بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
“Say O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Az-Zumar, 39:53]
I was born in Zitácuaro, a small town 130 kilometres from Mexico City. Mexico has a long history which is dominated by the period when it was a Spanish colony. The country’s heritage is from the Aztec, Maya and other Pre-Hispanic civilizations and today continues to prevail over the nation’s customs. This legacy remains not only in the folklore, the food, the character and the looks of modern Mexicans but also in the way they have combined the pagan native religions with the Catholicism taught by the Spaniards. This is why like most Mexicans I also grew up as a Catholic in a very superstitious environment where it was difficult to escape from the Church. Catholicism dominated the nation to such an extent that after Brazil Mexico has the world’s largest population of Catholics in the world.
My parents baptized me with the name of Nadia and took me to a catholic school where I studied until the age of 12. I remember being very devout in my faith and also frustrated with my parents and friends with their lack of adherence to the religion. The teachings of Jesus عليه السلام were not reflected in the actions of those who were around me, and for me it was not clear what Jesus عليه السلام being the son of god meant, nor why we were supposed to accept this.
What really troubled me from a young age were the contradictions I saw in Mexican society. My father always reminded me that Jesus was a man like any other and could never have been god. Nuns at the same time told us not to worship saints but they would carry and kiss images of them. Being in the middle of all these contradictions and hypocrisy made me weak and confused, but yet I tried to practise Catholicism until my father stopped me from going to the Church, as he felt I was turning into a fanatic. He always saw religious people as brainwashed. All of this made me very unclear about the purpose of life and whether their even was a creator.
I had never come across Islam and all I knew was that Arabs had a god called Allah since I came across this in fairy tales such as Ali Baba and the forty thieves. All the books I came across at a young age never mentioned that Muslims from Spain and West Africa arrived in the Americas at least five centuries before Columbus. Nor that in the mid-tenth century during the rule of the Khaleefah Abdul-Rahman III (929-961), Muslims of African origin sailed westward from the Spanish port of Delba (Palos) into the “Ocean of darkness and fog.” They returned after a long absence with much booty from a “strange and curious land.” Official history books do not mention that people of Muslim origin are known to have accompanied Columbus and subsequent Spanish explorers to the New World.
Even now, Islam and Muslims are so alien to Mexicans that there are no reliable population figures (census) on the Muslim community. Some sources claim 300 whilst others 1500 in a population of more than 100 million. We know that between the years 1850 and 1860 a new massive immigration of Arab Muslims who came from Syria and Lebanon, settled in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia, but in Mexico there is hardly evidence to say that some Turkish immigrants could have brought Islam with them. It is very likely that the small Muslim community in Mexico is not older than three generations. In all Latin America, some estimates suggest there is less than a million out of a population of over 500 million. For all these reasons it is very difficult to actually come across Muslims not just in Mexico but Latin America.
I first came across Islam at college when I was studying literature, it was here I learnt of the Qur’an, but its history and contents were still unknown to me. When I moved to university which was in a much bigger city I studied communication science, this degree built in me the intellectual skills and an attitude that would later help me to grasp the wisdom of Islam. My degree built a strong idea of enquiry and critical thinking. Through this I came to enjoy science and became very interested in geopolitics. I remember being amazed after every lesson on linguistics, sociology and media studies on how the world worked. All of this made me think even more about the role of moral values in life.
Academically I was achieving good results, however, I was still not content as many questions were still unanswered. I was still not content with the answers Christianity provided me with regards God and Jesus.
It was when studying Business that I developed an almost obsession with productivity and efficiency. In a marketing lecture I reflected on the concept of God and trinity, is it like a promotional bundle, 3 in 1. Through my studies I came across a website on Islamic finance. After reading through the different Islamic products and how they were built upon Islamic evidences, I was taken aback by the idea that Islamic economics is Interest free. For me this was the first time I had come across a religion that actually discussed something very practical, I began thinking of Islam as a “living” religion. It was however after buying my first copy of the Qur’an that I became interested in Islam.
My first “Quran” was a Spanish translation edited by a non-Muslim publishing house. I wasn’t looking for it but it found me in a small town book fair. Pure destiny I believe. This happened sometime after I finished my degree and I had started to work. I think I was attracted to the book because I saw it as something exotic and out of this world, something that enclosed mystery and some ideas from far distant places and time. Still, my first reaction wasn’t a pleasant one, especially when I was reading Surah al-Baqara because it made me think of death and accountability.
