I remember quite vividly as if it were yesterday walking with my grandmother to the local florist to pick out a handful of fresh flowers, and then continuing on with her up to the highest point of town to the burial site of her youngest son. I was only 6 years old, still a very timid, shy and modest soft spoken boy. My grandmother assigned me the task of cleaning the tomb while she diligently replaced the previous day’s batch of flowers with the sorrows of a new day’s loss. It was a humbling offering and one which we performed every single day, but it did not culminate there. A couple of yards beyond the gates stood an architectural wonder, the church where I was baptized under the feet of massive blood stained idol that always gave me the creeps, as well as an opportunity for my grandmother to find some temporary solace.
As we carefully traveled back down from the burial site the view was such that I could see all that the city had to offer. From such heights things seem so clear — but even more evident was the fact that religion and death had claimed a profound part of my mind, and while one left no doubt the other left me confused.
That same year on Easter Sunday I watched my first movie, Jesus (peace be upon him) of Nazareth. It captivated my soul. It appealed to my heart and all my senses, and the more I watched the more I fell in love with this extraordinary human being, son, and prophet. In the end it left me disturbed in a wave of tears and with a litany of questions. I didn’t want to believe in an unjust God, I just wanted to know why He would sell Jesus out to a pack of wolves that supposedly tortured and killed him under the watchful eyes of his family, after building him up to such degree. I couldn’t even imagine the worst criminal let alone God doing such a great injustice.
It was my 9th birthday and I still didn’t possess the mental fortitude to make sense of it nor did I understand why I was boarding a plane in my mother country of Portugal headed toward New York. When I arrived I was greeted by my parents who I hadn’t seen since I was two, who worked vigorously to lay a foundation in a land that imprisoned them to a life of working instead of working to live. As a consequence I was opened to unbounded freedoms manifesting many bad habits, which corrupted my judgment ultimately staining my higher morality. I knew my lifestyle was ill but I didn’t have the medicine to cure myself. What I did know is that God did not intend this life for me much less the life of the affluent which my father would encourage me to follow as we painted their prestigious homes.What purpose does their money serve if it can’t compel them to smile or even offer a glass of water to my father? Rich or poor this life didn’t move me for I knew that God had created me for something greater.
I would always contemplate deeply but after failing to come up with the answer I would go back to the life I knew until I purchased my first Quran.But then my father at the age of 49 died unexpectedly and my search was put on hold for another ten years until the
birth of my first child. At that moment when I looked in her eyes I felt a tremendous amount of urgency that was suffocating – the thought of her ending up with someone like me gave me nightmares, and the thought of meeting my Lord gave me visions of a humiliating punishment. I thought of the best example for my daughter and I came up with Mary, I gravitated to God and came up with the only religion I knew–Christianity, and as I read through my bible for the first time looking and asking for guidance I grew even more frustrated with all the contradictions.When I sought answers from priests I was told I was losing my religion, another one told me I had no religion and a third said “how dare you”. I thought that if the priests can’t answer my questions then maybe I’ll go back and seek out a rabbi, or two, or three. But they were no help either, I just lost even more time with individuals who were pained to even accept Jesus (peace be upon him) as a Prophet.
A few months later I had a talk with a good friend of mine, who introduced a name I had never heard before, “Muhammad” (peace be upon him). A few moments later he was insulting, degrading and belittling that very same name, and I still don’t know what compelled to come to the defense of someone whose name I didn’t even know. But for some reason I just had to, and that conviction led me all the way to a Queens masjid. When I entered the people in the masjid saw a man who was in no mood for excuses, fairy tales, or blind faith, so what did they do? They invited me to lunch. Are these guys clever or what, I thought, or do they really have something? Indeed they had something I had been waiting to hear since I was six years old , something I was ready to accept. Unfortunately, I was hurting with guilt telling them that I didn’t feel I could live up to my Lord’s expectations the way He would want me to, the way I knew I should. But they said “if you walk out today and die you will meet your Lord as a believer if your heart truly believes, but if He lets you live, then know that you can come back to your Lord right now and work on earning his pleasure day by day.” So I became a Muslim, saying “I testify that there is no God but Allah and I testify that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His messenger and final prophet”. I thank God I am a Muslim.