We need to talk. Oh, more likely than not, not you and me. Or maybe you and me. But really, "we" being the local Muslim Community. We need to talk and we need to speak up. Why? Well...
See, there is a group of people who may read this who probably will not like what I have to say. And as I say, some of my opinions may not be popular, but I'll stand by them. I'm not attacking anyone, but I will say that I do not agree with their beliefs. They are perfectly free to have their beliefs. However, they are not perfectly free to (in one case) shove their version of Islam down my throat, and (in another) do what I believe is misrepresenting themselves as Muslims.
Let's work backwards, shall we?
Now, anyone is free to call themselves a Muslim, and I get that. However, when you're beliefs fall outside of Islamic beliefs on more than one level, it'll be up to God to believe whether or not you're a Muslim because man will probably not accept you as such. I also believe that no one should be persecuted for their faith, but I have issues when you start preaching your faith as being Islam when it is clearly not. If you add books to the Qur'an, you are no longer Muslim. It's like claiming your Jewish when you are in reality Christian. And that's the way that I explain the Ahmaddiya Muslim community to others who ask what the deal is - the Ahmaddiyas are to Islam what Christian are to Judaism. And yet, in our area, the only ones that are talking openly and putting themselves out there are a) the Ahmaddiya community and b) not even from here! So boys and girls, ladies and gentleman, it's our kids in the schools, it's us that they're seeing in the grocery store, and we're the ones having picnics at the beach. We need to start putting ourselves out there. Or at least coming up with ways to do so, because, quite frankly, the only people talking are also the ones that are saying that the Muslim world persecutes them (and I do admit that in certain countries that is true) because the messiah has already returned, when in fact, Muslims (with the exception of this one small sect) do not believe that to be the truth. If we want people to understand who we are and what we believe, we need to somehow give people the opportunity to ask. To give dawah ourselves. But when this group comes into our community, tells a local Muslim woman she is not a real Muslim and generally insults the Muslim community in our small town, I'd really like to tell them to not come back, because if they can't respect the community that is already here they need not be here.
On to point number two.
There are certain groups of people that really should not be the first interaction that new Muslims - especially new, small town, never really exposed to Muslims outside of an online forum - should meet and interact with, without some sort of guidance of what (for lack of a better word) I call the moderate, western, mainstream, Muslim. Locally, I can think of one particular group. This group, had they been my first interaction, would have scared me far, far away from Islam. Upon meeting them, the first thing that I was told was that I needed to change my name and my children's names to "Muslim names." Now, let me make one thing clear - there are no such thing as "Muslim names." There are names that are not acceptable by Islamic standards (ie, naming your children names that are obviously another faith tradition, as are names that have a negative meaning and names in which the meaning would be tantamount to putting yourself/your child on the same plain as God) but any name, as long as it is not a "bad" name is a Muslim name, because it is the name of the person that is Muslim. What some people think of as "Muslim names" are in reality just Arab names. And that's fine. Many people choose a name when they convert of one of the Prophet Muhammad's (salallahu alayhi wa salaam) wives, original followers or even himself, and that's fine as well. But to tell people they have to choose a new name is just wrong. It is insulting to the person they are saying it to, as well as potentially the family that they were named after specifically. I found it insulting when they told me to change my children's names as if I hadn't actually put any thought into what we were naming them at birth.
I also have issues in the amount of weight they place on wearing the headscarf. When you're a female convert, here's the thing - sometimes you feel the need to put it on right away. Other times, it's a gradual step. And sometimes she'll never wear it accept to pray. We are told two things: 1) there is no compulsion in religion. If you are forcing yourself or someone to do something and saying it is compulsary, it becomes tricky and has the potential to become outside of the religion. Many of the laws you see passed in certain countries are actually outside of the religion (ie the burqa in Afghanistan). and 2) "O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the woman of the believers to draw their Jalalib all over their bodies. That will be better. That they should be known so not to be annoyed. And Allah is ever oft-forgiving, most merciful." While it is technically required, while it is something we will get more blessings for wearing, it is also something that is purely between the woman and God. It is not between the woman and the community, the woman and strangers, the woman and anyone else (though if she's married, it needs to be something she does discuss and agree on with her husband - before they ever get married).
This particular group is also rabidly against pets. Pun completely intended. Now, I get that the dog in Islam is to not a house pet. However, when they started in on me it became very evident very quickly that it was not a subject that was to be broached with me. And there are a couple of us that really do not have a clue what their issue with cats is. Cats are not verboten in Islam. Maybe in Pakistan, but not in Islam.
Ah. That would be another issue. Please, people, realize this - you are in Canada. When you meet those of us that have converted or are wanting to convert, trying to change us into Pakistani Muslims is so not cool. Realize that you are Pakistani. We are Canadian. We both have our traditions and our ways of doing things that are outside the scope of Islam. That have nothing to do with religion. We do not want to take on your cultural traits. We like ours, thank you very much. And also realize that the more you push, the more you are pushing converts away from the faith (as did temporarily happen to me, but with an online group way back shortly after I did my conversion when I had people telling me that I had to quit my job because I served pork to people *gasp!*) Now, while in this area the issue is that it is Pakistani culture that isn't being separated from religion, in other areas, it is other culture. It is hard enough for new Muslims to handle the religious part of the conversion - most especially when they feel they need to keep it secret, or when their family is outspoken in their non-support - that to add the fact the need to be able to separate "culture" from "religion" is too much to ask. I have heard of too many people who have left the faith due to this issue.
Now, this is not to say that all Pakistani Muslims are like this. Not by far. What I'm saying is that there is a select group in this area that are. And add to that the fact that some choose to follow the Wahabbi school just makes it all that much harder on those of us that they want to "lead" that don't want to be lead by them.
This is also not to say that all Muslims would force you to get rid of your pets, change your name or wear the headscarf. This is just my experience with this community and in the past few hours I've begun to wonder if someone else has not also just recently had this experience with them.
I just wish that if there were new Muslims in this area they could meet me and my friends first - especially the two of us that are western born and raised converts who've learned (sometimes the hard way) the difference between religion and culture.