These days most of us might not see the appeal of red camels, but we can certainly appreciate the wealth and prestige that red camels represented at that time. Today’s equivalent might be a Mercedes-Benz or Cartier jewelry – luxurious status symbols that almost anyone would love to own. So imagine the breathtaking rewards in store for us if Allah (SWT) chooses to guide someone by us! Being a mentor for a new Muslim is an amazing opportunity to please Allah (SWT).
For the second part of my series on how to support new converts, I wanted to explore the kind of impact an effective mentor can have on the life of a new Muslim. To find the answer, I interviewed several sisters and asked them if, in their early days as a Muslim, they had been inspired or helped by a more experienced sister. If so, what did she do to assist them?
It was clear from the converts’ answers that their mentors had an enormous and meaningful impact on their life. Without exception, the sisters I interviewed had loving and grateful words for the women who stood by them as they began their journey towards Allah (SWT). As I immersed myself in their fascinating and heartwarming stories, I noticed that several words kept turning up: “non-judgmental,” “patient,” “caring,” and “encouraging.” These are clearly some of the main attributes of an excellent role model and the characteristics that we should all keep in mind if we are ever blessed to serve as an adviser to a new sister.
Ana Bdaiwi, a Mexican/American sister who is a mother of five, remembers her first mentor, whom she met twenty-three years ago. “When I first accepted Islam at the age of nineteen, I had a mentor, Angie, who was also a convert,” she explains. “When I would see Angie, I would see Islam. She was beautiful in character and manners, always polite and most respectful. She would always ask if things were too overwhelming or not explained clearly. She always cleared things up and made sure she left a positive impression of Islam, since she was an ambassador of her deen.”
“I often felt I wasn’t doing things right,” admits Ana, “but Angie encouraged me to keep trying. After three months of lessons with her, I decided I was ready to sport my scarf. I was embarrassed for not doing so prior to that. But she never judged me. She did, however, lay the facts out. I was extremely intrigued by everything she said about Islam. She taught me so many details that I’m so very grateful to her. One of the most important things I learned from Angie, apart from the importance of tawheed, was the importance of humility. Prior to Islam, I was rather conceited. I stomped it out from my life rather immediately, alhamdulillah, because Angie told me, ‘Allah is pure and Islam is pure, so a believer should be, too.'”
Just as Ana was taught and inspired by a more experienced Muslimah, she, in turn, became a mentor. Sister Liliana, a mother of two who embraced Islam in January, 2014, is one of the sisters whom Ana has helped. “I feel very blessed and loved by Allah to have Ana Bdaiwi and Hajar Jaidi as my mentors,” Liliana explains. “When things became complicated and I became distant, these individuals stayed caring, loving, considerate and understanding. They did not judge me and only showed support. They never pushed and were always gentle. Most important for me, they never gave up or forgot. This touched me in ways I can never repay.”
Some converts, like Asiyah Shazareen Khan, had to overcome especially difficult situations on their path to practising Islam. For people like Asiyah, the mentors were more than teachers; they were like loving family members. Asiyah explains, “I was born into a Muslim home and knew the basics of Islam but it wasn’t until 2012 that I first started to research Islam on my own. I was in an abusive relationship prior to accepting Islam, and it took months of counselling and encouragement from many organisations, family members and friends before I had the self-awareness and courage to declare my faith. The first sister who opened her heart to me and taught me self-discipline was Cahide Sen. She woke me up for Fajr. She counselled me continuously and patiently. She fed me and housed me when I didn’t have a job and still puts up with me to this day.”
Asiyah also benefited from an official support group. “I feel very blessed,” she says, “in that I have been able to access assistance from the Islamic Institute of Orange County’s new Muslim Mentor Program, which is phenomenal. My mentor, Sr. Anita Bond-Salama, is like a mother to me. She helps me talk things through and provides emotional support and practical tips on how to be successful in incorporating the basics of Islam into my daily life and routine.”
Antoinette Hatchell, who embraced Islam in March, 2014, considers herself a lifelong journeyer who has finally found the right path. Like Asiyah, her mentor is Anita Bond-Salama. “She’s been more than a mentor; she’s been a good friend,” says Antoinette. “She’s an amazing person.”
“I took my shahadah after studying world religions for many years,” explains Antoinette. “Attending an open house at a mosque really started me on my journey. I met Muslims, asked questions and started learning about the history of the Prophet (SAW). I was fascinated. I took my shahadah and got a phone call that very same day from Anita. She offered to be my mentor. She helped me with salah first of all; establishing my five daily prayers was the first priority. Then she helped me get through my first Ramadhan and even met me at the taraweeh prayers.”
“The main lesson Anita taught me,” says Antoinette, “is take things slow and easy, one step at a time. A new convert can get overwhelmed with so many things. She kept me grounded and realistic. She told me to watch out for what I saw on the Internet and to beware of anything that didn’t ring true.”
“My goal,” declares Antoinette, “is to be a mentor to someone else when I have grown in the religion. I think everyone should be assigned a mentor for at least a full year. It’s critical to their spiritual development. You need a guide so you don’t get lost. Anita has been an amazing guide for me.”
Vaidehi Majmundar, originally from India, was also blessed to have a life-changing mentor. Years ago, when she accepted a job in Dubai, she met a remarkable sister who took her under her wing and taught her about Islam. “In my job as a manager of a health and fitness facility,” explains Vaidehi, “one of my clients was a lady from India, like me. Her name was Mehjabeen Hassan. Mehjabeen and I hit it off right from the beginning because I think I was mesmerised by her personality, which was very calm and peaceful. She was an intelligent lady and had constructive input on everything. Every time I got a chance to talk to Mehjabeen, she was eloquent, compassionate, caring, realistic and a true friend.”
“Whenever I borrowed books from her or visited her house,” remarks Vaidehi, “she would make me feel as if I was part of her family. Her kids would call me aunty. Her husband would graciously give us time to talk. She defended me when people tried to take advantage of me. She truly wanted what was the best for me. She was concerned how my parents would take my conversion to Islam, and advised me accordingly. I do not remember even once she mentioned the word ‘compassion’, but I learned compassion from her actions and her speech.”
“After I left Dubai,” continues Vaidehi, “Mehjabeen and her family left Dubai as well and went to Canada, where they currently reside. I have lost sister Mehjabeen’s contact information, and I regret that every day! Through this article, I hope insha Allah, Allah (SWT) will put me back in touch with this beautiful sister and friend.”
It is clear from these testimonies that the kind of mentors who truly help converts are empathetic, tolerant and gentle. Like the noble Ansar of Madinah who generously housed, fed and protected their Muslim brothers and sisters from Makkah, a great mentor embodies the Islamic ideal of sisterhood and generosity. Surely, Allah (SWT) has enormous rewards in store for the ones who guide others by His mercy.
Laura El Alam is a wife, mother of four, homeschooler and writer, but she wishes she were a brilliant scientist, so she could clone herself. If she had two or three other Lauras around the house, she might manage to get everything done.