لِّلَّهِ ما فِي السَّمَاواتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَإِن تُبْدُواْ مَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوْ تُخْفُوهُ يُحَاسِبْكُم بِهِ اللّهُ فَيَغْفِرُ لِمَن يَشَاء وَيُعَذِّبُ مَن يَشَاء وَاللّهُ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth, and whether you disclose what is in your own selves or conceal it, Allah will call you to account for it. Then He forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills. And Allah is Able to do all things.” [Al-Baqara, 2:284]
This ayah made me feel uncomfortable about myself, it was like if God himself was admonishing me and making me remember my obligations to him.
The oneness of God was in line with what my heart always believed, but what I had read in the Qur’an was a little bit harsh for me at the time, especially the ayah’s that said Allah سبحانه وتعالى doesn’t guide the disbelievers.
Islam began to make practical sense when I came across other Muslims online through an instant messaging service called ICQ, which I used in order to contact my university tutors when I was studying an MBA. The Egyptian sister contacted me due to my name Nadia, thinking I was an Arab. The sister was actually doing online dawah, subhanAllah. Many Muslims contacted me thinking I was an Arab so in a short span of time I had a number of online Muslim friends.
We discussed a variety of issues online, I remember thinking I should be a much better person than I was when we discussed about the rights of women in Islam, I realised I had actually lost a lot of self respect and I thought about the time I had wasted in finding the truth. I wanted to change, but I was already engaged to an atheist and my liberal life style was holding me back. I was according to Mexican society a liberated woman because I was independent and successful; however deep down I was unhappy, I couldn’t even talk about my ideas to my fiancé or family.
As time passed I became even more interested in Islam and began to discuss with even more Muslims online. After some discussion with a brother online it was not too difficult to return the diamond ring to my atheist fiancé. I then travelled to Egypt in 2004 to meet this brother and hopefully marry him and take my Shahadah. However things did not turn out the way I had planned, the brother was not what I expected and meeting face to face was a disappointment.
I learnt a lot about Islam by travelling to Egypt, being amongst Muslims I got to see for the first time Islam in practical life. This motivated me to change me lifestyle and habits. I thought I would rely on destiny and see how things went with regards to taking the shahadah.
I was in the process of changing my lifestyle when Allah سبحانه وتعالى severely tested me by putting me in a life and death situation. I remember being helpless on the side of the road at night in my car, crying in despair asking for Allah سبحانه وتعالى mercy and forgiveness. I repented and promised Allah سبحانه وتعالى to become a Muslim and to make the best out of my life for the sake of Him alone.
Still, after that, I found things very difficult as I thought there is no halaal food here in Mexico, there are no Muslim men to marry and who was going marry me in Mexico – will I stay single forever? I was working for an IT global consulting firm and hated my job, I was not happy and felt like I was not worthy of being a Muslim. So, out of depression I became duped by horoscopes, not knowing it was shirk but when the predictions went all ill-fated and started to actually happen then I knew it was a sign from Allah, so after that I thought to myself from this point onwards I would never neglect a promise to my Lord under any circumstances. I left my job and started to search for other Muslims in Mexico and found a group of Turkish Muslims who were giving talks in Mexico City. Finally with their support and Allah سبحانه وتعالى grace I took shahada in January 2005.
Since taking shahadah my life completely changed. For a few years the only halaal food I found was available to me was sea food and I was the only Muslim in my town. Allah سبحانه وتعالى then answered my duah’s and through the internet I found a brother from the UK who I was to marry. Today I am surrounded by lots of Muslims in the UK whom I have learnt so much from.
I am often surprised with my memories because they don’t feel like memories of mine anymore. Recalling the past makes me rejoice in gratitude and it brings tears to my eyes as well because I realise the mercy of Allah for giving my hidayah. I have had the opportunity to repent, rectify and move on in my deen. I finally found peace and true liberation in letting go of a Jahil lifestyle and giving up my own desires and seeking none’s but Allah’s pleasure. All questions in my life have now been answered. I know that my purpose in life is to worship Him alone, and to honour with all my actions and thoughts the privileged status he gave us within his creations.
I no longer need anything in this dunya to reassure me as a valuable worthy person because He سبحانه وتعالى has shown me love beyond human dimension. Alhamdulillah he made me a believer to see all this. I don’t listen to music anymore, nor do I waste my time in frivolous activities but rather in learning more about my deen and spreading the message of Islam. Some people say I am too strict and extreme but I always let them know that there are just different degrees of devotion and to those who are seeking, I always advice them to pray with sincerity and certainty that Allah is listening. I encourage them to ask from Allah guidance and strength to follow the right path. Things are not easy but we should not let our sins or the people we love hold us back from the love of Allah, nor the fear or comfort to divert us from the fulfilment of His commands. One should love Allah so much that this love would stand firm even if all the Muslims in the world ceased to believe. I pray reverts don’t let no one to stand in their path to Allah.
Verily He helps those who strive for His cause. Allahu Akbar.