain person (not in the religious way) as in eat at the Arab/Muslim places and agree on certain things just to feel alike to some Arab cultures and so forth..

Point 9 made me smile in particular, had many a moment where I thought I could conquer the Sunni world with my Hadith Kissa I had learnt :blush:

Islam really is a journey between us and Allah/God ^_^:)

Ws

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Thanks for these suggestions. I think they are good for Western Muslims as well as converts. They are all great points, especially the following:

  • Muhammad was an Arab, but Islam is not an Arab religion. It is a human religion. Islam doesn't require you to dress like a desert Arab. It does set certain broad principles on decent dress, of how much of your body to hide, how much to reveal, but how you fulfill that is up to you.
  • ....there is no such thing as "Islamic food." There are general broad principles of clean foodstuffs and unclean, but how you combine and match and cook them is up to you. Burgers and spaghetti are just as much Muslim food as shish taouk and kebab.
  • Feel proud of your heritage. Becoming a Muslim does not require you to deny or feel ashamed of your heritage as a Westerner.
  • Be good to your non-Muslim parents. In fact, be better to them now than you were before. It is a sunnah, and it shows a concrete improvement in manners as a fruit of your new religion. When they see that you are becoming a better human being, it will be easier for them to tolerate the change.
  • Make an effort to learn Arabic. While Islam is not an Arabic religion, the Qu'ran is in Arabic, and many of the best books are in the language. It is a beautiful language, and while it's hard to learn, it's worth the effort.
  • Talk to real Sunnis, spend time with them, read books by their authors, and experience brotherhood and spirituality with them. For they are your brethren.
  • When you speak with non-Muslims about Islam, be careful with your language. Speak English and avoid using too many Arabic terms. It just reinforces the stereotype that Islam is an exotic foreign religion. Again, it is not. It is the natural religion of mankind.
  • The center of Islam is to draw near to God through purification of the soul. The laws are a means to this, but there is more to the faith than external obedience to laws. Spend time crafting a relationship with God.
  • Find good friends who can help support you with your spiritual development.
  • Stay out of "Marja Wars."

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1. Don't let other Muslims make you feel pressured to change your name to something "more Islamic." There is no need to do so. Muhammad was an Arab, but Islam is not an Arab religion. It is a human religion. Virtually any human name is by definition an Islamic name. Unless your name is Satan, there is no problem with it. Your name is a part of you. If you want to change your name, go ahead, but it should come genuinely from you.

European equivalents of religious ones should be ok e.g. John. However if someone's name has pagan roots e.g. Odin or is a modern made up on e.g. Moon Unit, perhaps a more appropriate Muslim one would be preferable.

THE RIGHT TO HAVE A GOOD NAME: Imam ‘Ali says: “The first beneficence of a parent towards his child is to give him a good name; therefore, you should name your child with a good name.” A child hears his name day and night; and it is reasonable to believe that the meaning of that name subconsciously strengthens those characteristics which are implied in that name. What is emphasized here is the fact that a name has a psychological effect on the person, provided it is not counter-manded by rearing or society.

A bad name has one more tangible evil effect. Whenever that name is announced, the person will feel embarrassment and the name will become a source of constant irritation, affecting his outlook on society. Hence the emphasis in ahādith on giving good names to children.

http://www.al-islam.org/islam_faith_practice_history/35.htm

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(salam)

Thank you for posting this. I'm sure many members will benefit from it.

I don't disagree with what you wrote, but something seems missing from it too. Perhaps it is this: while everything you wrote is factually true, the social reality that many people come to Islam in the West face (since I am assuming you are addressing it primarily to Westerners; it's important to remember that there are still people converting to Islam in Africa and Asia and other places) is that many of them must deal primarily with a community of a different culture (eg Pakistani). Especially the Shia since there are not many "indigenous" Shia groups (as there are some for Sunnis).

In such an environment, it is valuable to "keep your identity". Indeed, no one respects someone who pretends to be something they're not. Not only is there no need to "pretend" to be Arab or some other nationality, it's futile; people see through it.

However, there is a tremendous amount of value to acknowledging, appreciating, and adjusting to other people's cultures - particularly when you have to deal with them frequently and intimately. (A corollary to that it is that there is value in reminding people to acknowledge, appreciate, and adjust to our cultures just as we acknowledge, appreciate, and adjust to theirs. However, I digress*) This may be more relevant for women since the female experience is often different from the male. Men tend to be in a greater position of power socially and in the family. For instance, many Western sisters who come to Islam marry men from other cultural backgrounds. Yes, the sisters could insist "We are American/Canadian/British and we will only cook British food and we will only use British names and we will only wear British clothes"... but that's not always the most harmonious thing to do, particularly in our community which expects the wife to follow the husband. While I don't think that sisters who marry men from other cultural backgrounds should have to "assimilate", it is valuable to learn to cook the food/speak the language/wear the clothes of the husband's culture because not doing so can make life more challenging in the family as well as socially. It is also valuable b/c it is the children's culture even though it is not the woman's. It is worthwhile to pick our battles in life.

Additionally, while we should appreciate the good things about our heritages, our Islamic heritage always comes first. I would personally much have a name that expresses my ISLAMIC (not Arab) heritage and that connects me to what I value most. I would identify myself easier as a Muhammad or Ali or Fatimah or Zaynab than I would as a Mike or Tom or Laura or Deborah because these ISLAMIC names hold a great deal of meaning and connect me to what I identify myself with. Of course, there is no need to change one's name, as you mentioned, unless the name is negative or pagan. However, a #1 reason for name change in general is to express a change in identity. I would personally prefer to have a name that identifies me IMMEDIATELY as a Muslim without someone having to ask, and I would value that above any other expression of heritage because it is what I primarily identify myself with. This is just my preference, of course; yours is different.

