I was born into a very traditional Catholic family that observes and practices all kinds of innovations that are not even related to the real teachings of the Bible.
All of my family, from my great grandparents to the youngest grandchildren, are all Catholic and most of my friends and neighbors were also Catholic.
We would observe all kinds of Catholic traditions and customs, such as the fiestas (celebration of saints' birthdays), Christmas, Holy Week, processions of saints, Sunday Mass, the rosary, and so on. Actually, all of these practices were a part of our life.
Although some of my family believe in one God, this "One God" is sometimes called Jesus, and at other times, the Father. This was a bit confusing for me.
In my opinion, the Catholic way of life is not really strict, although there are many clear laws found in the Bible that we should follow and practice. Despite this, I didn't feel much pressure to follow those rules because we were taught that God can forgive all sins the moment you repent sincerely to Him. This idea is similar to the teachings of Islam, but the difference is that, in Islam, everyone will be accountable and responsible for their own sins; whereas in Christianity, Jesus has already paid for everyone's sins.
I grew up knowing no other religion but Christianity. Neither my parents nor any of my family members knew anything about Islam as no one would teach us about it. We never heard anything good about it. I remember when I was young and my mother would inform us that Muslims were murderers and that when Muslims get angry, they will behead anyone around them. This is all we knew about Muslims.
In the Philippines, where I grew up, one rarely sees Muslims mingling with Christians, and Christians don't usually have Muslim neighbors or friends. Muslims and Christians do not associate with others, and that's why they have their own communities. Until now, the Muslims have been fighting with the Philippine government to allocate them a part of the country so they can have their own independent government.
If I were still living in the Philippines, I think it would be quite impossible to be interested in learning about Islam. However, I know the true message of Islam and who Muslims really are. I am glad to be Muslim, al-hamdu lillah.
At a young age I learned to be independent. I experienced many difficulties in my life. My parents were separated when I was young, and we were forced to live with our relatives in their house. Those days were among the most difficult days in my entire life. Suddenly, at that time, I felt that all of the responsibilities had been laid on my shoulders.
Although I had to face all these hardships, there was no one around with whom I could talk, so I only could call upon God for help.
At the age of 18, I started working abroad with my mother in the hope of fulfilling our dreams of owning our own house in the Philippines. With God's blessing and the help of my mother and brother, I was able to buy a house at the age of 23.
While working abroad, I was exposed to new cultures, traditions, beliefs, and different ways of life, and I made new friends. Everything was very different from the way I was brought up. I had lots of freedom while abroad, which led me to commit sins for which I ask Allah the All-Mighty God to forgive me.
At the age of 29 I wanted to settle down. I felt that I had done so much in my life and that it was time to start my own family. I met my husband through the Internet, and we talked together only for about two months. I then traveled to Egypt to see whether he was serious or not, and, al-hamdu lillah, we got married there.
In the beginning I was in a quandary because he was a Muslim and I was a Christian. How could I deal with such a situation? He assured me that religion and belief would not come into our relationship and that in Islam, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian woman. I also wondered how I could explain to my family that suddenly I was going to get married to a Muslim man whom I had known for only two months.
Anyway, I am the kind of person that, when I want to do something, no person or thing can get in my way; I will always stand by what I want through thick and thin. At the back of my mind I have always held the belief that God is there to help and guide me, and I don't need anyone else except God to guide me to the right way.
While I was on the plane to Egypt, I asked for God's guidance to decide the affair for me about my future husband and, al-hamdu lillah, God was so kind in listening to my prayers. We got married in Egypt, and then my husband moved with me to Hong Kong. In the beginning he had a culture shock from seeing some practices of the local cultures and customs, which he had never seen while living in Egypt. In any case, I did not blame him for having these feelings because it was his first time to be away from his homeland.
Because I used to regularly attend Sunday Mass, I invited my husband to come along with me to attend the prayers, which he did not mind doing and in fact he came with me to church services.
One day my husband decided to renew his faith, to study Islam, and to start practicing it. Suddenly he started to observe prayers, fasting, etc. For me, it was the first chance that I had to observe the way Muslims worship God. My husband started learning and reading more about Islam. During the course of his studies, he started to preach Islam to me.
At first I was hesitant because I loved Jesus very much, but when I learned that Muslims also love Jesus, I started to learn with my husband and gain more knowledge about the teachings of Islam.
