bismillah

View / Print this Newsletter Issue flipping pages

Why I Embraced Islam

A Latino Brother's Conversion to Islam

New Horizon Q: Can you please tell me your name, your background, and a little about yourself?

My birth name would be Richard Sagastume. My muslim name now is Omar. I was born in San Francisco and I'm 26 years old now. I graduated from high school and pharmacy school so far, Alhamdullilah.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your religious upbringing?

I was raised Catholic, but not in a strict religious family. It was more that if we ever were to go to church, it would be to attend services during the holidays, like around Easter time or Christmas. But at a young age my parents would teach me the basics of religion; who God was, what to follow, what you must do to be a good person, not to steal, lie, or cheat. I was taught basically the human instincts of religion.

It wasn't until I reached the age of 14 that I started to get a little more knowledge about Catholicism. When I visited El Salvador, my aunts and my uncles would read the Bible to me. As a child, I remember one time when we were attending church services and I asked my mother, "What does God look like?" She pointed to the man on the cross and said, "That's God right there." I asked, "Well, isn't that Jesus?" After she replied, "yes," I asked her, "Well how can God die? Isn't God eternal?" I was asking her a 'common sense' question that needed to make sense to me and she didn't have an answer. She just told me to be quiet and listen to the sermon. In my mind, I was still very confused.

I always was told that 'Jesus is the son of God' and 'God is One' and yet the concept of the Trinity was never explained or how it worked. I always thought that Jesus was one separate thing and God is separate. Growing up I didn't have any religious knowledge. Like I said previously, it was when I was about 14 or 15 years of age that people told me that 'Jesus is God,' and 'the Holy Spirit;' they are all one and together. And I would continue to ask them the question that bothered me at this age. "Well, that doesn't make sense." How can three things be put together and be considered one? And the concept of Jesus' death; it all just didn't make sense to me.

However, I knew that it was my parents' faith, so I accepted that fact and would thus follow the faith blindly. So up until I was the age of 20, I lived my life with the idea that I would take advantage of everything that this life had to offer. But it hit me one day that here I am partying, taking advantage of life, not sleeping, and yet one day I'm going to die. I started asking myself, "What's going to happen to me? Where am I going to go? Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to see?" I started to get worried. I thought to myself, "I don't want to be doing this for forever. I don't want to be with a bunch of knuckleheads partying every day for the rest of my life."

That is when I took the initiative to start researching about the purpose of life. Since I had never been very religious in my own religion, I thought, "Let me start doing my very own research and my own reading of the Bible and see what it has to say." We had a Bible in the house so I decided to open it up and start reading it. But it had many different things that I just didn't understand and that didn't make any sense to me. Although from a very young age I had been taught about the Prophets of God and the stories of Noah, Moses, Abraham, etc. were familiar to me, however, when I started reading the bible, my understanding of the prophets didn't correlate to my understanding of the purpose of the prophets. I thought to myself, "God sent these messengers down and they were supposed to be the best example of man from among the people. However, the Bible would state that the Prophets committed crimes; for example, it described Noah as an alcoholic and David as a fornicator." I thought to myself, "How could Prophets do something like this? The Prophets of God?" This did not make sense to me.

So I decided to go and speak to a priest at church. I stayed after the sermon and went up to him to talk to him privately. I specifically remember when I asked him these questions that he gave the excuse that this was the time of the Jews and that they were very corrupted people. He then told me to "Just stick to the New Testament; just read the New Testament." He really didn't explain the details about this issue so I decided to follow his advice and see what the New Testament had to say. At 20 years old, I wanted to read the New Testament and see what it had to say about Jesus being God. I have been told my whole life that Jesus is God, however, as I read through the New Testament, I couldn't find anywhere in this book telling me that Jesus is God or explaining to me the concept of the Trinity.

