SHAFAQNA – “My conversion to Islam has affected my whole life and my being. My conviction and my strength have increased. My vision of truth and justice changed, as well as that of society and the world. My commitment and interest increased, and I realized that I must have a more active role in the fight for a more just society. It also affected my way of understanding and acting in my daily life”.
Maryam Martinez is a Muslim who lives in Europe and a member of the Shia community of Spain and Wales. In an exclusive interview with Shafaqna, Maria explains about her conversion to Islam.
Shafaqna: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Maryam: My name is María, I was born in Barcelona, Spain, in a large family of four brothers and 4 sisters. My family, like so many others, were of humble and hardworking origin. So, they had to send us to a boarding school of nuns of Jesus and Mary, where we could educate ourselves and survive from the poverty of the time. I was a good student and thanks to this I was able to continue university studies in Psychology and Law. Although I never graduated, because it was very difficult then to combine work and study without having any support. Well, at the age of 17, I was already alone facing the world without any support and without parents.
If there is one thing, it is that I am persevering, stubborn, curious and I continue to seek for myself. My faith in a superior being that protects us and cares for us was in my heart from my earliest childhood, although nobody told me anything. After many changes in my life and after accepting Islam, Allah (SWT) made us meet and our paths crossed; and this is how I met a man in broad daylight and during my working hours, who is, has been and will be my partner, friend and husband.
“Only true Islam can contribute to world’s peace”
He was born in Kuwait, although his family are from Iraq, from Najaf and Baghdad. We were married in Germany by an Iranian sheikh. We built a family, and when our three children were still young, we decided to emigrate in order to educate and train them with the values of Islam. This, on the other hand, was an impossible task to carry out in Barcelona.
We ended up residing in Wales, seeing as part of my husband’s family resides here. Which is important for us to be able to share and support each other. The city has a Shia community and it is a quiet place where you can find people from all over the world who are friendly and educated.
Today my children are teenagers. My oldest daughter is currently in college and this September her sister will follow her while my son will enter the college next year. Apart from training in their studies they also are believers and good people. Maybe we hope they can travel and study Islam soon if they wish.
Shafaqna: When and how did you encounter Islam?
Maryam: My first encounter with Islam took place in the spring of 1976. I used to stop at a kiosk to browse the newspapers; and that morning, a photograph came to my attention in which a man with a beard and black turban appeared curiously, to which they had added some horns as if it were the devil himself!
At that time, I lived in a residence with nuns in the center of Barcelona. I have to say that they took care of me and gave me a very good education for which I will always be grateful. Upon my return at the end of my classes, I followed that image in my mind. So, I asked the religious people who I most loved and admired, who taught me to see the world with my own criteria, to fight for what is important and that increased not only my curiosity but also confidence in myself. She, Luz María, was a great person and teacher; a point of reference in my life, someone I used to talk to and ask about what I was interested in or worried about. After asking about who the man was in a turban, she replied that he was a religious leader belonging to an Islamic minority known as Shia who were killed all around the world. And she told me to look for information if I wanted to know more, thus it increased my curiosity.
“Since I have remembered, I have believed in the existence of someone superior to us, who can beg and ask for help”
And it was in this way that I read succinctly about the Islamic revolution in Iran and what I discovered deeply impacted me. Well, I could not understand how it could be that a newspaper article presented as a true “demon” to a cultured, believing, godly man, without any desire for power, luxury or money. A religious man who united an entire nation to rise against oppression and for justice, who was received by a whole town with tears! And the most incredible thing and no one commented, was that all this event happened without the use of violence, without the need to fire a single bullet! This would be the story of my first encounter with Islam, which was thanks to my first encounter with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But since at that time there was no internet, I could not find more information until later.
Shafaqna: How did you convert to Islam?
Maryam: After a decade, and after various events that led me to an existential crisis, in which literal disappointment, nonsense and emptiness flooded my dying soul, I convinced myself that the Christian faith did not answer my existential doubts or my spiritual needs. That it was based on dogma and that he had forgotten spirituality which was no longer practiced. God was only remembered at Sunday mass.
I must clarify that in my renunciation of the Church, neither God nor my faith in God was ever included. Since I have remembered, I have believed in the existence of someone superior to us, who can beg and ask for help. If it were not so, I would have died long ago.
So it was that I met directly with God, without intermediaries, which were never to my liking. I had nothing left and no one but Him, and I begged for God’s help. And in that search, different texts were completed from poetry to philosophy, without completely appeasing that emptiness. Until one day being in a bookstore, I found The Holy Quran. I opened it and the first thing I read was:
“Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim”
“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful”
And this was enough for me!
I thought if there really is a Compassionate and Merciful God, then I want that God for me. I need it urgently! Someone who is compassionate and merciful is essential in my life.
But that was only the beginning, from that moment on everything changed. I started to find books and information and later with the internet the quantity and ease was even greater. So, I could read and buy books that would definitely change my state and my way of life. The reading of the Holy Quran had an immediate effect, and I understood that the science expressed in it is incredible, and therefore that God’s existence and plan are true. Later, there would be many more texts and reflections that would especially impact me deeply, such as the “Sayings, Sermons and Letters of Imam Ali (AS) –Nahjul Balagha, or the 40 Hadiths of Imam Khomeini, where I discovered his mystical facet and through who keep not only admiration and respect but his only image moves me.
I realized that Islam, unlike Christianity, is not based on dogma but on logic and knowledge. That Islam invites you to knowledge and that faith is gained through knowledge and logic and not through dogma. And I really loved this.
Shafaqna: What did you gain by converting and what did you lose?
Maryam: In general, I have to say that I lost all the negative and the worst of my life. And that I gained the tranquility of knowing that this world of suffering and few joys is only in passing, that the other life exists and is waiting for us.
