What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Alejandra.
I grew up in a lower-income household. My father was disabled, and my mother gave up her dreams to support us. I was the youngest of three girls. We were not a typical Hispanic household. We didn’t speak like them, didn’t act like them, or dress like them. We always attended a Christian school. It was very important to my mother that my sisters and I have a good education. And she believed this could only be accomplished at a Christian school. We didn’t really pray at home or open the Bible. Although all of us could debate about theology, it was just that– an intellectual discourse. We were of house of intellectuals– poor ones in more than one way.
My childhood was a series of highs and lows. Some days we had enough to eat, some days we didn’t. Some days we would all be a big happy family, other days there were beatings and verbal abuse. Some days we had freedom to go to the mall or movies by ourselves, some days we couldn’t get to the mail box without getting in trouble. Let’s just say I grew up with two emotionally unstable adults as parents.
What I learned about Christianity came from school. We had Bible classes and a weekly chapel where we sang and listened to a sermon. I never really thought about my faith. Everything we learned in school had God all over it– from science to history.
I don’t believe I ever had an emotional connection to Jesus. When I prayed it was always to God. Instead of saying in Jesus name I pray, like some people do, I would say in His name I pray leaving Him intentionally ambiguous. Oh, I could have told you about the egg, the apple, or whatever– three parts, one God, but I didn’t believe it. I could have told you that Jesus died for your sins, and all you have to do is believe in him and you’re saved, but I didn’t believe it. Whenever I spoke about my faith I spoke about God.
I was always described as an unhappy child. I think I unnerved some adults. I didn’t have that sweet exterior that you expect from a girl who has been raised inside the church. Everyone around me seemed so perfect, but I had frizzy hair, buck teeth, and eye glasses that were always a little crooked. I know it seems silly to say things like this. What does religion have to do with your appearance?– but to a teenage girl it means everything. I always felt defective, and the adults around me seemed to agree. I felt unwanted and unprotected. I know at this point Christians would say to turn to Jesus. He can make you whole. Oh, I wanted to believe that. We would sing songs in chapel, and I would cry. They would think I was worshipping God, but really I was just crying.
As I got older my parents’ health continued to deteriorate. I would always go through stages of trying to please them and trying to get away from them. When they passed away, I finally felt relief. Relief for them. Relief for myself. I could finally be someone else. I could break away from my family and reinvent myself. And that’s exactly what I did. I was promiscuous. I experimented with drugs. I drank. Anything to comfort myself. I wandered around for a year alone, from job to job, hotel to hotel. My entire goal for the day was just to survive. In the fall of 2008, I attempted suicide twice. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to live; I just didn’t have anything to live for. And on the hospital bathroom floor, I cried and prayed to God.
I continued living my life-- the only life I felt I deserved. I would work long hours sometimes at two jobs. I would sleep all day. I felt absolutely nothing. I craved company and the same time couldn’t deal with the people around me. I wanted someone to take me in his arms. To wipe the slate clean.
I met Ammar in March 2009. I’m not going to go into the details of how we met. They really don’t matter. Allah had placed many people in my life before Ammar. Ones that tried to warn me about my attitude, my lifestyle, my faith. Ones that made me want to be better than myself. But no one really stuck around. They always moved on or I moved away. Somehow our relationship would always end. When I met Ammar I was being evicted from my apartment. Ammar heard about this, and offered to help. I knew he was looking for a wife, but I didn’t think he was offering help to marry me. I didn’t think he was interested in me. I thought I would live with him until I saved enough money to get back on my feet, or hopefully he would give me money and I would be on my way. Sigh. That’s how I thought back then. I packed up all my clothes in a small suitcase and went to live with him not knowing what to expect.
For the first week, we didn’t talk much. We asked questions and spoke about our childhoods. I watched him. I watched how he interacted with others. How he protected me. How he noticed when my shirt was low-cut or would ride up, he’d offer me his jacket. How he told me I shouldn’t be smoking– that is was bad for my fertility. And I watched him pray. I saw a man bow down to God. It was the first time I had ever seen something like this. Of course, I had seen people on the floor crying to God in church. I saw people fainting and throwing themselves on the ground. But I had never seen someone bow down with a clear head– out of duty, respect, and reverence. I wanted in on that!
Every chance I got, I was on the Internet looking up Islam. I found good sites and horrendous sites. I was confused. I couldn’t get my hands on enough books. I went back to the beginning. I tried to understand why I couldn’t believe in Christianity. Why I couldn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God. Once I could say that– once I could say Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me, I could move on.
As I started reading more about Islam, I realised that this is what I had always believed. This is what I had been looking for. One God. One God to tell me what I had to do. To tell me what I was living for. I finally had all the answers to all the questions I didn’t know I had been asking. I felt at peace for the first time in my life.
One week after I had moved in with Ammar, we went to the mosque. I was going to meet a Hispanic convert, Ameenah. I really didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I thought it would involve some sort of animal sacrifice or blood ritual. A woman outside the mosque tied a headscarf around my hair. As I walked up to the women’s section, I caught my relection in the door. I silently prayed to God for guidance. If Islam is really true, make this easy.
After the prayer, I met up with Ameenah. She had her friend, Roxanna, with her. They gave me a Quran and some pamphlets. Roxanna asked me if I would like to say the Shahada (declaration of faith) that day. I smiled and mumbled that I should probably research some more. She asked me If I believed there is only one God. I said yes. If I believed that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah. Yes, again. Ok then, she said, what are you waiting for? Go take your Shahada! We looked for a sheik and I made my declaration of faith. I was now a Muslim. Women congratulated me, hugged and kissed me.
Ameenah and I were going to out to lunch. Ammar came over to her car, and spoke to us. I didn’t know what to say. I still had the headscarf around my head. I didn’t know if I should take it off. We told Ammar where we were going, and told him he could meet us there after lunch. And off we went. At the restaurant, Ameenah and I spoke about Islam. She told me about her marriage and how she converted. I nodded and smiled a lot. She asked me about my relationship with Ammar. I told her I didn’t really know anything yet– if we would get married or not. We had only known each other for a week! When he arrived she questioned him while I was in the restroom adjusting the scarf around my head. Picking and pulling at it.
It was decided that we would get married that night. Ammar and I drove around for a while making phone calls, getting witnesses. We were all meeting at AAA. Again, I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know why animal sacrifices popped into my head, again! I turned to Ameenah and said I didn’t really understand what was happening. She laughed and said, You’re getting married! And we did. We were married.
It’s been three years since I’ve converted. It hasn’t been easy, in fact, it’s been a painful journey. I had to face the fact that everything I had been taught since childhood was untrue. I want you to know that I tried. That I prayed. That I loved (and still love) God with all my heart. The Christianity will always be with me. That my memories of Christmas and Easter are precious. That it wasn’t you, but me. That no person “failed me.” That there wasn’t anything for you to do. You don’t have to save me. Because God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful has done it.