My path towards Islam has taken many twists and turns throughout Latin America and here in the USA, where I finally became a Muslim. My parents are from Chile. They were political refugees exiled to Mexico because they were Socialists. In the 70s, to be a Socialist in Latin America was synonymous with being a rebel. Having political views that were left-leaning was very dangerous at that time. In 1973, a military coup d’état in Chile resulted in years of brutal political repression. My father was imprisoned and tortured before being exiled. A few months later he met my mother, who was also a Chilean political refugee. In 1976, I was born in Mexico City. My parents, my sister and I lived as a relatively happy, typical Mexican middle class family except for one thing: my parents were agnostic. To not be Catholic in Mexico was almost unthinkable.
In 1989, when democracy was reinstated in Chile, my parents decided to return. I was a 12-year-old boy. Chile is a small country, dominated by one of the most conservative churches in the world. Like in Mexico, I grew up surrounded by Catholic messages over the radio, on television, and in the streets. In my own innocent way, I always liked the idea of God, of one God, but that was not what people believed. How could a boy from an agnostic family firmly believe in God? In my house that topic was never a theme of conversation. “Religion is the opium of the masses,” my father used to say. Over the years, my desire for a spiritual connection continued to increase.
As a teenager, I was exposed to Capoeira (a Brazilian dance/martial art form) during a family vacation to Brazil. In Chile, I began taking Capoeira classes which helped to fill the void of my lacking spirituality. In 2000, I was accepted to the school of business in Chile and I studied Capoeira every day. My life became busy, “too busy” for religion.
In 2003, I met my wife, a beautiful American woman who was teaching English in Santiago, Chile. She came from a Catholic family and thus, I came closer to the religion. In 2005, I moved to the USA and in 2006 we married in a Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia. In 2008, I opened my own studio to teach different styles of martial arts, fitness and dance. That same year my first daughter, Priya, was born and in 2010 I became a home owner. In a period of only five years I had achieved the “American dream”, things that some people do not achieve in their entire life. But something was still missing.
2012 was one of the hardest times in my life. My arrogance led me to tear my patella tendon which took almost a full year to recover. That same year my second daughter, Mireya, was born. In 2013, I began my spiritual-religious search. I started investigating the Yoruba religion, Santeria, but I did not feel identified with it.
In December of 2014, I spent Christmas with my family in Chile. After Christmas dinner I went to my room to sleep, but stayed awake just sitting on my bed. Memories of my adolescence and my youth came to me and I began to cry. I cried a lot. I can’t remember for how long, maybe for five or 10 minutes, but I remember putting my knees on the floor and my arms in a supplication position. And I stayed there, asking, really asking, for God to guide me and help me to come closer to Him. After that, I turned on the TV and it was showing a program about the life of Jesus. A lot of questions came to mind like, “Is he God”? Then I googled the word “Jesus” and somehow landed on a page discussing Jesus and Islam. Then I researched the words “Islam” and “Prophet Muhammad.” By the end, I didn’t sleep until 5 or 6 am.
Around 11am, I woke up. My mother said I must have been tired because of how much I had slept. I told her then that I wanted to become a Muslim but she didn’t believe me. When I arrived in America again, I called a Muslim friend to see if he could take me to a mosque. There, I felt so much peace and harmony within myself. Then another friend, who is from Turkey, helped me to take my Shahada, the testimony of faith. I also met a Gambian brother, a student at my studio, who helped me visit different mosques and meet with some imams. By Ramadan time, I realized that I was surrounded by a nice community of brothers to help me in my journey.
My wife has been a tremendous support to me. We have been married for 10 years now. I consider myself an impulsive person and I used to get angry with her for insignificant things. But now I try to remember this hadith: “The strong person is not the good wrestler. Rather, the strong person is the one who controls himself when he is angry.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 73, #135)