I went back to my priest and told him that I had further questions. I showed him passages from the New Testament and asked him, "We're Catholics. So we believe that Jesus and God are a part of the Trinity?" After he replied in the affirmative, I asked him for proof. I wanted him to point out to me the passages in the Bible that explained this phenomenon. I told him, "It does not state anywhere in the Bible about the concept of the Trinity. I don't see where this is coming from." The only answer that he could give me was, "Do not let a few mistakes jeopardize your faith." When I heard this, I realized that he didn't have an answer for me. And the fact was that I was at a point in my life where I was trying to become a better person in this life, trying to become more religious, trying to get in touch with God, and I was lost. I was counting on the priest as an a'lim (scholar) and he couldn't answer any of the questions for me.

Thus, after doing research for about three months, I determined that Catholicism was not the way for me. I then decided to look at other Christian branches and their beliefs. However, after trying to adopt the beliefs and practices of the other branches, the same scenario would be repeated. I had always assumed that the different groups had a different Bible, but essentially they all followed similar concepts. Again, arguments would follow because they couldn't answer my questions. People would start looking at me like I was crazy because I was asking questions about concepts that did not make any sense. So I would merely jump to another branch and I would still have the same problem. Then I decided to do some research on the religion of Christianity. As I researched, I found out that Christianity was never with the belief that Jesus was God. This was in fact a belief that was added on years later in history. I accepted this belief with certainty; for I had always believed that Jesus was never God and so this now made a lot of sense. I decided to then do further research and look into what was before Jesus and before Christianity; hence began my journey with studying Judaism.

While studying Judaism, I noticed the same problems that I had with the descriptions of the prophets in Christianity to be the same in Judaism. I also found out that I would never be accepted because I was not born Jewish through my mother. I would never want to be in a religion where I am not accepted if I am not born into it. It doesn't make any sense to me. So I left that alone and I went off, off course.

directions Having just turned 21, I started studying Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism. It was something that was really out of the ordinary, something I really didn't understand. In Buddhism, you do not believe in God. I had always believed that I was brought here for a purpose and that I was created by a Creator. So I really couldn't believe that Buddhism was the right path. The whole thing about Hinduism having a god for everything was to me much worse than Christianity. Here I would have a god for every element on earth and that was unfathomable.

After having studied enough religions that didn't make sense to me….... I thought, "God I've looked , but I could not find the perfect religion. So maybe there is no such thing as the perfect religion." So there I was, full of questions and praying to God for help. I had a real fear of dying and not knowing the truth. I prayed and I prayed. I felt that God wanted people to go to heaven so He wouldn't make it a mystery as to how to get there, how to live life accordingly, and how to understand Him. Maybe everything is distorted, I don't know.

Around that time, I decided that I would concentrate on being a good person. I would not be doing anything that I believed was inhuman or unethical. Once in a while, I would still pray to God. During that time, late 2008 and early 2009, My Space was very popular. I remember specifically reading a person's post who was an artist. I went on his My Space and I remember reading something on his My Space that caught my attention. There is no god but Allah. There is no other god you should worship but Allah and he said it in Arabic as well, the Kalimah, which at that point I could not understand. Right then and there this intrigued me. Who is this Allah he is talking about?

That is what intrigued me to do some research because I thought I had studied every religion that I could think of. This man on the internet is talking about Allah, the Creator of the Universe. I then did a quick Google search, "Who is Allah?" It came back with basic Google answers such as: Allah being the creator that Muslims worship, the God of the Islamic faith, etc. This surprised me because I had always thought that Islam was a branch of Hinduism.

The only knowledge I knew about Muslims was how the media portrayed Muslims to be. But, at the point, I was like, I don't really believe in the media that much. I am going to put that to the side and let me see what the Muslims have to say. What their doctrine says. I had never come across a Muslim before. Maybe I had come across some Muslims but I did not know they were Muslims, so I decided to do my own research. I did a Google search on the holy book of Muslims and came across the Quran. So, I went to Barnes and Nobles in Fairfield and came across an English version of the Quran. I went every single day to read a little more of the Quran. In the long run, I probably should have bought the book. I began reading Surah al-Fatiha, and came across the ayah that proclaims that there is One God that we should worship and no one else.