This trend also happened in other places where Islam went; there are many non-Arab Muslim cultures that use names like Mohammad or Haider because they are Islamic names and have Islamic value, not because they are Arabs or want to use Arabic names. So I don't think there is anything wrong with it happening in the West; indeed, I feel it is a mark of honor to have such a noble name.

Similarly, with clothing... realistically, Western fashions have taken over the globe, so there is no fear that Western styles will become extinct. They have replaced many people's traditional forms of dress and also other forms of dress indigenous to the West (such as what the Amish wear). There is no problem in wearing Western clothes. However, I also don't see anything wrong with it if a guy wants to dress a little more like the Prophet and wear a dishdasha or a kufi, especially if he feels like it is more modest (I know a couple guys like that). I also don't see anything wrong with it if he wants to wear that to assert his Islamic identity. Women don't have a choice about asserting their Islamic identity b/c they are supposed to wear the hijab, but some guys might like to do this too.

Similarly, with women, there are some fashions that are considered "Islamic" (such as abayahs and jilbabs) that are of Arab origin but are worn by practicing non-Arab Muslimas too because they are good hijab. It is sometimes easier to wear this clothing because it is designed to be loose, long, long sleeved, and to cover. I know other sisters who are not Pakistani/Indian but who like to wear shalwar kameez because they are modest, flattering, and practical. Sometimes it can be a real challenge for a muhajabah who is genuinely concerned in covering the shape of the body and who is not short and thin to find clothes that are full length, loose, long sleeved, no slits, are not provocative in any way, that are not sheer, have no inappropriate themes (such as electric guitar print), and so forth at a shopping mall. So although there is no reason why a lady HAS to wear these things, there is also no reason why she should NOT if she wants to just because she is not from a particular culture. It's a personal choice.

I guess what I'm saying is... ultimately... culture is a personal decision. However, some cultures have lived with Islam for centuries and have found ways to implement Islam into aspects of their daily life such as food, clothing, interpersonal relations, etc. Western culture has not lived with Islam for centuries and has not made these adaptations (yet). That is not to say that you have to leave Western culture but simply that there is some wisdom in taking advantage of the accumulated cultural knowledge of other civilizations that have practiced Islam for a long time. There is certainly nothing wrong with it even though people should not feel forced to do so.

I guess what I'm saying is that everything we are exposed to in life becomes part of our identity and experience (whether we accept or reject it). And if you are living in an environment which is not your culture of origin, that environment also becomes part of your own identity and experience too, and there's nothing wrong with that, and "heritage" is not always black and white. Definitely that happens to everyone who immigrates to the West as well.

Also, I might be a little "off" on this, but I wonder if there is a gender difference when it comes to experiences with parents. I have known many sisters whose families were ok with them being Muslim - as long as it was not visible. But once they started to wear the hijab (and Islam became part of their public identity), they were kicked out of the house or otherwise ostractized. Guys don't have that same issue to deal with. Also, in many cultures, there is pressure on the woman to be the one who preservers the cultures, whether it is food, rituals, manners, etc, and I don't think much of Western culture is any different. At least, most of the women I see around me were responsible for keeping up customs (such as Christmas traditions), being primary caretakers of aged relatives, volunteering for school and neighborhood functions, etc, whereas guys may have enjoyed more freedom. It may be that families might react differently to girls making this sort of life change instead of guys for this reason. (This is a kind of theoretical explanation of something social I'm trying to pinpoint) Because although as you say it is wajib to try to keep up good relations with relatives, it can also be extremely difficult, especially when one is in the situation of "no daughter of mine is going to XYZ". Women are often sometimes in a more psychologically vulnerable position in the household (this is one reason it is cited that it is haram for Muslim women to marry nonMuslim men). I have heard stories about male companions being told to go back and serve their parents but I have not heard stories about female companions being told the same; I just might have missed them; or there might be some point to this, that maybe it is a greater challenge for women. Of course, it is still important to try.

Finally - and this really may be the seed for another topic - what I am saying may be more valuable in an American context. I have recently come to suspect that the Western Muslim experience differs greatly between America and other Western countries with a more defined heritage (such as Britain). It seems like in many places, there is a strong divide in the countries as a whole (not just Muslims) between "immigrant" and "indigenous" and people who come there are expected to be "foreigners". I think this affects the Muslim community too. Whereas, in America, we do have this ideal of multiculturalism, everyone working together, everyone getting along, etc, and people are not expected to feel like "foreigners" after a generation in the same way. Of course, we are still far from this ideal in our community, but compared to what I have heard from some other places, I am starting to think that we are more accepting of different cultures, working together, and not having to make sharp dividing lines between "indigenous" and "foreign" (although some people do feel that way). Particularly when it comes to 2nd/3rd generation.

(so... did anyone read this all lol?)

Stay out of sectarian debates for the first few years. Be humble. These divisions have perplexed scholars for 14 centuries; do you really think your agressive regurgitation of your small bit of newly learned understanding will solve the controversies?

we need to frame that and post it somewhere. :) i can think of MANY people who could stand to hear that... whether they were born into islam or not :angel:

* BIG WORD ALERT!!!! :D (for all those members out there who dont like big words and u know who u r!!!)

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The point is to clarify that when you choose to become a Muslim, no one has any religious justification to pressure you to change yourself on superficial matters that in themselves are purely cultural. If one wants to, it's another story, but there's no reason to feel presured.

