(May Peace be upon you)
Q1) I know that Islam is against all forms of racism (as am I), however I had a feeling that even if I converted, the people wouldn't regard me as one of them. I'd be seen as someone who is pretending to be a Muslim" which is saddening.
A: Whenever a person is new to an environment he/she always feels left out, out of place. Like if you go to a new school, have a new job, everyone there already knows everyone else, and since your new you might feel a little different and left out. Now when you went to the mosque, im pretty sure the people knew each other, and had a connection, so slowly if you convert and start going to the mosque, you will get to know everyone eventually and you'll be one of them, so don't worry about the feeling out of place part, its a whole new thing for you. I'm sure your not used to be around muslims...
Also, the way you feel, that if you convert, people won't regard you as one of them, thats actually not true. We as muslims are taught that we ALL are one whole family, sisters and brothers, no matter what your race is, what color you are, what language you speak, how you look, your a muslim. Anyone who read the shahadah is one us. I have many convert friends, and always meet many more converts at muslim holidays and parties, etc, in the beginning they feel wierd but then once they make friends they feel like one of us too. But remember its a human thing that cling with people who are from their same mother tongue and race, so you would see people in groups, like pakistanis together, bangalis together, arabs, converts, etc...thats the way this world works, I myself don't like it, but people have a habit of making friends with ones who share their culture. You might feel like a white guy in front of some people, but we also feel like just some pakistani in front of arabs..etc..But, from our origin we all are a family, like yesterday I went for eid prayer, EVERYONE was greeting, hugging EVERYONE else, no matter who they were, if they knew them or not....
Thats why we pray together in the form of a congregation. Everyone comes together stands in one row, next to eachother, and they all bow in front of one God "ALLAH", no matter who they are, where they are from.
Q2) What does Islam offer to Converts, that other religions don't/cant?
A: Converts get the advantage of starting from a new clean start piety, with absolutely no sins, like a new born baby is clean of sins. Thats why islam teaches us to never say bad about any muslim sinner, or non muslim, and the wisdom in that is you never know, a muslim sinner could stop his sins and become a better muslim than you, and a non muslim could accept islam and become a much better pious muslim than you.
Islam is the truth so you actually have nothing to loose. If you spend this short life in the state of a good pious muslim, you will have a wonderful paradise of which no one has ever dreamed, thought of, saw, heard of before, waiting for you in the hereafter.The unambiguous and uncompromising belief in the Unity, the Greatness, the Wisdom of God, the Creator of the universe, is unparalleled among other religions.
One of the missionaries was insightful enough to say the following: "Islam brought out the fundamental dogmas of the Unity and Greatness of God, that He is mindful and Righteous. It proclaimed the responsibility of man, a future life, a Day of Judgement and stern retribution to fall upon the wicked, and enforced the duties of prayer, alms-giving and fasting. It replaced monkishness by manliness, it gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind and recognition to the fundamental facts of human nature."
If anyone makes a mistake or sins all he has to do is ask for forgiveness truthfully from his heart, no blood sacrifice is required, nothing. Also islam is one whole true religion, there are no holes in it, all questions can be answered, no confusion. The theological, social and even scientific arguments of the Quran are free from contradictions and when applied even on a personal and private level, people's experience is that it simply works. Also, for every other religion you will find more than one of their holy books, all different and changed,like there are several bibles today, and they are all different, written by humans, but islam has just ONE book, which has never been changed...people know it by heart, its the same book our prophet Peace be upon him brought from God 1400 years ago. Its not written by humans, but its our gods 'ALLAH's words.
Q3) 2. What is the status of a Convert to Islam in comparison to a born Muslim?
A: Have you ever sat at a table with delicious food in front of you that some one else prepared for you, without having to do a single thing. What about going crazy in the kitchen cooking for your family all by yourself, and then serving the food to everyone else, and ending up being the last one to start...and in the end the food ends up cold? Well the first one are us muslims, who were born muslims. The latter are converts. We didn't do anything to be a muslim, we were just born that way, so we take it for granted. But converts spend years researching for the truth, and then when they finally find it, they work very hard day and night to do everything right, learn how to pray, what to do before that, what to wear, say, the teachings of islam, so in the end they make sure they dont slip, and do something which is prohibbited. Just like in the example of the food, the first person takes the food for granted, he eats it up in minutes and leaves the table. The second knows how long it took him to make it, and he enjoys every bite. From my experience I've found converts to be more religious than born muslims, because they gove importance to it, and work hard to do everything they can for it.
There are many muslims today who arent true muslims, they have forgotten their religion and have started to go astray, because they take it for granted, they never had to work hard to get it, they were born muslims, but converts have dedication towards their religion, and they always keep its teachings ahead of them.
Q4) Why is it required to pray in the Arabic language, and not in my native tongue?
A: Islam teaches unity. All muslims are one whole family, and thats why we have one language that we all share. If you could pray in your own language, people wouldnt come together at this time to pray together, you'd have people here and there some praying in chinese, some in english, spanish, french, urdu...How would they have unity? Arabic is such a vast language, no other can take the place of it, one sentence has such deep meanings which no other language can do. There are people who have explained 7 lines of the quran in books of hundreds of pages. Can you do that with english? Its the language of our holy book, the prophet, and paradise. You can make other prayers in your own language, but salah is different, it wouldnt be the same without arabic, plus you can learn the definition of what is read in salah, and pray from your heart.
(I really hope I didnt bore you with long answers, I just didnt want to leave anything out, I also hope my answers help show you the truth.)