The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the entire world, with more than 250 million infections and over 5 million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The pandemic caused many countries, including the U.S., to implement in 2020 emergency shutdown protocols, forcing everyone to stay at home. Our masajid were closed for much of last year, including all of Ramadan. Instead of having iftar at the masjid and praying Taraweeh together with our brothers and sisters in faith, we ate and prayed at home, missing the bonding experiences of sharing meals and praying side by side. And instead of having big community celebrations for Eid, we had a quiet Eid at home with our families. Those who live alone, and especially new Muslim converts, spent Ramadan and Eid alone.
So, many say that Ramadan 2020 was the “loneliest Ramadan” they ever experienced and how difficult it was to achieve their Ramadan goals without the spiritual boost of congregational prayers at the masjid and breaking bread with their brothers and sisters. What many of us may not realize is that the feeling of loneliness and isolation is how many converts to Islam feel on a daily basis. Embrace is a convert care and empowerment organization, led by converts for converts, that establishes social and educational spaces for Muslim converts to grow, connect, be empowered, and establish long-lasting brotherhood and sisterhood connections that many converts have difficulty finding in the larger Muslim community.
Founded in the Dallas – Ft. Worth area of Texas in mid-2017, Embrace has been establishing consistent programming for converts that addresses both their social and educational needs. Such programs include weekly study circles where both traditional and contemporary topics are discussed, classes for recent converts, monthly community building programs and events such as potlucks and family game nights, our annual convert conference, and the like. Ramadan was a very special time for Embrace, conducting daily iftars for the converts in the DFW area at either the home of one of our Embrace members or at our weekly study circles. We would then conclude the Ramadan season with an Eid celebration, giving gifts to the children and a holding a raffle for the adults. Converts experienced a busy and connecting time, sharing the beautiful meaning and purpose of fasting and celebration with their brothers and sisters. Seeing Embrace’s work in DFW inspired converts in other areas to emulate the effort and they established chapters in Texas, Connecticut, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and California.
Then the pandemic happened, forcing Embrace and all other organizations and masajid to shut down in-person events and programs. This caused concern for many converts, worrying that they would feel isolated, perhaps even more so than after their embrace of Islam. Embrace leadership knew something had to be done to continue caring for the convert community despite the new limitations brought about by the pandemic. The following are details of the various virtual programs Embrace launched to keep the convert community engaged and connected during the pandemic.
Staying Connected During a Pandemic
First and foremost, Embrace needed to adapt the regular weekly study circles to the online environment. Zoom was utilized to continue Embrace’s weekly studies, but instead of a lecture, Embrace focused on book discussions. Each participant was encouraged to read so as to contribute more actively to the discussion. Embrace covered a variety of books, covering topics like the fundamentals of fiqh to contemporary issues like mass incarceration in the U.S. Discussions were livestreamed on Embrace’s social media platforms for those who could not utilize Zoom.
These study circle discussions were increased to multiple study circles a week, led by various Embrace chapters across the country on different days. Since discussions were happening online, anyone could participate regardless of where they lived. This allowed converts of different regions to connect with one another, building brotherhood and sisterhood across state borders. This approach allowed Embrace to cover many topics a week, providing converts with a broad-based education. “Hadith Rush” was launched for Thursday evenings, during which individual Embrace members were given the opportunity to lead a discussion on various authentic Bukhari ahadith, with the supervision of one of Embrace’s educators.
After “Hadith Rush” concluded, it was followed up with “Seerah Rush.” Using a biography of Prophet Muhammad, “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad,” one chapter was covered by a different Embrace member each week. These programs were focused on providing leadership opportunities for converts by giving a platform for them to lead discussions and teach what they’ve learned. For Fridays, Embrace launched its weekly “Friday Reminder” to fill in for in-person Jumuah prayer. For weekends, Embrace established a Saturday morning “Virtual Coffee/Tea Chat” for sisters, focused on promoting sisterhood and individual growth. This weekly event provided a welcoming space for sisters of varying spiritual levels to grow together. With these programs and others, Embrace was servicing the convert community during the pandemic virtually every day, connecting with converts from across the nation and even internationally.
For Ramadan 2020, Embrace conducted regular online programs to ensure converts stayed connected during this precious time. While no one was able to have in-person iftars, Embrace conducted virtual iftars every day during Ramadan. With virtual iftars, converts from across the nation could enjoy each other’s company during iftar, through Zoom. Attendees were encouraged to turn on their cameras and a different Embrace member would introduce a topic of conversation every day, keeping the conversation casual and light-hearted. After the virtual iftar, converts’ spiritual hunger was satisfied through Embrace’s “Qur’an Rush” program. An Embrace member would lead a discussion on a juz (one of thirty roughly equal sections) of the Qur’an, covering primary themes found in that juz. A document developed by a reputable scholar was utilized by the presenter to lead the discussion. Through “Qur’an Rush,” Embrace’s convert community was able to have discussions on all thirty juz of the Qur’an.
Embrace’s Eid celebration was also adapted for the virtual environment, conducting various performances and “My First Ramadan” testimonials from Muslims who recently converted. Eid gift packages were created by Embrace members and delivered to convert families in DFW or shipped to convert families in other states. In many ways, Embrace has been able to serve the convert community across a wider spectrum than before the pandemic. Converts from across the nation were able to interact and build long-lasting friendships with Muslims in other states, creating a broader foundation of mutual support.
Many were introduced to Embrace during the pandemic and now consider themselves a proud member of Embrace’s growing family. Still, converts are an underserved demographic in the Muslim community, with too many eventually leaving Islam due to lack of support. Our American Muslim community, however, needs converts as much as they need us, as they are our best means of connecting with the general American populace. With Allah’s permission, Embrace will continue to do its utmost to serve the convert community and help them grow, ready to adapt to any situation that may come our way to ensure that this important part of the Muslim community continues to grow.