My name is Keyla, I am a twenty-five year old American-Latina woman, and this is my conversion story.
I grew up in Long Island, New York where there are not very many Muslims. If there are, they have completely assimilated into the western culture.
The only reference I ever heard about Muslims was when the 9/11 attacks happened. I remember being sent home from elementary school. I had no idea what the fuss was about, and I’ve never heard of the Twin Towers.
I just knew something big was happening in the world.
Those attacks made the Western world fear terrorist, which they associated only with Muslims and Islam. I may have not been educated enough to understand what was going on in politics, but I did understand that no religion promoted hatred.
“A bad person, is a bad person”.
Religion in my family was never enforced. My parents believed in the Bible, and they were raised with Roman Catholic beliefs, but we never really attended church.
We celebrated Christmas, which was more about who got the best gifts from the ‘Big Guy’.
Since baptism and the first communion was important in my culture, I had to participate. And everyone in my family would’ve asked why we didn’t do it, if we didn’t. We were going through the motions, and never for religious reasons.
Growing up as a teen, I struggled with faith and identity. I wasn’t a terrible kid, but I never really had a good relationship with my mother, which affected me as a person. But that’s another story in itself.
At the age of eight, I experienced something no child ever should.
I was sexually abused by a close relative. Then after, my voice was silenced by the parent – who was my baby sitter – of my rapist. My complaints were swept under the rug.
The only person I confided with was my sister, because she was also sexually abused. These types of situations are prevalent, hidden and are never discussed within my culture. There are many girls who fall through the crack, simply because no one knew, and no one listened.
After my abuse, I acted out. I was hurt. Angry. I needed a way to heal. But I was not the ‘terrible’ child my family labeled me as.
I was troubled. In pain. Suffering.
I cut class, smoked cigarettes, lashed out in anger, ran away, and disobeyed my parents. It took me a while to find solace. Forgiveness. That what happened to me was not my fault.
I know now those weren’t the best ways to handle pain. But through those lash outs, I still managed to get good grades and be the first person in my family to graduate High School.
Consequently, I found myself wandering into a church when I ran away from home. But I never felt complete. Something was still missing inside. I didn’t feel that genuine connection with God.
Part of it had to do with the uncomfortable feelings I got from the stares people gave me.
They would size me up and down, check out how I was dressed. And if you were five minutes late, even when you were quiet coming in, those people would turn around like it was the end of the world. Their eyes were always judging you.
I started having doubts toward Catholicism because there were many different interpretations of the Holy Bible, and each one claimed to be the ‘correct’ version. I did not want my life to be guided through someone else’s interpretations that has been translated to manipulate thoughts, not facts.
Why was I worshipping an object? A cross for that matter? These idols believed to be Jesus, peace and blessing be upon him.
When I prayed, I didn’t actually know any Catholic verses, I just spoke to God, as if He was in front of me, sub han Allah.
Whenever I was in prayer, I did not pray to Jesus as God. In my heart, I believed Jesus was not and could not be the ‘son of God,’ but was a prophet – such as Abraham and Moses, peace and blessings be upon them.
Sub han Allah, I was Muslim without even knowing it!
My early twenties was unfavorable. I partied too hard, and drank too much with no worries. Though it was a type of release from my stress, I wasn’t happy inside. I searched for love in unhealthy situations, and made irrational decisions.
I was consumed by depression, and sunk into the sad reality of my emotions. Nothing in my life was going the way I wanted it to go, and I was lost. The same eight year old ‘self’ I thought was gone, came back.
My sister told me to look for help. She urged me to go to church or speak to a counselor. I told her I never received any benefit from going to church, and decided to look elsewhere for guidance.
I knew the life I was living was disruptive to my future.
I met a man from Yemen later, and we became very good friends. We got along and dated for a little while, but we had a ‘falling out,’ so we broke it off.
One day I found myself lost and locked up in my room. While I was in there, I suddenly received a text from the Yemeni brother, asking me if I was okay, and if he could talk to me. He called me after a few minutes later.
From my tone of my voice, he knew I needed help. I told him I was searching for something. Before I could finish my sentence, he stopped me and said “I am going to send you a book. I want you to read it in it’s entirety, and I promise you will feel so much better.” It was the best gift I received in my life.
I didn’t know what I was going to find in it, but in my heart I felt this is what I always needed. I started watching lectures on the internet from different scholars. I happened to stumble on and watched an animated movie of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him.
Tears were flowing from my eyes. There was never more clarity than in what I learned within the pages of the Qur’an. I even read everything I grew up learning in Cathacism!
It was as if my soul was enlightened.
I took my Shahada in the summer of 2014, and alhamdulillah. Allah guides who he wills, because the person who helped me recite my shahada is the person I am married to today – the brother from Yemen.
After more research, I learned that there is one interpretation of the Quran left that existed – la ilaha illa Allah; Muhammadur Rasul Allah! – which strengthens my belief in Islam even more.
Sub han allah, the doors of clarity were opening for me. I was able to memorize Surat Al-Faatiha in Arabic just a month after my conversion. I was excited to have accepted Islam.
Coming out to my family in the summer of 2014 about my conversion was not as bad as I thought.
I eased them into it slowly, and didn’t want them to think this was just another phase in my life. They were all happy that I finally found something that will straighten me out, and give me a sense of guidance that I couldn’t really get from my parents.
The biggest give away that I became Muslim was when they fed me pork, and I didn’t know. I immediately ran to the bathroom and started washing my mouth out profusely!
The second sign of my reversion, was turning down alcoholic drinks from my family – Dominicans are known to be huge partiers and drinkers! My wardrobe was another obvious ‘tell.’
I took Islamic courses in college, which covered politics and geography. It wasn’t until the middle of class semester that I told myself I wanted to observe the hijab outside my prayers. But I was afraid of what people may say.
It was my sister who convinced me that it was going to be okay, reassuring me that this is for my self, not for anyone else. So the next day I wore my hijab, and became late for class.
It felt like church again with those stares! Awkwardly, I felt my classmates thought I was a new girl, until the professor pointed me out! What’s more, alhamdulliah I met other Muslims in that class.
It was a blessing from Allah!
Two years later, I decided to get married for love – to my Yemeni friend, and now my husband. Although, culturally it is hard for us to be accepted in his family, we are still managing to live only by our deen.
He is truly amazing. He met me at my worst, and he helped through my healing process. I met his sisters and they welcomed me into the family.
They showed me how to put the hijab on the correct way, and started wearing formal abayas every day. I finally have a chance to build a family I always wanted to grow up with – with the love, peace, and strong values Islam teaches.
I’m not going to say everything has been all ‘daisies.’ Of course, with all the wars going on I have faced my own share of discrimination from ignorant people, especially within the workplace.
I know it’s all a test, and “sabr” [patience] is what I need most to move forward with our future.
Furthermore, the knowledge that my life is within Allah’s will, washes all of my worries away.
Asalam alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatu.
Originally posted 2016-07-24 17:13:31.