On the other hand, with regards to Arabic robes for men here in the America's, I would disagree relatively forcefully.

In a way I would consider it un-Islamic behavior. The prophet wore such things, but it is also clear that that is because such was the norm of modest dress in that time and place. The sunnah is clear that his dress blended in with the norms of his time and place.

So I would argue that pants and a long sleeved shirt is the real Islamic dress for the American Muslim male.

Kufis and dishdashas, aside from being totally uncomfortable, reinforce false notions that Islam is about arbitrarily distinguishing yourself in superficial matters. Better to stand out through your manners.

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The point is to clarify that when you choose to become a Muslim, no one has any religious justification to pressure you to change yourself on superficial matters that in themselves are purely cultural. If one wants to, it's another story, but there's no reason to feel presured.

On the other hand, with regards to Arabic robes for men here in the America's, I would disagree relatively forcefully.

In a way I would consider it un-Islamic behavior. The prophet wore such things, but it is also clear that that is because such was the norm of modest dress in that time and place. The sunnah is clear that his dress blended in with the norms of his time and place.

So I would argue that pants and a long sleeved shirt is the real Islamic dress for the American Muslim male.

Kufis and dishdashas, aside from being totally uncomfortable, reinforce false notions that Islam is about arbitrarily distinguishing yourself in superficial matters. Better to stand out through your manners.

Actually, what's really ironic is that I'm not so sure he (pbuh) did wear all these things. Certainly, I doubt he wore Pakistani-style shalwar and khamis outfits, yet, we see a number of converts don such garbs (as I did _way_ back when...)

The kufi I've had an odd relationship with. I actually don't know what it's basis is, what's recommended in particular is to wear a turban (also it recommended to cover one's head when going to the washroom), though Shi`as tend to have the strange notion that this is reserved for the `ulama (it isn't). I've figured the kufi was perhaps something around which the turban would be spun, but I'm not sure. Personally, I like the way I look in one (dark ones in particular), however the reason I don't generally wear one anymore (at least in public) is because when people see me wearing it, I don't think their usual thought is "hey, he's a white Muslim", rather it's "hey, it's a Jew". Seriously, when I wore more regularly I had someone tell me shalom, had some skinhead type yell out Jew!! to me, had some other guy come up, shake my hand, and tell me how much he admired my people... (rather awkward for him when I told him what I actually was) It might sound a little funny, but on the serious side wearing something that makes folks think I'm Jewish is the quite the opposite of what I'd be intending here. In fact, one can find traditions that advise us to take certain habits and such to specifically distinguish us from Jews.

Way back when, when I was wearing such garments in public, robes and such, it was actually my non-Muslim father that gave me what I think was some decent advice. He asked me something about why I was doing it, and what did I think it would accomplish for my religion. Did I really think that it would be better promoting it that way? It made me think about it, and I realized that by doing so, I was further promoting the falsehood that becoming Muslim equates "going Arab" or what have you, that Islam would always be an inherently foreign way, and not something that a person of European heritage could embrace while still remaining who they were in terms of their ethnicity, language, and so forth. So now instead I choose to wear Western style clothing, though with an increased notice to modesty and proper attire (I don't even own a pair of shorts for instance and I'm usually in a long sleeve shirt when out of the house (fairly rarely a t-shirt outside of it)), which in itself, especially during summer can make one stand out, but I think in a more positive fashion.

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Hello all. I wanted to share a few pieces of advice that I think will be useful for any new converts out there. If someone else has some other suggestions to share, feel free.

1. Don't let other Muslims make you feel pressured to change your name to something "more Islamic." There is no need to do so. Muhammad was an Arab, but Islam is not an Arab religion. It is a human religion. Virtually any human name is by definition an Islamic name. Unless your name is Satan, there is no problem with it. Your name is a part of you. If you want to change your name, go ahead, but it should come genuinely from you.

2. You don't need to change the way you dress,or, rather, you don't need to wear the clothes of some particular foreign nation. Islam doesn't require you to dress like a desert Arab. It does set certain broad principles on decent dress, of how much of your body to hide, how much to reveal, but how you fulfill that is up to you. Pants and a dress shirt is just as much Islamic dress as a robe.

Similarly, there is no such thing as "Islamic food." There are general broad principles of clean foodstuffs and unclean, but how you combine and match and cook them is up to you. Burgers and spaghetti are just as much Muslim food as shish taouk and kebab.

3. Feel proud of your heritage. Becoming a Muslim does not require you to deny or feel ashamed of your heritage as a Westerner. This Western civilization historically has many great and noble values and accomplishments. While the civilization has declined greatly in recent years into decadence and immorality, the root values are good and are largely consistent with Islam. This should not be surprising; Islam was influenced by Greek thinkers who also were roots of Western civilization, and Islamic thinkers likewise influenced Western thinkers. Aquinas is known to have read Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and al-Ghazali. Islam is not a steam-roller of cultures and civilizations. It has central principles and ideas, and these ideas have expressed themseves and interacted fruitfully with different societies it has encountered.

4. Be good to your non-Muslim parents. In fact, be better to them now than you were before. It is a sunnah, and it shows a concrete improvement in manners as a fruit of your new religion. When they see that you are becoming a better human being, it will be easier for them to tolerate the change. I will note as well that by avoiding making too many drastic changes in superficial things like food and dress, it will also help to make the change less strange for your parents and family, and will help to emphasize that it is not just some weird "phase." Now of course you need to give up haram meat and alcohol, but try to make the process easier on your family.

5. Make an effort to learn Arabic. While Islam is not an Arabic religion, the Qu'ran is in Arabic, and many of the best books are in the language. It is a beautiful language, and while it's hard to learn, it's worth the effort.

