How Allah Found Me in Texas
By Juan Galvan
Remembering My Shahadah
Before Maghrib Prayer, I told my friend Golam, "There's lots of peace in knowing that I only have to worship one God. I don't worship money, wealth, or any of that. I don't have to please the world." Golam nodded.
"Recently," he stated, "Look at the Americans. They have all kinds of freedom. You would think everyone should be happy, yet so many people are unhappy."
I simply believed that Islam was true and I wanted to become a Muslim. But would I be a good Muslim? Maybe! Maybe not! I was thinking about this until prayer time came. Afterwards, it would be time to say Shahadah, the declaration of faith. I would officially be a Muslim.
Golam stood up and faced the crowd and announced, "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 realized was that I was sitting in front of the people in the mosque. I was about to go through a "Muslim baptism" as a Christian friend once put it.
The imam said, "Brother, what is your name?"
"Juan Galvan," I responded.
I was handed a microphone. He told me to repeat what he said. The Arabic I said wasn't exactly as I had practiced. I had the paper I used to practice in front of me. I wish I could remember exactly what was said.
"I testify that there is no God but Allah. I also testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger." Then he stated, "I also testify that Jesus is His servant and prophet. God has no son and no mother."
I recalled how adamant Muhammad was to never be worshiped as a God. Stating that Jesus was also God's prophet reminded me about the significance of Jesus within Islam.
After I said the 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 then stood up to shake my hand or hug me. I felt very much at home. I tried hard not to cry. All Muslim converts have had experiences that brought them to Islam.
I wish there were a way I could tell all the Muslims I've ever met that I've embraced Islam. I want them to know how much I appreciate them for telling me about Islam. Meeting all those Muslims was a part of a series of events that brought me to where I am today.
I am a Mexican-American who comes from a modest background. I was born in Lockney, Texas, in 1974. I spent my adolescent and teenage years in such small Texas Panhandle towns as Quitaque, Turkey, Lakeview, and Memphis. None of them has a mall, a movie theater, or a McDonald's.
In these small towns, if you hear a fire truck or police car, either your neighbor's house is on fire or your neighbor is being arrested. Memphis, Texas, population 2,300, proudly proclaims itself "The Cotton Capital of the World."
I spent over half my life in Turkey and Quitaque. Turkey was named after Turkey Creek. Quitaque was named after an Indian name, which means "horse manure." I sometimes joke that I am uncultured as a result.
The population of both towns is less than 600 and shrinking. In 1972, the Turkey and Quitaque schools consolidated creating Valley School halfway between the two towns. I attended Valley School and have fond memories of life as a Valley Patriot.
Of course, our school colors were red, white, and blue. Growing up in small communities gave me much appreciation for the simplicity in God's creations. A brother once chuckled after hearing me say, "If I can become Muslim, anyone can become Muslim."
My dad was a cotton ginner. Now, he is a custodian at a junior high school in Pampa, Texas. I had eight siblings, but in 2000 my 17-year old sister died in a car wreck.
I graduated from Memphis High School in Memphis, Texas, in 1994. I did well in high school and would attend Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In 1998 I began attending the University of Texas at Austin. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in management information systems in December 2001. Not bad for a kid who had to hoe cotton most of his junior high and high school summers to pay for his clothes and school supplies!
When Faith Is Shaken
In high school, I received a jolt to my long-held belief when a Christian friend told me that the Holy Trinity was not true and that Jesus was not God. "He was wrong," I told myself. Jesus had to be God.
God and humanity were disconnected by the sin committed by Adam and Eve. God sent His only "begotten" son to die because He loved us so much. Because only God forgives, Jesus had to be God. I even had the Bible quotes to prove it! Indeed, being a devout Roman Catholic Christian, I have read almost the entire Bible.
In high school, I was a lecturer, usher, Eucharistic minister, and religious education teacher. I was the godfather for a nephew and a niece. The idea that Jesus was God made much sense.
I have always had respect for other religions. I would often attend other Christian churches and join interfaith Bible study groups. While in one such group, I told my friend Chris that I was a Catholic. Chris blatantly told me that the Catholic Church was "a false doctrine."
As you can imagine, I defended my religion. Chris accused me of worshiping Mary, saints, and the Pope. I argued that we only revere them. Of course, I explained that the Virgin Mary should be revered for being the Mother of God. And everyone loved Pope John Paul II for his many contributions.
Islam vs. Christianity
Around this time, I happened to see a man praying. His knees, hands, and forehead were touching the ground, and he was barefoot. After he finished praying, I introduced myself to him. He said his name was Armando, and that he was a Muslim. I thought to myself, "OK, freaky, you're Muslim. You can't be Muslim. What's this Hispanic guy doing, praying to Allah?"
He later told me that Spain was Muslim for over 700 years and that thousands of Spanish words have Arabic roots. The ruins of mosques with Qur'anic writings have been found in Cuba, Mexico, Texas, and Nevada.
Most importantly, Armando spoke to me about Islam. I began to realize that my reverence for Mary and saints was much more than mere reverence. Chris was right. However, we were both worshiping Jesus! Armando said that Jesus was only a prophet and that nothing and no one is worthy of worship but Allah.
I asked an African American Muslim, "Why do you worship Allah? There's no Allah mentioned in the Bible." His response was very enlightening. Allah, God, and Dios mean "God" in different languages. Allah literally means "The God" in English and "El Dios" in Spanish.
As soon as I began to study Islam, many of my questions were answered. What is the purpose of life? How can the Father be the Son? Why can't God just forgive anyone He wants? What happens to babies who die before baptism?
In the Qur'an, Allah states what means [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"] (Al-Ma'idah 5:83). Indeed, my eyes overflowed with tears as I read that verse.
