I’ve written about this before, but it is something that I was reflecting on again today: new Muslims (or not so new Muslims) and the “imposter syndrome.”
I’ve never said it in quite those terms before, but I have written many, many times about how many new Muslims feel that they are not quite “Muslim enough.” This could be because of pressures from friends or the community, or it could come from the new convert’s own insecurities. Often, it is a combination of these two things that make new Muslims feel like they will never be “real” Muslims, “good” Muslims, or even just taken seriously as Muslims.
I myself experienced this to some degree, but it is something I have largely gotten over. When I first converted I had the amazing blessing to be spiritually “raised” in such a lovely and tolerant community. None of my new friends or acquaintances ever made me feel less than or different, and they all encouraged me to grow in my own time and way, and alhamdulillah for that.
It was when I moved to the U.K., however, that I really began to feel how much of an outsider I am. In the community in North West London, it is very much based on cultural cliques, and my American-self didn’t quite fit anywhere. Not to mention that any time I stepped out of the house, all the Muslim eyes were on me, looking at (and sometimes commenting on) what I was wearing, where I was going, what I was doing. I began to have feelings not really of not being Muslim enough, but of never being able to show everyone else that I am indeed Muslim enough.
Over time and with a lot of work on my self-confidence, I have come to realise that as long as I am practising my religion, it is not my job to make sure anyone else knows that I am a real Muslim. If they want to explain what a mosque is to me or how to pray, though I have been doing it for nearly three years now, I can zone out and politely say “thanks!” as I run away. If they want to tell me that my jilbab is the wrong shade of black, I can take that with a grain of salt and a slight eye-roll in private.
I still struggle sometimes with feeling like I am not up to scratch when I start comparing myself to everyone and their mother, but that is something that we will all experience as humans every now and again, and something that we just have to learn to deal with as it comes up.
Where the imposter syndrome really kicks me in the behind, however, is when I start reflecting on why me?
“People are like gold and silver; those who were best in jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance) are best in Islam, if they have religious understanding…” Narrated in Muslim
Sometimes I think about my life before Islam and wonder what made me like any sort of gold or silver, worthy of the transformation that I have gone through? At best I could’ve been some of that rusty ol’ green copper that you find on old monuments and buildings. But Allah is the Seer of what is in all hearts, and He is the Best of planners. Obviously He knew something about me then that even I didn’t know about myself, and still to this day wonder about.
Before Islam I wasn’t particularly into religion, and I didn’t really care what comes next. At best death was a grand new adventure, at worst something that’s just going to happen anyway, so I was never bothered with it. Yeah, I was good at following rules, and I have ever been the A+ student, but I also was good at drinking hard cider and dancing to country music, so…. Not to mention being loud in my feminist-y opinions, and definitely a proponent of the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” attitude.
It is strange to see how much of my personality did not match up with Islam, yet how readily my heart opened to it. Sometimes I wonder if it was all a big accident.
But Allah swt is Perfect, and He does not make mistakes.
As I wrack my brain for what it could be that was good in me before Islam, and became better with Islam, only one thing comes to mind. I am strong-minded and determined, and if I make a decision I will go at it with my heart, body and soul. Before, I didn’t really have anywhere to channel that; I think that is often why I came off as so rough and callous, kind of like a brick wall that could care less whether you drove into it or it fell on your head.
It left me running willy-nilly in life, always looking for the next thing to channel that passion into. But as I have fallen in love with this religion (and gained some of that “religious understanding” mentioned above), I have found a productive way in which to expend all of that determination and drive. Islam is a lifelong journey, and there is always the next step for me to take. I can use all of that momentum moving in the same direction, and in shaa Allah all to improve myself and help others improve themselves through Islam.
It may not be a quality like Abu Bakr’s honesty or Omar’s (radiAllahu anhum) bravery, but in shaa Allah it is something small that I can hold on to, and be proud of. It is the thing that keeps me going when I feel like “not enough” of anything, and in shaa Allah it is what will help me to always have a better tomorrow than yesterday!