6.Choose a comfortable marja that understands the life in the West. While there is a lot of talk about needing to "pick the most knowedgeable" jurist to consult for advice about Islamic law concerns. While in theory that sounds nice, it's practically pretty near impossible, especially for someone new to Islam. You're not really in a basis to make a judgement of who is best, and there is no universal agreement. Besides, the idea that you need to find the best is not universal amongst marja. Practically speaking, for most practical issues, the agreement is at least 95%. You need to find a marja that you are comfortable with, and who is easy to get in touch with. A lot of converts consult with Seestani. However, new Western converts might find it easier to consult, at least initally, with Fadlallah in Lebanon. His experience in dealing with the complexities of multi-confessional Lebanon and his willingness to write accessible books on contemporary issues and comment usefully on the news of the day make him a little more accessible. If, after a while, you find that others are wiser, you can consult with them instead.

7. Take it one step at a time. Don't rush changing your life around too quickly. It is a lifetime project. Move slowly, make simple changes but implement them consistently.

8. Stay out of sectarian debates for the first few years. Be humble. These divisions have perplexed scholars for 14 centuries; do you really think your agressive regurgitation of your small bit of newly learned understanding will solve the controversies? Be aware of the fundamentals of the faith, and be ready to simply and politely explain them,but stay out of debates until you're firmer in knowledge. Don't base your understandings of Sunnis only on Shia polemics. Talk to real Sunnis, spend time with them, read books by their authors, and experience brotherhood and spirituality with them. For they are your brethren.

9. When you speak with non-Muslims about Islam, be careful with your language. Speak English and avoid using too many Arabic terms. It just reinforces the stereotype that Islam is an exotic foreign religion. Again, it is not. It is the natural religion of mankind. While it may be normal to use "Allah" and "alhamdulillah" and "insha Allah" in Muslim company, "God" and "praise God" and "God willing" are more normal in English. Christian evangelicals play on the misconception that "Allah" is some specifically Arab/Muslim god rather than simply the Arabic word for God. Don't fall into the trap and fuel, inadvertently the same misconceptions.

10.Don't focus excessively or solely on external matters at the expense of spirituality. Shariah is important; it helps to build discipline and helps you to order your life, so work on that. But if obsession with minutiae of laws becomes the center of your religion, this is a problem. The center of Islam is to draw near to God through purification of the soul. The laws are a means to this, but there is more to the faith than external obedience to laws. Spend time crafting a relationship with God.

11. Find good friends who can help support you with your spiritual development.

12. Stay out of "Marja Wars." If you disagree with a judgement of a marja, fine. They are human, and sometimes make mistakes. But respect the insitution and recognize the difference between principled scholarly disagreement and mudslinging.

that's all I can remember for now. Perhaps I'll add to it later.

#9 hits home. I have not (or havent) converted. :blush: At times I would feel intimidated when hearing all of these different words. I often would associate Allah as a God. That is funny. I have beccome awakened on certain issues. I felt like Neo from the Matrix on some things. Should I have taken the red or blue pill?! :lol:

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The point is to clarify that when you choose to become a Muslim, no one has any religious justification to pressure you to change yourself on superficial matters that in themselves are purely cultural. If one wants to, it's another story, but there's no reason to feel presured.

On the other hand, with regards to Arabic robes for men here in the America's, I would disagree relatively forcefully.

In a way I would consider it un-Islamic behavior. The prophet wore such things, but it is also clear that that is because such was the norm of modest dress in that time and place. The sunnah is clear that his dress blended in with the norms of his time and place.

So I would argue that pants and a long sleeved shirt is the real Islamic dress for the American Muslim male.

Kufis and dishdashas, aside from being totally uncomfortable, reinforce false notions that Islam is about arbitrarily distinguishing yourself in superficial matters. Better to stand out through your manners.

Well... I think we've had a similar discussion elsewhere, but it's worth observing that some aspects of America seems to differ from some other Western countries. First of all, in a lot of big cities, most people don't really concern themselves with what you are wearing, and you do see diversity of dress. People don't really trip out if they see you wearing something different and most people mind their own business. Also, I have met Muslims here who did not hold any respect for "forced Westernization" (such as through the slave trade) and wanted to distinguish themselves from what they perceived as an imposed culture. I wouldn't call them "un-Islamic" for wanting to do that. So while I don't think there is any particular need to wear dishdashas, if a Muslim male feels that is most appropriate, I'm not going to call him "un-Islamic" for not wanting to follow the norms of white American male people, particularly if he was born here and is intimately familiar with society and its expectations.

And, I guess, to be honest, I feel that way myself. As someone who identifies myself primarily as a Muslim and only secondarily with any ethnic affiliation, I value "Islamic culture" (not "Arab" or "Persian" but just those things that have become associated with Islam in general) over "white culture". (The New Yorker Obama cartoon made it pretty clear that people do recognize certain male clothing as traditional "Muslim dress" even though it is not mandated by Islam) There is a sense in Islam that Muslims should have a distinct identity, should not imitate the kuffar, and should be recognizable. For instance, many years ago, some of the ulama used to rule that Muslim men should not wear ties because it was a symbol of non-Islamic culture. (Nowdays, of course, they do not do that anymore) I find that a strong sense of a distinguishable Muslim identity tends to be more celebrated in the Sunni community than in the Shia community.

