How Allah Found Me in Texas
By Juan GalvanHow Allah Found Me In Texas Juan Galvan
I always wish there existed a way to tell Muslims I encounter that I made the decision to embrace Islam. I want them to understand how much I appreciate my faith and do not take for granted all the blessings Allah (SWT) has bestowed. All the people I have encountered in my life and my ultimate choice to revert to Islam are a part of my journey that has led me to where I am today.
I am a Texan-born, Mexican-American from modest roots. I was born in 1974 to migrant workers and had seven siblings. I spent most of my youth in small, rural towns in the Texas Panhandle with such unique names like Quitaque and Turkey. None had a mall, a movie theater, or even a fast-food restaurant. These towns were so small that a fire truck or police car siren meant either a neighbor's house was on fire or a neighbor was being arrested. Growing up in small communities gave me a significant amount of appreciation for the simplicity of God's creations.
I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and completed many of its sacraments such as first communion and confirmation. I recall the first time I received a jolt to my long-held religious beliefs. While in high school, a Christian friend told me that the Holy Trinity was not true and that Jesus was not God. "He is wrong, Jesus had to be God." I thought to myself. I argued that God and humanity were disconnected by Adam and Eve's sin. God sent His only "begotten" son to die for us because of His love for mankind. I believed that logically because only God forgives, Jesus had to be God. I even had Bible quotes to prove it; indeed, being a devout Roman Catholic I had read almost the entirety of the Bible. In high school, I was a lecturer, usher, Eucharistic minister, and religious education teacher at my church. The idea that Jesus was God just made so much sense.
Despite my strong faith, I always respected and sought out knowledge of other religions. I often attended other Christian churches and joined interfaith Bible study groups. During one of these study groups, I introduced myself to another participant as Catholic. He immediately responded that the Catholic Church was a "false doctrine". He accused me of worshipping Mary, the saints, and the Pope. I argued that we as Catholics only revere these individuals, especially someone as important as the mother of God! Despite my vocal protests, this encounter once again made me question my religious beliefs.
In 1998, I began to attend The University of Texas in Austin and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems in 2001--not bad for a kid who had to hoe cotton to pay for clothing and school supplies! While at UT, I continued learning about other faiths. It was during this time that I happened upon a man praying in the park. He was barefoot and was prostrated. As I had never seen a person pray in this manner, it piqued my interest. I approached him once he completed his prayer and introduced myself. He said his name was Armando and that he was a Muslim. Like many others who have never met a Latino Muslim, I thought this was odd. How could a Latino be a Muslim and pray to Allah? He spoke to me about Islam and shared so much knowledge. He taught me that Spain was ruled by Muslims for over 700 years and thousands of Spanish words have Arabic roots. Armando said that Jesus was a prophet and that nothing and no one is worthy of worship but Allah. I learned that Allah means God in Arabic, just like Dios does in Spanish. During this brief conversation, I began to realize that my "reverence" for Mary and the saints was much more than mere reverence.
The more I studied Islam, the more my questions about religion were answered. How can the Father be the Son? Why can't God just forgive anyone He wants? What happens to babies who die before baptism? I came upon a verse in the Quran that greatly affected me to the point of tears:
"And when they (who call themselves Christian) listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of the truth they have recognized. They say: 'Our Lord! We believe; so write us down among the witnesses.'" (Quran 5:83).
Despite this emotional experience, I remained a Christian, but they left a mark on me. I thought frequently of Islam and studied it briefly, but like many other non-Muslims contemplating Islam, I had fears. Would my family and friends reject me? Would I be accepted by other Muslims? Mostly I feared change and what the existence of God and His prophets would mean for my future. For the next three years, I tried to live an ordinary life and convince myself of my happiness. At this point I had utterly rejected my Christian beliefs. Sometimes I thought I was an atheist, and other times I believed at minimum I was an agnostic. No matter how much I tried to deny it, I would always return to the belief in one God.
It was during this period I had a life altering experience. As I was driving one Saturday morning, a red truck moved into my lane. I had no time to react and I found myself hitting the truck. I nearly died. My left lung collapsed and I needed a chest tube to survive. I had multiple broken bones and was hospitalized for several days. Under these circumstances, my priorities shifted from the worldly to the spiritual. Along with a greater appreciation for the Creator, came an intense desire to embrace the truth. Three years before my accident, I was given several Islamic brochures with titles such as: Concept of God in Islam and Who Was Jesus. I revisited these brochures along with comments from a Quran that I had stowed away.