What touched me most was the Islamic prayers, especially during the prostration. I told myself that this was the right way to pray — kneeling and bowing down before God. God was worthy of being praised like this.
In my heart I wanted to try to pray in the same position, but I had not yet made my declaration of faith because, in my heart, I was still not 100 percent clear about what I was getting myself into.
While my husband and I were in the Philippines, I asked him whether it was possible to pray with him in the Islamic way without having to be a Muslim. I tried performing the Islamic prayers several times and I liked it. However, at that time, I wasn't sure if I was ready to perform the five daily prayers or adhere to other obligations, such as wearing the hijab. In addition, I didn't know very much about the Prophet Muhammad.
My husband told me, "You could learn gradually. You do not need to know everything in one day; you do not have to wear hijab until you want to know the wisdom behind it and when you are totally ready to do anything that God ordered you to do."
Many times my husband told me to declare my testimony of faith that God is one and that Muhammad is His Messenger. He told me that I had to make this decision without compulsion or force but that I also shouldn't delay because I didn't know if I would be alive tomorrow or not.
Anyway, one day we were listening to one Islamic lecture called "The Purpose of Life" by Sheikh Khalid Yasin. While I was listening, one part of the lecture caught my attention when Sheikh Yasin said, "Why can't you declare that God is one and Muhammad is His Messenger? Are you arrogant?"
After hearing those words, my heart was wide open and I decided not to be arrogant. By at the end of this tape I had declared my Shahadah. Al-hamdu lillah, I was able to say, "Ashhadu an la illaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu ana Muhammad rasulullah." A few minutes later, I declared my faith before my husband, who was my first witness after God Almighty.
Until this day, I am trying to learn about and understand Islam. There is no end to the learning process. A saying goes "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." Every day in our lives we need to learn by reading and through experience.
Shortly after embracing Islam, I read a book entitled The Bible Led Me to Islam by Abdul Malik Le Blanc. This book inspired me and opened my mind and made me aware God is really One and Unique in His attributes and that Jesus is one of the messengers and prophets of God.
Also, I read another booklet called "The Gift of Muhammad". It was a very touching booklet that contained some of Prophet Muhammad's sayings. It introduced me for my first time to the teachings of this great Prophet. I remember one of the sayings that touched me a lot, when God says
"If you come to Me walking, I come to you running" (Al-Bukhari).
It took me some time to decide to wear hijab. It was not easy for me to dress the way the Muslims do because I had been living for about 30 years as a non-Muslim and had dressed in an immodest style. All of the people who knew me were used to seeing me in "very attractive clothes," and so I always thought of what they would say if they saw me wearing hijab. Yet I asked myself what was more important to me — people or God. The answer was God, He Who had given me more than what I asked for. I told myself that if wearing the hijab is really what pleases God, then I would do it without hesitation.
A few months after I had said my Shahadah, God continued to bestow His mercy and kindness upon me. God was merciful by allowing me to visit Makkah and to perform the Hajj. This amazing experience increased my faith in Islam, and I felt that I was really on the right track. I cannot describe how wonderful I felt when I entered, for the first time, the Sacred Mosque in Makkah and saw the Ka`bah. Tears of happiness filled my eyes as I entered into a complete state of real peace within myself and with people around me.
After becoming a Muslim I began to be more aware of what I was doing in life. Now I feel that God is always present, watching over me in everything that I do. I have found the inner peace that I was looking for, and I know what the purpose of this life is and what lies ahead in the hereafter.
I am trying to strive to follow Allah's commandments to have a place in Jannah (Paradise), in sha' Allah. Until this day, I continue to learn about the Islamic rules and obligations, which one day, in sha' Allah, I hope I will perfectly follow.
My mother didn't really get mad at me, al-hamdu lillah. In fact, my conversion made her think more deeply about Islam and she gave away all her images of Jesus, Mary, and the cross and decided not to worship them anymore. Although she hasn't taken her Shahadah yet, I hope one day that Allah the Almighty God will open her heart to Islam. Ameen.
Al-hamdu lillah, I've witnessed many other people who have decided to embrace Islam, especially in Hong Kong. One of our friends even took her Shahadah in our house, al-hamdu lillah.
Thank you for reading my story, and may Allah, the Almighty God always show us the right path.
Resources: FB - New Reverts to Islam