Of course, as you mention, it is not appropriate to wear "libas al-shuhrah", but you can debate what that actually is versus the fine line between wearing "libas al-shuhrah" (weird clothing) and feeling pressured to follow the habits of a non-Islamic culture just because it happens to be a culture you are living around or have an ethnic connection to. There is a big differnce between wearing Western clothes because you feel like it is your heritage and feeling pressured to wear Western clothes in order to satisfy non-Muslim society because expressions of your Muslim identity is considered "weird" or "inappropriate". I respect someone who chooses to wear Western clothes or take a Western name because they feel it is their heritage. But, again, like I was saying about the other stuff above, I would not want that idea imposed on myself or to be told that I was "un-Islamic" for representing my Muslim identity and that I need to try harder to imitate a culture that is not primarily Muslim.

That being said, I think most guys realize it is more practical not to wear what you call historically traditional forms of Islamic dress, that it is generally easier to get a job while not wearing them, that they're less likely to get questioned by law enforcement, etc. Most of the guys I know wear Western clothes anyway. (Most Arabs in Arab countries wear Western clothes, for that matter) But I feel uncomfortable with the idea of calling it "un-Islamic" to express a distinct Islamic identity. After all, manners may be respected, but they don't necessarily represent Islam. You could be a well mannered Christian or well mannered Jew or well mannered atheist. So there is some value in presenting our own identity to the world (even though "robes" may not be the most effective way to go about it)

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On the other hand, with regards to Arabic robes for men here in the America's, I would disagree relatively forcefully.

In a way I would consider it un-Islamic behavior. The prophet wore such things, but it is also clear that that is because such was the norm of modest dress in that time and place. The sunnah is clear that his dress blended in with the norms of his time and place.

So I would argue that pants and a long sleeved shirt is the real Islamic dress for the American Muslim male.

There are several famous traditions in that regard, for example these two traditions from the sixth Imam:

Çیǘ Çä ÊÒیäø ÅáÇø Ýی ÃÍÓä Òیø Þæ㘠Do not adorn yourselves except with that which is the best amongst your people.

ÎیÑ áÈÇÓ ˜á ÒãÇä¡ áÈÇÓ Çåáå The best clothing of each era, is the clothing of (the people of) that era.

(Wasail al-Shia, v. 3, p. 342)

The idea that one should walk around like 7th century Arabia living in 21st century Western Europe etc., is something that is relatively recent, otherwise, there is no "Islamic" clothing like you said per se, but rather Islamic principles for clothing (which should be applied to Arab, Western, African etc. clothes).

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The idea that one should walk around like 7th century Arabia living in 21st century Western Europe etc., is something that is relatively recent, otherwise, there is no "Islamic" clothing like you said per se, but rather Islamic principles for clothing (which should be applied to Arab, Western, African etc. clothes).

Well... you could turn that argument the other way too and say that since some modern Muslims have decided that certain "7th century" clothing is appropriate and wear it themselves, that it has become the clothing of the age for some people.

What I am talking about above is really much deeper than fashion.. it is about identity issues. Why SHOULD the majority of the Muslim world feel compelled to imitate the habits of a culture that has been historically antagonistic to Islam? You go to almost any country in the Islamic world and almost everyone wears Western fashions. There's no problem with it; people have freedom of choice; but why are we so willing to accept cultural domination? Is it still a holdover from colonialism?

I'm not saying we have to have a cultural revolution and destroy all Western influences. But it is worth thinking about why we consider Western clothing to be "normal" and clothing that has developed within the rich history of Islam to be "abnormal" or "7th century". I'm not saying we all have to get up and wear "robes", but we should have some pride in our Islamic heritage and acknowledge that it is not "weird" or "7th century".

Also, at least when talking about America (not sure about other Western countries), it's worth remembering that people have come to Islam here in different ways. In the past few decades, Islam has been spread as a means of social change, particularly in the inner cities, and particularly in neighborhoods that were neglected by the society at large. It's not all about the immigrant Muslim community. I'm talking conversion. Most people in other countries don't realize that 1/3 of Muslims in America are born-Americans (not even 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants). Part of that movement involves stressing a unique Islamic identity that is different from the society around them in order to make revolutionary changes and real social changes such as getting drugs out of the neighborhoods, getting a decent education for the kids, etc. Yes, I'm talking about Sunnis here, and even maybe some Salafis. I'm not in a position to say how successful it's been or not. But I couldn't imagine going to a mosque which is working on real social change through development of an Islamic identity and telling someone that it is "un-Islamic" to wear clothes that visibly represent a Muslim identity.

Basically, what I'm saying is, we shouldn't feel like we have to be defined by outsiders, whether it is clothing or other habits. There has been enough of that going on the past couple centuries. It is good to have pride in our Islamic identity and to be happy to express it - although, realisticaly, as I myself was writing above, male fashion may not be the #1 way to go all the time. Not to tell other people it's antiquated and to suppress it in favor of doing things the non-Muslim way.

Maybe my viewpoint is a little different too because, as a sister, like I mentioned before, we don't get a choice. There is very little I can do to conceal the fact that I am a Muslim as long as I am wearing hijab. (Maybe once or twice I might have been mistaken for an orthodox Jew, but, generally, people recognize the hijab) So I am very used to the idea of not hiding my Islamic identity and being recognized as "different" on a daily basis. We sisters don't have the choice to "blend in"; no matter how Westernized or how fashionable a muhajabah may try to seem, the headscarf will still make her different. For guys I'm sure it's much different.

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Well... you could turn that argument the other way too and say that since some modern Muslims have decided that certain "7th century" clothing is appropriate and wear it themselves, that it has become the clothing of the age for some people.

