In the name of Allah, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful — may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His last and final messenger, the seal of all the prophets, Muhammad. And may peace be upon those who follow in his footsteps until the Day of Judgment.
I felt empowered each time I completed an act of obedience to Allah
My Dear Family
I was blessed with parents of Puerto Rican origin, which is what makes me a “Boricua” — a person of Puerto Rican heritage. I am the youngest of three sons, born in New York, and raised in both Puerto Rico and New Jersey. My mother, who was a nun before she married my dear father, taught more than fifty girls in a convent in New York. She had studied psychology at Fordham University and later during her years as a nun had many unanswered questions that led her to leave the convent. She later married my father. She taught us to always pray to God upon awakening and before going to sleep, and to thank Him for our food. In Puerto Rico, she established catechism classes in our home for the children in our neighborhood.
I continued reading the Qur’an for nine consecutive months and through my reading and application I realized that I was gradually curing myself from the vices of smoking and drinking alcohol
My father was hard-working and he would take us to work with him so we could learn a good work ethic and basic skills for survival. From a young age, I learned how to make pizza, scrambled eggs, and sandwiches. My father loved to be with his children and would play videogames and sports with us on his days off. My older brothers would always play with me or take me to the movies, and we had a great sense of camaraderie and a lot of fun together.
Islam and Basketball
During my growing-up years, I was a fan of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls team. The Bulls won three championships, and then in 1993 Jordan retired. I felt like a boy without a favorite sports hero. I began to search for a new favorite player and chose Chris Jackson from the Denver Nuggets, who later accepted Islam and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul Rauf.
During those days, there was not much access to watching games of out-of-state teams unless they were playing against the local team. The way I kept up with everything was through collecting trading cards. Once I was reading Mahmoud Abdul Rauf’s cards and I found information about Islam including what his Arabic name meant and about the pilgrimage to Mecca. Since I didn’t have a chance to watch many of Denver’s games, I had to pick another player from one of the two local teams, the New York Knicks or the New Jersey Nets. I chose the Knicks because I was born in New York; and as a favorite player, I picked John Starks.
That year, the NY Knicks made it to the playoffs against the Houston Rockets. The Rockets had at that time the legendary Hakeem Olajuwon who was fasting during the championship games. Many of the Knicks players would trash-talk him, but he always responded with patience and grace. The Knicks had the opportunity to win the game with a shot from Starks, but it was blocked by Olajuwon and Houston won the NBA Championship. Here again, I was being exposed indirectly to Islam, but during this time period I was not interested in religion.
The Challenges and Hardships of Youth
While I was in Union Hill High School, in Union City, New Jersey, I began smoking cigarettes because all my friends were doing it. After school we would go play basketball and sometimes those who were waiting their turn to play would drink beer or smoke marijuana. So my teenage years were spent playing basketball, singing reggaeton (urban music rooted in Latin and Caribbean music with a fusion of Latin and reggae rhythms) in the clubs, drinking alcohol, and hanging out with friends. It is not surprising, given my lifestyle, but still a big loss, that a friend of mine drowned while he was drunk, at the age of 18. I was also involved with a gang and became friends with Carlos Hernandez, from Colombia, who lived in my house for a few weeks. Carlos loved to read a lot and one day we visited the public library and, given my lack of moral principles at that time, I stole a copy of the Qur’an. At one point, some members of my gang killed two of my friends with whom I had been the day before. That tragedy affected me tremendously. Day after day I thought of three things —death, illness, and my family’s well-being. During that time I lost trust in all human beings except my parents, but they lacked the experience to guide me and help me see beyond my narrow perspective. I decided to search for God.
My Spiritual Journey
My quest to find answers began in the year 1998 when I felt like I had no direction and lacked the ability or the willingness to confide in any other human being. I visited the churches in my area and acquired six different bibles. I began to read through all of them, comparing passages, and then I remembered the Qur’an that my friend Carlos had left at my house. I looked for it and began reading it daily, along with the bibles. Interestingly, I found that there was an assertion in the introduction of the New Revised Standard Version that the King James Bible contained grave errors. I began to think that if there are different versions of “the Word of God” then we can’t trust that the Bible has been kept intact and uncontaminated by man. Later I read in the introduction of the translation of the Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali that, “This Qur’an is a confirmation of the message of Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and all the prophets of God.” The introduction also stated that the Qur’an remain available in the original Arabic language, in its original form without having been changed for more than 1400 years; and that countless people have memorized the entire text. These things impressed me.
