Tips for the Newly Religious
If you, like me and far too many others, were taught the basics of Islam when you were young only to spend the rest of your misguided youth ignoring everything that you were taught and then come back to the deen (religion) as an adult, this article is for you. This piece is not by any means meant to be a comprehensive guide to “How to be a Muslim”. This is just me sharing some advice based on my own personal experiences on my journey back to Islam.
1. Maintain your prayers
Establishing your connection with Allah is the most important thing you need to do as a Muslim, and the best, most fundamental way of making that connection is by establishing your five daily prayers. If you’re not used to praying regularly, it may seem like a chore at first. But over time, if done sincerely for His sake, your prayers will strengthen your faith and connection to Allah.
You might not be able to make all your prayers on time at first, but the important thing is to try. Set an alarm to remind you of prayer times, or if you’re in Singapore you can use any of the following applications on your Android or iOS devices.
2. Find a teacher
This is easily one of the most important things you will do. Religion is not an area where you can hobble together a do-it-yourself education from YouTube and Tumblr posts. Find a learned, respectable teacher with proper qualifications to teach you the fundamentals of Islam, e.g. aqidah, fiqh, tasawuf, learning to read the Qur’an and attend regular classes to increase your knowledge of the religion. For those in Singapore, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) has the Asatizah Recognition Scheme to ensure that those teaching are qualified to do so.
As a word of advice, if your teacher spends more time condemning others as heretics and deviants than he does in explaining the finer details of the beliefs and practices in Islam, I would sincerely suggest you find another teacher.
3. Practice what you learn…
Once you start learning, it is important that we don’t simply collect knowledge and leave it to collect dust on our mental bookshelves. Knowledge only benefits us when we learn, understand and then implement it practically in our lives.
4. But take it step by step
If you’ve only just started praying the five prayers on a regular basis, don’t expect to wake up for tahajud (night prayers) tomorrow. It’s a good idea to prioritise by importance. Start out with the pillars first (prayer, fasting in Ramadan, zakat). Once you’re settled with that, if you have any obligations that you may have missed out on, it’s a good idea to start paying them back. For example, making up for missed prayers or fasts. Once you’ve established this, only then should you move on to voluntary acts.
5. Don’t be judgmental
It is very easy, when taking baby steps towards Allah, that we are deluded by the incremental changes happening within us that we judge others whom we perceive as not being as “good” as us.
“He doesn’t have a beard”
“She doesn’t cover her awrah”
“He doesn’t pray”
Simply put, these are the delusions of the ego. Being preoccupied with other’s faults only stands in the way of the rectification of our own faults.
If we feel that our friends or family are lacking in their Islamic knowledge or in their practice of the religion, all we have to do is provide with gentle advice, and pray for them. It is Allah alone who guides.
And (I can’t stress this enough) never ever, ever leave comments on strangers’ photos on Facebook and Instagram like “Assalamualaikum sister, why are you not wearing proper hijab?”, especially if you are a guy. Before even thinking of posting such comments, please ask yourself why you are snooping around the profiles of people you don’t even know in the first place.
6. Find friends
One of the best ways to stay motivated for your religious goals is to have good companionship. Whether it be friends, family members, or a significant other, simply having someone on the same path as you is a big factor in staying focused. You can mutually remind each other to perform prayers, practice sunnahs or revise after classes.
7. Share the knowledge…
When you attend a class or a lecture or a seminar, one of the best ways to ensure you retain the information is to share it with friends and family who did not attend. After all, only by being able to clearly explain to others what you have learned can you be sure that you truly understand it. Besides, by sharing the knowledge, you benefit others, and you earn baraka (blessings) for yourself as well. As the North American scholar Dr Umar Faruq Abd’Allah puts it, teaching is the sadaqa (charity) of knowledge.
8. But admit what you don’t know
Once you start learning the deen, it is only natural that people start approaching you for advice on various religious matters. You should try to give them whatever advice or information you can to the best of your abilities. If it is a matter on which you have little or no knowledge, it is best that you admit to them that you do not know and direct them to somebody else who knows better, rather than misguiding or confusing them. It is said of Imam Malik, founder of the Maliki madhab and one of the most famous scholars of Islam, that a man once came to him with forty questions. Imam Malik only answered four of the questions and for the rest of the questions he answered “I don’t know”. Despite his own knowledge, wisdom, and understanding being well-known, Imam Malik was more than willing to admit to what he did not know.
9. Connect with the Prophet
I have to be blunt with this one. There is no shortage of people who will claim that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was “just a man” and that popular veneration of him equates to “idolatry”, or that the hadiths attributed to the Prophet are all fabricated and untrustworthy, and encourage misogyny and violence. This is blatant falsehood.
Learn about the Prophet, who was described as a mercy to the worlds by Allah in the Qur’an, and how his example was always that of wisdom, compassion and kindness. An excellent place to start would be Martin Ling’s book Muhammad – His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, which is one of the better books in the English language on the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
10. Make du’a
Above all, pray to Allah for guidance, for mercy and for forgiveness. Ask Him to accept your repentance, accept your good deeds, and bring you closer to Him, and inshaAllah your prayers will be fulfilled.
This article is not meant to admonish anybody, rather it is reminder to all, first and foremost myself, to reconnect with the religion of Islam, and to purify our deeds and intentions to sincerely turn to Allah.
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local research institute and a part-time writer.