What I am talking about above is really much deeper than fashion.. it is about identity issues. Why SHOULD the majority of the Muslim world feel compelled to imitate the habits of a culture that has been historically antagonistic to Islam? You go to almost any country in the Islamic world and almost everyone wears Western fashions. There's no problem with it; people have freedom of choice; but why are we so willing to accept cultural domination? Is it still a holdover from colonialism?

I'm not saying we have to have a cultural revolution and destroy all Western influences. But it is worth thinking about why we consider Western clothing to be "normal" and clothing that has developed within the rich history of Islam to be "abnormal" or "7th century". I'm not saying we all have to get up and wear "robes", but we should have some pride in our Islamic heritage and acknowledge that it is not "weird" or "7th century".

Basically, what I'm saying is, we shouldn't feel like we have to be defined by outsiders, whether it is clothing or other habits. There has been enough of that going on the past couple centuries. It is good to have pride in our Islamic identity and to be happy to express it - although, realisticaly, as I myself was writing above, male fashion may not be the #1 way to go all the time. Not to tell other people it's antiquated and to suppress it in favor of doing things the non-Muslim way.

Maybe my viewpoint is a little different too because, as a sister, like I mentioned before, we don't get a choice. There is very little I can do to conceal the fact that I am a Muslim as long as I am wearing hijab. (Maybe once or twice I might have been mistaken for an orthodox Jew, but, generally, people recognize the hijab) So I am very used to the idea of not hiding my Islamic identity and being recognized as "different" on a daily basis. We sisters don't have the choice to "blend in"; no matter how Westernized or how fashionable a muhajabah may try to seem, the headscarf will still make her different. For guys I'm sure it's much different.

Well, I think we have a fundamental difference in that you see value in "differentiating" yourself through clothing, whereas I only agree to the extent that such clothing is islamically inappropriate.

Otherwise, I believe (and this is supported by the traditions from the Infallibles) that we should integrate (positively) in our societies and become a natural part of them, rather than intentionally insisting on remaining an "exotic" element, in order to influence society.

I don't know what muslims you are talking about that were compelled - atleast me, I was not compelled, but I simply think suits, shirts etc. of what was originally western design (but now has been refined by others) are the contemporary clothing in the societies I've been in, and something nice.

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Well, I think we have a fundamental difference in that you see value in "differentiating" yourself through clothing, whereas I only agree to the extent that such clothing is islamically inappropriate.

As I said above, sisters don't have a choice. We ARE "differentiated" if we wear hijab. There have been plenty of times when I wished I was NOT differentiated, but there is nothing we can do about it.

However, you are right that I do value the concept of having a distinct Islamic identity and one that identifies a person with the entire Islamic ummah. I believe that Islamic history is all of our history whether or not we are ethnically connected to it. For instance, I believe the history of Caliph Mansour and the Mongol Invasion is all of our history. I believe that Ibn Sina and Ibn Arabi are part of all of our history. I believe that Rumi and Iqbal are also part of the history because they were people who lived and died in the Muslim ummah and whose works were strongly influenced by Islam (or who had a strong influence on the Islamic world, in the case of the Mongol invasion). It's not just Eastern; I also believe Malcolm X is all of our history too and this part of the basic ideal of building one ummah and one religious brotherhood.

Similarly, there are Islamic customs common across the ummah that do belong to all of us. For instance, when most Muslims see a prayer rug, they know what it's for. Prayer rugs aren't sunna, but they were a custom that developed. There are also specific ethnic customs that do not belong to all of us (for instance, Norooz) but that is a separate issue. Part of that involves clothing. I feel that a chador or abayah is "Islamic" clothing not just ethnic because its function is not just to express ethnic identity; it is also intended to observe the hijab. We've all heard the speech that Islam is more than a spiritual path; it is a way of life that affects society, politics, etc. (I'm not talking about WF but I'm talking about the old fashioned ideal, the caliphate of Imam Ali, or the insistence on a just government and not supporting an unjust government, or the Islamic hudud, or just the need for political cohesiveness across the ummah) So when someone comes to Islam, their life history becomes part of the combined history of the ummah; and the combined history of the ummah also becomes part of their spiritual and social heritage, although they may also have connections to a heritage outside of the ummah. This is my philosophy at least.

So although I am not seriously encouraging men to wear dishdashas or shalwar kameez very day because in the end I do agree with MacIsaac, if a brother chooses to, I would support his decision to express his Islamic identity and that wearing identifyiably Muslim clothes DOES represent an Islamic identity - especially since it's something I have to do every day lol.

Otherwise, I believe (and this is supported by the traditions from the Infallibles) that we should integrate (positively) in our societies and become a natural part of them, rather than intentionally insisting on remaining an "exotic" element, in order to influence society.

I know :)

That goes back to what I was saying above. With some movements, the goal was not to integrate into an existing society (especially one that had failed them); it was to build a new society. They are not an "exotic" element because they are indigineous, American-born people, not coming from another culture. They are not immigrant groups as in Europe. Someone else could probably explain this better than me since I've only been marginally exposed to these movements.

Also, I do find that many aspects of Islam push for a distinct Islamic identity. The hijab, for one. Not eating the food of kuffar and not eating haram food (which is much of ahl al-kitab food). Required forms of worship in our daily life that other people notice. Requiring women to marry inside the religion. The question of how much to blend and how much to maintain a separate identity is answered differently by different people and different groups. Having our own marriage and family laws (even if they are not enforcable by the government). The masoumeen themselves did not go and "blend" into other societies and suppress their identity as Muslims or take on the customs of non-Muslim people to my knowledge.