Reading the Qur’an
I continued my search and I became attached to reading the Qur’an. I wanted to apply everything I was reading. When I read a verse that said: “Establish regular prayers – at the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and the morning prayer and reading: for the prayer and reading in the morning carry their testimony” (Qur’an 17:78). After reading this verse, I would wake up in the middle of the night secretly, to read the Qur’an while my family slept. I felt empowered each time I completed an act of obedience to Allah. Some time later I read a verse related to speaking well: “O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and (always) say a word directed to the Right: That He may make your conduct whole and sound and forgive you your sins: He that obeys Allah and His Messenger, has already attained the highest achievement” (Qur’an 33:70-71). Immediately after I read that verse, I began to put forth a lot of effort to control my speech. I would push myself to only speak well or maintain silence.
I continued reading the Qur’an for nine consecutive months and through my reading and application I realized that I was gradually curing myself from the vices of smoking and drinking alcohol. That internal turning toward Allah made me trust the Holy Qur’an more and more. Finally, after those nine months of reading and applying what I learned, I decided on September 24, 1999 to accept Islam. I did so at the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center (NHIEC) in Union City with Sheikh Mohammed Al Hayek, who offered regular classes in English for new Muslim converts. Two years later, my dear mother and father also accepted Islam. All praise is to Allah.
Efforts to Teach Islam
In 2002, I established a Spanish class at NHIEC called, “Understanding Islam.” Later, during a Dawah Committee meeting, Imam Al Hayek asked me if I had any ideas for a dawah event directed at the Latino community. I suggested holding a Hispanic Muslim Day. Through the wonderful efforts of the Dawah Committee, the first event took place in 2002. I continued offering the weekly classes from 2002 to 2004.
Path Towards Arabic and Islamic Studies
In 2004, I was offered a scholarship to study in Egypt; Arabic language at Eqraa Institute and Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University. I studied in Egypt form 2004 until 2007, completing five years of course material in three years at Al-Azhar. All praise is to Allah. I met many wonderful Latino brothers and sisters in Egypt who helped me to settle into my new life. Among them were Abdul Rahman Khairo from Colombia, Sheikh Uzman from Argentina, Dr. Juan Yahya Suquillo who visited and gave us good advice, and also a dear brother, Mujahid Fletcher, founder of IslamInSpanish. We spent nights talking about how we could serve our Latino/Hispanic community.
IslamInSpanish: My New Family
In the year 2010, my family and I relocated from New Jersey to Houston. It was my aim to work as a teacher for Iman Academy Islamic School and also work with IslamInSpanish. I joined IslamInSpanish because of their extraordinary mission of producing multimedia to educate Latinos about Islam. It has been a marvelous experience working with them to serve the Latino community, recording IslamInSpanish programs in the Andalucia Center Studios with “The Voice of IslamInSpanish” narrator Abu Mujahid Fletcher.
Show: Entendiendo el Corán (Understanding the Qur’an)
All praise is to Allah. IslamInSpanish has a lot to offer the Latino community:
educational Islamic material at www.islaminspanish.org
networking with the Latino community through Facebook on their page www.facebook.com/IslamEnSpanish
material available for purchase at www.dar-us-salam.com
national and international presentations; for more information, contact them through firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/IslamEnSpanish
Opportunity to Become an Imam
At the end of 2011, I received an offer to become an Imam in Beaumont, Texas. My first impulse was to refuse the offer as my family and I were happy living in Houston and I was very satisfied with my work at Iman Academy and IslamInSpanish. Yet, in my current circumstances, I was extremely busy and did not have much time for my family. My wonderful wife said to me: “We’ll go wherever we need to go.” I made the Istikhara prayer (for consultation), analyzed the offer, and said to myself, “With this offer, I could balance my family life and manage my time better. I could make dawah, continue my Islamic studies, spend more time with my family, and be a good example to them.” After praying Istikhara, I also consulted with my mother and trusted friends and advisors. I then made the decision to accept the offer as Imam of the Islamic Society of Triplex.
On January of 2012, the Islamic Society of Triplex founded Al Hidaya School, a weekend school with the mission to “Develop in our youth a love for Allah as their God, Islam as their way of life, Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the seal of the prophets, and the Qur’an as the guide for humanity.” At Al Hidaya, students learn Arabic, Islamic Studies, Qur’an reading, basketball, and martial arts. Al Hidaya is comprised of wonderful students, teachers, and volunteers.
Looking back on my journey, I never could have imagined the wonderful blessings I would receive as I took step after step in my determination to find truth. All praise is to Allah that I have found much more than I could ever have hoped for. Indeed, Allah rescued a young, lost soul — a “Boricua” — through Islam.