A few months later on a Friday afternoon, I stepped into a mosque for the first time. One of my college friends encouraged me to go to the mosque with her cousin. He was dressed in what looked like to me green pajamas and a small hat. I was perplexed by the lack of shoes and chairs in the prayer area and the different dress. I also wondered where all the women were, and learned they had their own prayer area. But, what left the great impression was the unity Muslims exhibited when praying together, side by side.
I visited this mosque regularly for about a month before embracing Islam during the summer of 2001. I recall that day vividly. Before Maghrib (sunset) prayer, I whispered to my friend Golam that there is a lot of peace in knowing that I only have to worship one God. I didn't need to worship money or wealth, nor did I have to please the world. I merely believed that Islam was true and I wanted to become a Muslim. I had a moment of uncertainty and wondered if I would be a good Muslim, but these fears instantly subsided. After Maghrib prayer, it was time to say shahadah, the declaration of faith and officially become a Muslim. Golam stood up and faced the crowd announcing, "There's someone who will take shahadah. He attends the University of Texas. He grew up in Texas. He's been coming to the mosque regularly."
Next thing I knew, I was sitting in front of all the mosque attendants going through a "Muslim baptism" as a Christian friend once put it. I was handed a microphone and the Imam, or spiritual leader, told me to repeat his words in English and Arabic: I testify that there is no God but Allah. I also testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. After I took my shahadah, the Imam stated, "Congratulations. God forgives the sins of those who turn towards Him. And He can turn your previous bad deeds into good deeds." Everyone clapped and stood up to shake my hand or hug me. I felt very much at home. I tried hard not to cry, but failed.
I fell further in love with Islam while listening to talks about brotherhood, prayer, and charity. I found myself intrigued by brothers who found time to pray five times a day. Many were college students like me who had figured out ways to complete their obligatory prayers. I was amazed by people who could fast from sunrise till sunset for an entire month. I was impressed by the self-discipline and comradery exhibited by these Muslims, and understood the importance of setting a good example and being a respectable Muslim. Where would I be if Armando had not been praying in the park that day, fulfilling his obligation to God?
Following my conversion, I began the arduous process of notifying my family. My father's first questions were, "¿Qué es éso?" (What is that) and "Como los Árabes?" (Like the Arabs). I explained that it is a religion and was for everyone, not just Arabs who make up less than 25 percent of the entire Muslim population. My sister incredulously asked if I still loved Jesus and inquired how I could do this to the Virgin Mary. Patiently, I told her that I still loved Jesus but believed he is a prophet. I also shared with her the chapter in the Quran called "Mary". After the attacks of 9/11, I found myself defending Islam to my family. Trying to reason with my sister who said my leader Osama bin Laden was calling for a holy war. Assuring my parents that I was okay and not a terrorist. Not surprisingly, converting to Islam can be viewed as a huge radical change. Family may not understand why you would leave something that they love so much. One spends a lot of time dispelling misconceptions and providing education. My family did come around and wholly respect my religious beliefs. When I visit with my family, they are conscience to the fact that we do not eat pork or drink alcohol. My mom even makes my beloved tamales lard free!
A struggle occurs within everyone, every day, and everywhere. One thing I wish I had been told prior to my conversion, is to first embrace Islam if you believe it to be true and then work on becoming a better Muslim. Expectations may be the ideal, but reality can be much different. Every Muslim is born knowing nothing about Islam; they learn over time, never becoming perfect. So, have patience. You do not know the happiness that your Creator has in store for you.
My conversion story made me reflect upon how much my life has changed since my humble beginnings in the Panhandle of Texas. Sure, it has had its ups and downs, but the thread that ties these life stages together is my love of God and family. Becoming a Muslim led me to my wife and ultimately my best and most important job, fatherhood. Teaching my three sons how to pray and taking them to the mosque brings me so much happiness. Recently, while helping my eldest son and namesake recite surah Al-Fatiha, I was overcome with emotion thinking about all of Allah's (SWT) blessings. As I continue through my life's journey, I will remain cognizant of these blessings and use my knowledge and skill to help others come closer to Islam.
May Allah accept our efforts and good deeds and grant us forgiveness and guidance. All praise and thanks to Allah, the Majestic.