However, I would not embrace Islam until three years later because of fears common among many non-Muslims interested in Islam. I was afraid of possible rejection from family and friends. I was most afraid of changing.
During these three years, I tried to live as ordinary a life as possible. I tried to convince myself of my happiness. Sometimes I convinced myself that I was an atheist, and other times I thought I was at least an agnostic. I had absolutely rejected my Christian beliefs as falsehoods. I would always return to believing completely in one God. I feared the existence of God and His prophets for what such faith might mean for my future.
As I was driving one Saturday morning, a red truck moved into my lane. I had no time to react; I found myself hitting it. I could have died. My left lung collapsed and I needed a chest tube to survive. I had broken ribs and a broken arm.
Under these circumstances, my priorities shifted from the worldly to the spiritual. Along with my greater appreciation for the Creator came an intense desire to embrace truth. Three years before my accident, I had been given several Islamic brochures with titles such as Concept of God in Islam, Concept of Worship in Islam, and Who was Jesus?". I revisited these brochures along with comments from a Qur'an that I had borrowed.
A few months later, I stepped into a mosque for the first time on a Friday afternoon. I was perplexed by the lack of shoes and chairs in the prayer area. I was very impressed with the unity as Muslims prayed together, side by side.
I visited this mosque regularly for about a month before embracing Islam during the summer of 2001. My faith and courage were increasing and, eventually, I didn't care what anyone thought. I only wanted to please my Creator. Islam ended my doubts about the existence of a Creator. Islam is the true, universal religion of God.
I fell in love with Islam while listening to talks about brotherhood, prayer, and charity. I found myself intrigued by these guys who found time to pray five times a day. Many were college students who had figured out ways to pray at the mosque two or three times a day.
I was amazed by these people who could fast from sunrise til sunset for an entire month. I thought to myself, "Wow, that's faith!" I was impressed by the self-discipline and brotherhood among these Muslims.
They lived simple lives and were happy with what they had. They lived their lives around Islam. They were very much at peace. I wanted to be one of these Muslims.
More people would convert to Islam if we were better Muslims. If Armando had not been praying, I would not have known he was Muslim, and we would not have spoken.
My Family and Friends
After telling my dad that I had converted to Islam, he asked, "?Qué es éso?" (What is that?). I responded, "It's a religion." Then, after telling him a little about it, he replied, "?Como los Arabes?" (Like the Arabs?) I responded, "No, it's for everyone."
One of my sisters asked me once, "Don't you still love Jesus? How could you do this to the Virgin Mary?" I replied, "I still love Jesus. We believe he's a prophet. There's also a chapter called Mary in the Qur'an."
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions among Americans, including Latinos. We have to educate everyone about Islam. Muslims and Christians both honor the Virgin Mary. God exists independent of reason, but the concept of God varies by religion. Many people think that Islam is a religion of Arabs. Yet, Arabs make up less than 25 percent of the entire Muslim population.
And, of course, I found myself defending my religious beliefs to my family after the attacks of 9/11. Soon after the attacks, one of my sisters said something like, "That leader of ya'lls, he's gonna call a holy war." CNN should take a poll to find out how many Americans believe bin Laden is the Muslim leader.
My dad asked my mom, "What'd he get himself into?" They hadn't heard from me in a while so they were a little concerned. When I talked to them, I reminded my parents that Muslims are not a gang of fifty members. There are over 1.2 billion Muslims in the world.
Some people act as if some Arab in Saudi Arabia has a long list of Muslims and can call anyone on the list when he wants to blow up a building. I have much sympathy for the families that were directly affected by the 9/11 tragedy. Muslims are imperfect; whereas Islam is perfect.
When I pray at a mosque, I get the opportunity to pray beside people of all races and nationalities. We don't distinguish each other by race, nationality, or social class, but only by piety. We're just Muslims. Together with a billion other Muslims, we form concentric circles around the Ka`bah in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
I can't imagine never praying beside other Muslims again. When I pray, I know that brothers and sisters from around America are praying, too. When I embraced Islam, I joined the universal brotherhood of Islam transcends all other brotherhoods.
Muslims make up a global family that stems from unconditional love. Love towards your family is natural. A family's love is unconditional. Your true friends will also love you unconditionally.
Islam takes what's beautiful and makes it more beautiful. If you were a good son or daughter, you might be surprised when your parents say that you have become an even better son or daughter after your conversion.
I am often asked why I embraced Islam. "How does a Latino born in the middle of nowhere in Texas become a Muslim?" I am also asked about Latinos, in general. "Why are Latinos becoming Muslim?" I know that many people including my own family struggle to understand why I am now a Muslim, and I've come to better understand that coming to Islam is solely through God's guidance. His guidance is a mercy.
Only through God's mercy do Muslims appear at the right place at the right time in the lives of non-Muslims to introduce them to Islam. Only through His mercy does a non-Muslim become a Muslim.
A struggle occurs within everyone, every day, and everywhere. We struggle to attain what is most important for us. By embracing Islam, we tell Allah that He is the most important and that we are prepared to struggle to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong.
Have patience. You do not know the happiness that your Creator has in store for you. Today, I live in Central Florida with my wonderful wife and son. God willing, one day I will speak at the Valley School to tell them that I am now a Muslim and how Islam has made me a better person.
And every day I thank the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful for all His blessings. I am a Mexican-American Muslim. All praise and thanks to Allah.
Juan Galvan’s conversion story was initially published in the July/August 2002 issue of Islamic Horizons Magazine under the title “How Allah Found Me in Texas.” An updated version of his conversion story was published online at ReadingIslam.com in June 6, 2007.