After reading some parts of the Quran, my biggest question was how does Islam as a religion correlate to the other religions? Again, I did a Google search about the prophets and found Musa, Isa, Yusuf, Ibrahim, etc. , the same ones Judaism and Christianity talk about. While studying the prophets in Islam, I found that the prophets are looked at in a different, more positive way. They are not shown as criminals or alcoholics. The more I read the Quran, the more I became interested, especially when it says Isa was not crucified. This really shook me! I never heard a story of Jesus not being crucified. I decided to research on the role Jesus plays in Islam. I found that Jesus is not the son of God, he is not God himself, but a prophet just like any other prophet. I then came across the Prophet Muhammad and the revelation.

moonI thought, "Why Prophet Muhammad, not any other prophet?" I looked at the lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad and I could see that someone like that deserves to be a prophet. At this point, I think I'm ready to become a Muslim. In my heart, I believe that I was a Muslim already. I remember once when I was in pharmacy school, the subject of religion came up. Students began asking each other which religion they belonged to. Some people replied that they were Buddhist; others answered Christian. I, on the other hand, remember saying proudly that I was Muslim. I was scared to say I was Muslim because if there was another Muslim in the room, they would have told me to prove it.

One thing I did before I fully became a Muslim was that I made dua to Allah. "O Allah, if this is your revelation, if this is the true way of life, please guide me towards this way, do not let me turn to anywhere else and bring me happiness."

During this sole-searching time I had a job in the meat department. A man with the last name of Muhammad was transferred to my department. I thought to myself that this man has the same last name of the prophet. I did not know this man and was nervous to ask him. After working with him awhile I got to know him a little bit better. I told him that I was very interested in Islam and asked him if he could guide me toward the right direction or teach me about Islam. He told me that he was not the best Muslim but could guide me toward the right direction. He invited me to come over to his house, chill, take a bite to eat. I was a bit nervous, but I knew Allah was on my side. I met up with this brother. He said that Islam brings so much peace and tranquility, in addition to cleanliness. I did not know what he meant by cleanliness until I learned about wudu and ghusl later down the road.

I asked him, "What do I have to do to become a Muslim?" He said he would take me to the place where Muslims pray. So he took me to the masjid in Vallejo; my intention was that I wanted to become Muslim. Whatever I had to do, I was determined to do them right away. I remember that it was almost time for the noon prayer and a brother was making adhan. When I heard the adhan, it was so powerful, it was something I never heard before. Although at that time I did not know what it meant, it still had so much meaning. It was so powerful, I could feel its booming message. It felt as though it could crumble a mountain! That's how powerful it meant to me when I heard the adhan.

I performed Salah with them, following what they were doing. One thing I noticed when performing Salah, even though I did not know anything about Salah, was something I remembered reading in the Bible which was the manner in which the prophets prayed. I thought, "We are praying just like Isa, Ibrahim and all the other prophets used to pray." In the bible, it always occurred to me at a young age, as Christians we don't pray like the prophets prayed. I remember reading passages that Jesus would go to the garden and prostate to his Lord. Musa and Haroon would prostate to their Lord on the mountain.

After the Salah, I talked to the imam and he explained that Islam is a religion of peace that will bring total salvation. I remember asking the imam some questions which he answered. I asked, "Why are Christianity and Judaism so similar but different from Islam." He gave me an explanation of how over 1000 years ago, people changed their religion for their own benefit. Or, sometimes religion was changed over politics and somewhere down the line the message was distorted. He further went on to explain that the Quran is just a confirmation of what the Bible and Torah also preached. He also told me about the five pillars of Islam. It sounded like a lot of work, but I was willing to do whatever it takes. God-willing I am ready. He asked, "Are you ready to become Muslim?" I answered, "Yes!" I told the Imam I would be willing to do anything right now, if I have to travel a thousand miles away, I will do that right now. He laughed. "You don't have to go anywhere to become a Muslim." "All you have to do is say two sentences and you are done." So that is when I recited the Kalimah with him and took shahada on October 7, 2009. Alhamdullilah I have been Muslim ever since.

