What I Want You to Know is a series of
reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their
personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the
unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to
this series,
click here. Today’s guest posts is by Alejandra.

I grew up in a lower-income household. My father was disabled, and my
mother gave up her dreams to support us. I was the youngest of three
girls. We were not a typical Hispanic household. We didn’t speak like
them, didn’t act like them, or dress like them. We always attended a
Christian school. It was very important to my mother that my sisters and
I have a good education. And she believed this could only be
accomplished at a Christian school. We didn’t really pray at home or
open the Bible. Although all of us could debate about theology, it was
just that– an intellectual discourse. We were of house of intellectuals–
poor ones in more than one way.

My childhood was a series of highs
and lows. Some days we had enough to eat, some days we didn’t. Some days
we would all be a big happy family, other days there were beatings and
verbal abuse. Some days we had freedom to go to the mall or movies by
ourselves, some days we couldn’t get to the mail box without getting in
trouble. Let’s just say I grew up with two emotionally unstable adults
as parents.

What I learned about Christianity came from school. We
had Bible classes and a weekly chapel where we sang and listened to a
sermon. I never really thought about my faith. Everything we learned in
school had God all over it– from science to history.

I don’t believe I
ever had an emotional connection to Jesus. When I prayed it was always
to God. Instead of saying in Jesus name I pray, like some people do, I
would say in His name I pray leaving Him intentionally ambiguous. Oh, I
could have told you about the egg, the apple, or whatever– three parts,
one God, but I didn’t believe it. I could have told you that Jesus died
for your sins, and all you have to do is believe in him and you’re
saved, but I didn’t believe it. Whenever I spoke about my faith I spoke
about God.

I was always described as an unhappy child. I think I
unnerved some adults. I didn’t have that sweet exterior that you expect
from a girl who has been raised inside the church. Everyone around me
seemed so perfect, but I had frizzy hair, buck teeth, and eye glasses
that were always a little crooked. I know it seems silly to say things
like this. What does religion have to do with your appearance?– but to a
teenage girl it means everything. I always felt defective, and the
adults around me seemed to agree. I felt unwanted and unprotected. I
know at this point Christians would say to turn to Jesus. He can make
you whole. Oh, I wanted to believe that. We would sing songs in chapel,
and I would cry. They would think I was worshipping God, but really I
was just crying.

As I got older my parents’ health continued to
deteriorate. I would always go through stages of trying to please them
and trying to get away from them. When they passed away, I finally felt
relief. Relief for them. Relief for myself. I could finally be someone
else. I could break away from my family and reinvent myself. And that’s
exactly what I did. I was promiscuous. I experimented with drugs. I
drank. Anything to comfort myself. I wandered around for a year alone,
from job to job, hotel to hotel. My entire goal for the day was just to
survive. In the fall of 2008, I attempted suicide twice. It wasn’t
because I didn’t want to live; I just didn’t have anything to live for.
And on the hospital bathroom floor, I cried and prayed to God.

I
continued living my life– the only life I felt I deserved. I would work
long hours sometimes at two jobs. I would sleep all day. I felt
absolutely nothing. I craved company and the same time couldn’t deal
with the people around me. I wanted someone to take me in his arms. To
wipe the slate clean.

I met Ammar in March 2009. I’m not going to go
into the details of how we met. They really don’t matter. Allah had
placed many people in my life before Ammar. Ones that tried to warn me
about my attitude, my lifestyle, my faith. Ones that made me want to be
better than myself. But no one really stuck around. They always moved on
or I moved away. Somehow our relationship would always end. When I met
Ammar I was being evicted from my apartment. Ammar heard about this, and
offered to help. I knew he was looking for a wife, but I didn’t think
he was offering help to marry me. I didn’t think he was interested in
me. I thought I would live with him until I saved enough money to get
back on my feet, or hopefully he would give me money and I would be on
my way. Sigh. That’s how I thought back then. I packed up all my clothes
in a small suitcase and went to live with him not knowing what to
expect.

For the first week, we didn’t talk much. We asked questions
and spoke about our childhoods. I watched him. I watched how he
interacted with others. How he protected me. How he noticed when my
shirt was low-cut or would ride up, he’d offer me his jacket. How he
told me I shouldn’t be smoking– that is was bad for my fertility. And I
watched him pray. I saw a man bow down to God. It was the first time I
had ever seen something like this. Of course, I had seen people on the
floor crying to God in church. I saw people fainting and throwing
themselves on the ground. But I had never seen someone bow down with a
clear head– out of duty, respect, and reverence. I wanted in on that!

Every
chance I got, I was on the Internet looking up Islam. I found good
sites and horrendous sites. I was confused. I couldn’t get my hands on
enough books. I went back to the beginning. I tried to understand why I
couldn’t believe in Christianity. Why I couldn’t believe that Jesus was
the son of God. Once I could say that– once I could say Jesus didn’t die
on the cross for me, I could move on.
As I started reading more
about Islam, I realised that this is what I had always believed. This is
what I had been looking for. One God. One God to tell me what I had to
do. To tell me what I was living for. I finally had all the answers to
all the questions I didn’t know I had been asking. I felt at peace for
the first time in my life.

One week after I had moved in with Ammar,
we went to the mosque. I was going to meet a Hispanic convert, Ameenah. I
really didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I thought it would involve
some sort of animal sacrifice or blood ritual. A woman outside the
mosque tied a headscarf around my hair. As I walked up to the women’s
section, I caught my relection in the door. I silently prayed to God for
guidance. If Islam is really true, make this easy.

After the prayer,
I met up with Ameenah. She had her friend, Roxanna, with her. They gave
me a Quran and some pamphlets. Roxanna asked me if I would like to say
the Shahada (declaration of faith) that day. I smiled and mumbled that I
should probably research some more. She asked me If I believed there is
only one God. I said yes. If I believed that Muhammad is the prophet of
Allah. Yes, again. Ok then, she said, what are you waiting for? Go take
your Shahada! We looked for a sheik and I made my declaration of faith.
I was now a Muslim. Women congratulated me, hugged and kissed me.
Ameenah
and I were going to out to lunch. Ammar came over to her car, and spoke
to us. I didn’t know what to say. I still had the headscarf around my
head. I didn’t know if I should take it off. We told Ammar where we were
going, and told him he could meet us there after lunch. And off we
went. At the restaurant, Ameenah and I spoke about Islam. She told me
about her marriage and how she converted. I nodded and smiled a lot. She
asked me about my relationship with Ammar. I told her I didn’t really
know anything yet– if we would get married or not. We had only known
each other for a week! When he arrived she questioned him while I was in
the restroom adjusting the scarf around my head. Picking and pulling at
it.

It was decided that we would get married that night. Ammar and I
drove around for a while making phone calls, getting witnesses. We were
all meeting at AAA. Again, I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know
why animal sacrifices popped into my head, again! I turned to Ameenah
and said I didn’t really understand what was happening. She laughed and
said, You’re getting married! And we did. We were married.

It’s been
three years since I’ve converted. It hasn’t been easy, in fact, it’s
been a painful journey. I had to face the fact that everything I had
been taught since childhood was untrue. I want you to know that I tried.
That I prayed. That I loved (and still love) God with all my heart. The
Christianity will always be with me. That my memories of Christmas and
Easter are precious. That it wasn’t you, but me. That no person “failed
me.” That there wasn’t anything for you to do. You don’t have to save
me. Because God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful has done it.