I'm not advocating that we all get up and build a wall between ourselves and others. That is not what Islam teaches. However, I do honestly believe that there are some areas where we should "integrate" and others where we should be "separate". And I know that, among Muslims (all Muslims, not just Shi'a) there is a broader variety of opinions both ways.

Also... I know we've had this discussion before too... but it might be different where you live. For instance, are 1/3 of Swedish Muslims indigenous Swedes who converted to Islam largely as a result of social movements that did NOT have integration in mind? America might be a special case. Additionally, America does not have the same "cultural continuity" that other European nations have. "American heritage" does not trace very far back, and most Americans immigrated here long after the country actually was formed 400 years ago. (For instance I'm 3rd/4th generation American) "Assimilation" and "integration" are not things we ever really discuss here about the immigrant population in the same way that I hear in Europe. Perhaps we have a different definition of what it means to be "assimilated" too - here mostly that means economic - being financially self sufficient maybe going to college or getting into the professions, and also speaking English. But I have never heard anyone talk about "assimilating" regarding clothing or other ethnic customs. America may also be more diverse. So if I went and lived there I might say something differently about the situation there.

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Men covering the head while outside and uncovering while inside is "western" classic good manners.

True, that, although lost good manners.

Anyway, I was thinking something else, and that is there is a difference of perspective between immigrating to a society versus being born there. If I got up and immigrated to China, for instance, I might feel a need to be as Chinese as possible to "fit in". However, as far as I'm concerned, the country I am living in is just as much my country as anyone else's, and I don't need to make ANY effort to "assimilate" to the place I was born in. I'm not a guest or a visitor; this is as much my land as any one else's. I also feel that people will get used to us if they see enough of us just as they have gotten used to other ethnic groups such as the Chinese. For instance, with hijab; it used to be very strange to see a muhajabah, but nowdays in many cities here it is a lot more common. People got used to it. So I don't feel any need to try to "blend" in that regard.

Also, no one tells orthodox Jews that they shouldn't have their hats or their curls or their beards. No one tells Amish that they shouldn't have their old fashioned dresses. No one tells Buddhist monks that the should wear saffron robes. (I've seen a few. Not a lot, but a few) No one tells nuns that they shouldn't wear habits. So I see NOTHING wrong with having a form of dress that represents Islamic identity. It is NOT a wajib, and not really practical either but I disagree with the idea that we are obligated to live like popular culture just because they happen to be popular culture.

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(salam)

Bro Kadhim posted a nice and thoughtful post.

Why would a a convert/revert changed his/her name if it is not offensive? The rules about hejab is all about dressing modestly. You don't need to be pressurized to dress according to an unfamiliar clothing style. You can be modest even in western clothing as long as you are covered up.

You need to bring Islam to your life. It's not about bringing a middle eastern culture into your life.

Personally, I have never felt a single culture/country superior to another. It's the teaching of Islam that makes the difference.

Edited by Zareen
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Why would a a convert/revert changed his/her name if it is not offensive?

I mentioned "why" above. But, basically, a name serves as an identification tool. When you hear a name that is "typically Muslim" (such as Mohammad), you assume the person is a Muslim. I can understand why someone would want a name that immediately identifies them as a Muslim instead of a name that immediately identifies them as something else, because Islam is such an important part of our identity. Especially if they come from an ethnicity where people would not assume they are a Muslim.

I mean, it's hard not to be "recognized" as what we identify ourselves as - by others and even by other Muslims. Yes, you can go around telling people you are Muslim, but, generally, we don't go around telling our religion as part of small talk here unless the topic comes up. It's a lot easier if you meet someone, say your name is "Muhammad", and they understand that this is what you are affiliated with, especially if you are committed to practicing Islam.

Some people also like to change their names to indicate they are making a big change in their life and sometimes a fresh start.

Finally, as I was mentioning above, many Islamic names have a beautiful Islamic heritage and many people like to connect themselves to it. For instance, names of Ahl al-Bayt or some of our famous scholars or thinkers. It's not about being "Middle Eastern"; it's about identifying ourselves with what we value. In every Muslim culture - whether or not they are Middle Eastern - from Europe to Indonesia - you will find names like "Muhammad" and "Ali" and "Fatima" because they are an important part of our history. So I don't find it surprising that Muslims in America would also want to call themselves after these people.

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Once again, I have no objection to a Western convert taking on aspects of non-Western cultures and mixing and blending them in with the way they eat and dress, etc, as long as it comes authentically from the individual. When I say Islam doesn't dictate specifics of dress and eating, etc, that goes both ways. If you genuinely like Oriental fashions and food as something new and exotic and attractive, then by all means go for it. Experiment, try (hala) things out. Variety is the spice of life. The point is that you don't HAVE to change around all the details in your way of life because you converted, not that you CAN'T change such things. It's a free country.

But I would argue that if as a convert, you aspire to be an ambassador of Islam, building bridges, showing to people here that Islamis largely compatible with the best values of the West and that Islam is a natural religion fit for all mankind, it's arguably easier to make the case the less exotic looking you are (within the Islamic limits of fundamental principles of dress and diet, etc) compared to the people to whom you're making the case. The best way to stand out is through extraordinary manners and ethics. Didn't the prophet (saws) say his key mission was to perfect people's morals (makarim al-akhlaq)?

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If you genuinely like Oriental fashions and food as something new and exotic and attractive, then by all means go for it. Experiment, try (hala) things out.