Q: How did your family react to your conversion?

At first, they thought it was a phase; my parents thought that this was another phase that I was going through. When I was young I had wanted to be a rock star and, later on, a basketball player. So they thought that this was something new that will eventually go away. After that, they started to notice that I began wearing different clothing and spent much time reading all the literature that I was bringing home. When they would ask about my whereabouts, I told them that I was spending my time at the masjid.

A year passed and I continued to learn everything I could about Islam. Although my parents never told me directly, they would tell my brother and my uncles that there was a change in me. I would always try and speak to them about Islam, but it was still too new for them.

Even though they felt Islam was not for them, they did help me with my new religion in other ways. For example, when my mother would go grocery shopping with my father, they would stop by a halal shop and buy me halal food. Overall they have been very accepting; I always make dua to Allah to accept them as Muslims.

Over the years, my father began to ask me questions about Islam. At times, I was a little pushy about Islamic beliefs. Almost like a car salesman where he says, "You need this car. You can't leave without it…" And, likewise, I would be very persistent in preaching about Islam and at times it would become a little ugly when our discussions would always end up in arguments. I felt that this was not helping the situation. So I decided to show Islam through my character and continued to pray to Allah (SWT) for their hedaya.

Things were going very well, Alhamdullilah. One weekend I had a dream that I was in a masjid with my good friend and we were both praying to Allah (SWT) in white thobes. Subhanallah, the next day my good friend called me. Although I missed his call, my father called me right after to tell me that he had a surprise for me. I thought his surprise was going to be that he bought me something new, like a pair of new shoes. After meeting him, he told me that he wanted to become a Muslim. I was speechless because this came out of nowhere. I hugged him and asked him what changed his mind. He told me that he was doing research on his own for a while about Islam. In other words, behind my back. No father wants to be lectured from his own son. He wanted to discover Islam on his own. We went to the masjid together and, Alhamdullilah, he took his Shahadah!

Q: What are your future plans?

I still have much to learn about Islam. I never tire of reading the Qur'an. When I am unsure about something in Islam, I look to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). I see how he responded to situations and use this as my guide. My journey in Islam will continue, and I look forward to many new experiences. I thank Allah daily for His Mercy and Love.

I still have many goals which I wish to achieve with my faith. I have come to accept my belief in Islam as a progression, a journey, a seed that was planted and has grown into a strong and living presence in my soul. I am not perfect, but I believe that I am a better Muslim this year than I was last year. I know by the number of things that I have left behind that were not pleasing to Allah. I know with each passing Ramadan because I can look back at my first weak attempts at fasting and realize that I can look forward to this month and that Allah will be there to help me through the weak moments.

Let me conclude by inviting everyone who is not a Muslim to examine Islam and decide for yourself about this religion which is practiced by one out of every five people in the world. As a Muslim, I invite you and encourage you to seek out a Muslim and initiate a dialogue.

top


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186
info@islamicbulletin.org

Vol. XXIV, No. 28
Note from the Editor
Fifa and Your Spirituality
World Heavyweight Champion
Forgiving in Ramadan
Ways to a
Sweet Taraweeh
Why I Embraced Islam
From The Editor's Desk
Involving Children
in Ramadan
California Prayer Locations
Mus'ab Ibn Umair
Cook's Corner
7 Daily Spiritual Habits
The Importance
of Dhikr
Kids' Corner
Just Close Your
Eyes and Imagine
Sayings of the Prophet