Finding Islam in Mexico

Published March 14, 2013

By Martha Patricia Garcia

My name is Martha Patricia Garcia and I am 27 years old, a graduate of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). I am currently working as a reporter for the entertainment section of a national newspaper in Mexico. I was born into a Catholic family and never had the intention of changing my religion, but alhamdulillah (all praise is due to Allah), today I am very happy to be a Muslim.

Any lingering doubts about Islam did not last very long. I searched on the internet for the answer to the question: what must one do to become a Muslim?

The first impression I had about Islam was not good because it was based on two movies that made me want to never set foot in any Islamic country, particularly Turkey where one of the stories was set. I used to make many friends on the internet and the social network, Hi5, was very popular. I became friends with a guy and after a while I realized two things: he was a Muslim and he also lived in Turkey; that did away with my misconceptions.

Before I met him, Muslims seemed to me to be backward, fanatical people. But he was not anything like that. On the contrary, he was the friendliest and most polite 19 year-old I had ever met, and he was very intelligent. But as every rule has an exception, I wanted to be sure that he was not just an anomaly. I did not want to believe that the films, newsreels, and even print media were lying. So I began searching for Muslims from other parts of the world: Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, and all had the common denominator of good manners, kindness, and intelligence.

The Turkish guy and I started a long-distance relationship. He talked a lot about Islam and I liked learning, but always warned him that I would never change my religion because I was convinced about my faith. Four months later, our “courtship” ended, but I remained friends with many Muslims, who continued to explain to me their religion.
Everything was going well until in 2010, I was told that in Islam, Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) was a prophet. That offended me so much that I became obsessed with finding something that could prove that idea wrong. I went to fellow followers of Catholicism and they ignored me; then I went to a Christian forum where they spoke ill of other religions and I happened to share that Muslims were good people. The forum administrator told me: “This is a Christian forum, if you do not like it, then leave.” So I left.

By then I had been communicating with an Egyptian who offered to send me books in Spanish to better understand Islam. I accepted because I did not know at the time that there were Muslims in Mexico. I received several packages and one of the booklets seemed to be the perfect tool to “sink” the arguments of the Muslims with regards to Jesus. It was called “The True Message of Jesus.” I took the book and, since it quoted the Bible, I decided to compare the verses mentioned one by one. My Catholic faith faded a bit more with each page I read. When I finished the book I did not know if I was a Muslim, but I knew I was no longer Catholic.

Any lingering doubts about Islam did not last very long. I searched on the internet for the answer to the question: what must one do to become a Muslim? I found the shahada, the testimony of faith: “Ash hadu anna laa il?ha illa All?h, wa Ashadu anna Mu?ammadan ras?l All?h” (I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship, except Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger). My heart was stirred by the idea of pronouncing it and so I did; I did it so many times that I memorized it. From that moment onward, I would repeat it, and as a Catholic would make the sign of the cross upon himself, I would say the Islamic declaration of faith whenever something frightened me.

Shortly after I was pleasantly surprised to find a Mexican Muslim on Facebook who took me to the Educational Center of the Muslim Community in Polanco, Mexico City, and a week later I declared my shahada to the community. At first my family did not accept it, but gradually they realized that I had made a very serious decision and I would not change my mind.

An Ordinary Muslimah

One of the biggest obstacles I faced was the clothing. I tried to adjust my wardrobe to keep using clothes that were Islamically acceptable to my eyes, but not strange enough for people to consider me “weird”. The battles were tougher in the beginning when I would leave the house without hijab (the Islamic head-covering) and try to “play super hero” by looking for somewhere to cover myself before going to the mosque, or to remove the hijab before returning home. I disliked the idea of being questioned, especially by my neighbor across the street, who was also my “godmother” for my first communion.

One day on a work assignment, I visited the hotel where the musical band, U2, was staying while on tour in Mexico City. As a journalist, I write for the entertainment section of the paper and often cover such stories. That day I dared to wear the hijab and when I asked a police officer for information about the fans surrounding the hotel, he looked at me in a derogatory manner because of the hijab and said “I cannot give that information.” This situation made my heart uneasy, but politely and firmly I asked “Am I being discriminated against?” while I pointed to my hijab. Another policeman who witnessed the scene from afar came and answered my questions politely.

That incident put doubts on my intention to wear the hijab regularly; I was terrified of being discriminated against. Little by little I started inventing more excuses not to cover my hair despite having the desire to do so. During this period, my clothing began to transform into long shirts and blouses, and pants a little less tight. At last, this Ramadan, alhamdulillah, I began to wear the hijab every day and nothing negative has happened. People glance at me with a bit of curiosity, but no one has been rude.

There are still days when I feel so strange that the thought of taking off my hijab crosses my mind, but then I remember that no matter how weird or unappealing my attire may seem to others, I have decided to do what pleases God. I will never give up my hijab! Another major battle I faced was the reaction of my family and friends. It took a while for them to get used to the idea that I do not drink and that I am no longer interested in partying. I cannot say I lost my friends because I know they are still there, although I do not see them as often. I would much rather say that I have found many new brothers and sisters.

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