"Exotic" depends on the viewer... The Orientalist view, which used to be prevalent in the West, was that everything from the "East" was exotic... such as the clothes, spices, women, etc... but, nowdays, I'd hope that the Orientalist view (which was very patriarichal and European-male-centric) has faded. We are living in a much more globalized society and people tend to grow up with and interact with people from many more cultural backgrounds than they would have in the past. I certainly never thought of Indian food as "exotic" for example. (Especially now that it is getting mainstreamed like Chinese food has here) I think there is just more of a trend in this generation of viewing things as things that exist, rather than saying "this is normal and that is exotic"

Those people who have that mentality that "everything from the East is exotic" are not liklely candidates for conversion to Islam or really understanding Islam unless they undergo some serious religious education - because they do not respect it an authentic religion on par with their own. Even if the clothing and food are the same, they will see that "bowing towards the East" is "exotic", or wearing a scarf (even an old-style German scarf) on the head is "exotic", or wearing long dresses (for women) is "exotic", etc. At least, that's the response I've gotten from a few people in the older generation who felt like that. And they're more likely to view conversion to Islam as an "exotic phase" than a real life change.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is, different things work for different people. There are a billion Muslims and many ways to live this deen. What you are describing may work best for you and among your people where you live. Someone else may be in a different situation and may have a completely different perspective based on their upbringing and circumstances. As I was saying above, women and men themselves tend to be in different circumstances too. As long as we can work together and acknowledge the validity of each other's perspectives (which are within the confines of Islam) without imposing them on each other, then we will be all right.

I guess my main philosophy is that we don't need to do anything to make ourselves seem more different. However, we also don't need to do anything to make ourselves be more the same. We should just be as we are and practice things in whatever way we feel is most authentic - for you, that woudl be how you are describing it, but, for someone else, that might be something else.

But I would argue that if as a convert, you aspire to be an ambassador of Islam, building bridges, showing to people here that Islamis largely compatible with the best values of the West and that Islam is a natural religion fit for all mankind, it's arguably easier to make the case the less exotic looking you are (within the Islamic limits of fundamental principles of dress and diet, etc) compared to the people to whom you're making the case. The best way to stand out is through extraordinary manners and ethics. Didn't the prophet (saws) say his key mission was to perfect people's morals (makarim al-akhlaq)?

Also... it really depends on who you are being an ambassador to. If you are presenting Islam to a group of white middle class English-speaking Christian men, I would agree with that in general. If you are presenting Islam to a different group (and in America we have many other minority populations), it might be different. (I am not saying it IS. I am saying it MIGHT be) For instance, I have had several Vietnamese women come up to me and tell me how great they think it is that I am "preserving my culture" by wearing a scarf. (Even though it's not my culture) They respected what they perceived as adherence to my roots and not being "Westernized". (Of course they got it all wrong but it is the idea) In other words, they respected the fact that I was "different". There are a number of diverse peoples with diverse ideas in the West.

Similarly, even among white middle class Christian men, there are some who will respond to someone who is the same, and some who will be intrigued by someone who is different. "Why's your name Hamid... what does that mean?" "That rug you have there is different, what do you use it for?" Like I said above, what works for one doesn't necessary work for another. I remmber getting into an argument with someone once about whether or not we should have a political protest in the Muslim Students Association. I said it would turn people against Islam. He said there were people there who had become interested in Islam from seeing us stand up like that. So, it just really depends.

And also imho food makes great dawah and people like to come and eat different foods than they are used to :) I remember our MSA always had great food :) :) :)

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I mentioned "why" above. But, basically, a name serves as an identification tool. When you hear a name that is "typically Muslim" (such as Mohammad), you assume the person is a Muslim.

(salam)

But isn't this a stereotype? Aren't we trying to break free from such stereotypes.

You can be a Muslim with the name John.

A person having a beard may be a Jew and not necessarily a Muslim.

A Christian woman may wear a head covering (veil) because that is how the mother of Jesus (Mary) used to dress.

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But isn't this a stereotype? Aren't we trying to break free from such stereotypes.

Is it a bad stereotype that Muslims are known to have names such as Muhammad and Zahra or Hameed and Tahirah and that other people usually do not use these names? I agree with breaking the bad stereotypes (such as Muslims are terrorists), but we have some good stereotypes associated with us too (such as Muslims have strong families, Muslims don't drink).

You could argue that using a name as "social identification" is stereotypical, but it is also a fact. Even among Shia (as is being discussed on the above thread) we have certain names that indicate someone is Shia like Abbas or Abd al-Husain. And we have some names that indicate that a person is Sunni such as Umar or Uthman or (shudder) Yazid (yes, I met one once). Of course, if a Shia person wants to name their son Umar or even Yazid, they can, and they can say it is a "stereotype" to feel they have to give them a traditionally Shia name. However, most people will recognize that person as a Sunni when they meet them, and so it is not really an accurate name.

So in the same way I would not want to put a Muslim child (or adult) in an akward person by giving them a name that is traditionally used by others so when people hear it they will assume the person is not a Muslim. I don't think this is stereotypical; I think this is just dealing with reality. Of course everyone has freedom of choice and like you say there is nothing wrong with being named "John"; in every Muslim culture, you find traditional "Muslim" names as well as the traditional names of that ethnicity. (For instance, in Iran you will find "Muhammad" and also "Parsa") So I am sure that over centuries - if we last that long - in the West you will find Muslims named "Ali" and Muslims named "Alfred". But this is just how I feel about it.

Of course, we have the opposite too... we have plenty of Muslims abandoning their Muslim names when they come to the West so they "fit in" better. For instance "Muhammad" becomes "Mike". Again I feel like this is their choice and I understand it if they have a name that is very hard for people to pronounce here, but that makes me a little sad too because I see that as part of our identity. (The only one I really sympathize with is for guys who are called "Osama" to change their name lol)

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