By Ali Arzuza

Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wabarakatuh,

I come from a background that isn’t readily associated with Islam. I was born into a Latino family, my mother from El Salvador, and my father from Colombia, both having immigrated to this country over 30 years ago. Naturally, I was raised Catholic: baptized as a baby, godparents, “religious” festivities, the whole shebang. At around the age of nine, I was sent to sunday school as a way to prepare for my upcoming communion, a commemorative rite of passage which I didn’t fully understand. It was at this age that I began to seek the answers for myself, instead of just accepting what I was fed.

The first day of sunday school is a memory which will always be ingrained in my mind. The nun who was teaching our class first began by explaining the first two commandments which were given to Moses (pbuh), which were “Thou shalt have no other gods before Him” and “You shall not make for yourself an Idol in the form of any kind.” This kind of bothered, if not baffled me given the fact that, the church I attended had plenty of idols on display of many kinds, from Maryam (may Allah be pleased with her) to the archangel Mikaeel.

Making that connection prompted me to start questioning the faith my family had been following, but I did not know how to come forward in asking these questions. That was until the nun gave us an assignment to write down what we would ask god if we were ever to meet Him. Looking down at my blank page, I wrote the one thing that came to mind which was “why does my church have so many statues when you told me that Moses said not to make any Idols of any thing?” I was sent home home early with a note for my mother. What the note said, I still do not know to this day, but when my mother read it, she explained to me in her sweet voice that the things in the bible are the words of God and we should not question our Lord because it was a sign of weak faith. I felt that if our Lord was so powerful, the question wouldn’t be hard for Him to answer, so I kept questioning.

This time it had to do with the Lord’s Prayer, a well-known prayer of Christians and Catholics, which is like Al-Fatiha to Muslims. I asked the nun, if Jesus is God, why did he say our father and not my father in the first line?That got me sent to the principal’s office and my mother was called once again. I was sent home early and this time my mother made me feel bad by telling her beloved son that if I asked anymore questions like that, they would kick me out of sunday school and it would upset her very much.

Man! What we do for love. So I kept my mouth shut and the kids in the class now referred to me as “trouble-maker”. Finally the big day came and I took part in my communion. This was my second baptism, the one where I made up my mind not to to follow any religion that would make the one asking the questions into an enemy, which is how I felt. At the end of my communion I told my mother that didn’t want to enter another church as long for as I lived. She couldn’t understand why her son was upset at this joyous moment in her life, (I love you mom) but it was something I felt strongly about. Nonetheless, in my teens I was sent to an all-boys catholic school in Colombia.

There, my questions were getting under the skins of the priest and the education board. I was at a point where I had placed all religion in the same category as oppressive, judgemental, and unethical. I would quote Karl Marx and favored his communist view of religion as  “the opiate of the masses.” I even joined the communist party, a student organization in school where we involved ourselves with the community at large and fought on the side of the working class to maintain their basic human rights and freedoms. Being involved in such causes, there was the high possibility of getting in trouble with the law…which I did. I was arrested and accused of conspiracy. The crime? Instigating a two week protest for the rights of the workers that weren’t getting paid. I was singled out by those who had actually participated in the protest, my fellow communist students. For two weeks, I sat in a cell with no windows listening to other inmates being beaten. Like any other person that felt like the end was near, I started to look above and reflect on everything that brought me here.

When I was finally released, everyone involved in the communist party, including those whom I had trusted and called friends, turned their backs on me and the movement. Eventually so did I. I came back to the states and began my adult life working in the kitchen. By this time I believed in God but did not follow a religion. I would come across people who I thought were knowledgable about the bible and could answer my questions, but was always disappointed by a lack of knowledge. It wasn’t until i met a young lady that was named after the wife of Pharaoh.

She was Muslim, and would eventually become my first wife. While we developed a relationship, she never spoke to me about Islam. It wasn’t until I met her father that I began to learn more about the religion. He asked me about my family and wanted to know if I was curious about the faith. My response was, would there be questions that Islam had the answers to? His reply was yes. He followed that by saying that  if he couldn’t answer my questions, he would find the answers for me.

So I started asking questions and each time he had an answer. I was stuck and felt confused, and questioned myself and my views on Islam, if it was like all the other religions. The next time her father and I got together, he told me a story. It was the story of the man who killed one hundred people and on his way to search for Allah’s forgiveness he died and was granted Jannah. I cried right then and immediately took my shahada. I started to learn other things too, like how no one is born into sin, that everything we do is for the sake of Allah, that trials are a blessing, and that a smile is considered charity. These were simple yet profound concepts and

I realized that this is what true faith really is. It has been seven years since I took my shahada and I am proud to be Muslim. Even though my first wife and I parted ways, I continue to enjoy Islam everyday and seek knowledge because I know just the simple act of waking up for Fajr  is a blessing from Allah…

-Ali Abdul-Raqib Arzuza