In a particular way I have to say that I lost FEAR!
Before, I suffered and was afraid of almost everything; fear of being ignorant, not knowing who I am, being different, not being loved, not having family, friends, not having a home, losing my job, not knowing what to do, not getting married. Today I can say that I do not miss anything and that if I regret anything it is not having known Islam before, because it would have surely avoided suffering and despair.
And if I have obtained anything, it is His divine mercy because it has been this mercy, which without any doubt has guided me here, to love and to be better than what I was. So, although detailing a list would be an endless and incomplete matter, I will try to list the most essentials.
I will begin by saying that I regained love, the friend, the lost spirituality and the relative tranquility of the soul. That thanks to Allah (SWT), who guides those who ask him, I have had the opportunity to know true Islam, his last Prophet (PBUH) and his beloved family, Ahlal-Bayt (A.S). Just this would be enough, because the love for his family was born in me effortlessly and naturally. It was enough for me to know and recognize them as the excellent living examples of the greatest human virtues. Love for Fatima Zahra (S.A) living example of daughter, wife and mother. From Imam Ali (A.S) my words would be vain, and his blessed offspring; they are all living examples of the Holy Quran.
With them I have learned, and they have helped me, and they help me in my life, in the way of being and behaving in my role as wife, mother, in the education of my children, as a friend, neighbor and citizen of the world. Islam has also made me feel and become a part of a larger community of believers. To recognize people for what they do and not what they say. I have understood that Allah (SWT) does not need us, but that we are the ones who need God, and we despair for His mercy and guidance. We have the best creator, wise, just, strong and merciful that you can get to want, to be able to serve you and ask for your help. God not only created, supports, and guides us, but also God’s plans are magnificent. So, it is enough for us to believe in God, to follow our personal effort and plead for the appearance of our dear and present Imam Al-Zaman (A.J) – may Allah (SWT) hasten his arrival.
Despite my insufficient knowledge, I can say that Islam is not only a doctrine but it is a whole that when you know it, without knowing the reason as something innate, it touches the deepest part of your heart in such a way that it transforms and it polishes like a diamond, and so you can never being apart with it. I can assure you that this is what has happened to me with Islam; once you know you cannot leave it!
“The love for Ahlal-Bayt (A.S) was born in me effortlessly and naturally”
My conversion to Islam has affected my whole life and my being. My conviction and my strength have increased. My vision of truth and justice changed, as well as that of society and the world. My commitment and interest increased, and I realized that I must have a more active role in the fight for a more just society. It also affected my way of understanding and acting in my daily life.
Islam has strengthened the certainty of knowing that this world is not the end but a place of tests on which our stay in the other world will depend. That to know oneself is to know the One God. Knowing that it is God who has created us, guides us, protects us and fills us with blessings. That we depend completely on God and on God’s Mercy.
Shafaqna: What is your opinion on the common points between Islam and Christianity?
Maryam: I think that both religions share the same skeleton as to what we could call the moral or ethical teachings. For example, loving the other as yourself, but both are distanced in many other ways. For example, in Islam the intervention of the priest is not necessary to ask for forgiveness for the sins committed, while in Christianity you must relate them to another person who is still the same as you and who can certainly be quite uncomfortable.
Shafaqna: How can these two religions contribute to world’s peace?
Maryam: This is a somewhat difficult question to answer because I believe that for peace to reign worldwide it is a long process that depends on many factors to take into account. For example, justice and truth must first prevail, and the privileges of a minority in favor of the majority must be ended. For this we would need that the vast majority acquire knowledge and awareness of the other and change all structures and systems, both political, judicial, educational, health, etc. We are all human beings with equal rights and obligations, and we should enjoy equal opportunities.
In conclusion, only true Islam can contribute to world peace. Since accepting Islam has immediate effects not only on people with respect to their relationship with God and neighbor, but with the whole of society. Islam well understood and accepted affects not only the individual but the whole of society, all its structures are social, political, economic, educational, health, etc. The purported separation between faith and government that Western governments seek to impose on Islamic societies is false. Since the form of government is not separated from the faith, but having faith supposes the establishment of a fair form of government and distribution of wealth.
“Today, Hijab is part of me, and I like it because it keeps me conscious and away from banalities”
Shafaqna: What is your current attitude on Islamic rules, such as Salat, fasting, Hijab, etc.?
Maryam: As in all societies and in all religions, there are some rules to follow. Therefore, it is logical and normal that Islam contains rules based on Divine opinions. In other words, the so-called “Islamic Laws” are based on the divine opinions expressed in the Holy Quran.
And my attitude towards them is plain and simple sincere submission. Well, personally, I consider it shameful and disrespectful to make my own decision and discard the rest. I clarify to avoid misunderstandings, what I want to express is that for me it would be incomprehensible and shameful not to try to fulfill the commandments of Allah (SWT) but on the other hand to accept and ask for his help and blessings, while I do not obey him. We already know that we can never thank him as he deserves, therefore we must at least try to obey his commandments, which on the other hand benefit us. For example, Salat (prayer) purifies, strengthens and heals us. I hope someday to be able to understand and live the happiness of Salat.
Of the benefits of fasting, I think everyone knows them, since they have been listed by different medical professionals, although they are not only limited to the body, but their effects also affect the soul. As for the Hijab, it is necessary to read and listen to the opinions of the wise people regarding the obligation to wear it. For me at first, I did not understand why it should cover me, since there is a saying that says: “The habit does not make the monk” and I thought that you certainly are not a better person because you are covered.
Silly of me! Well, I certainly don’t know if you are a better person but today, I know if you are more obedient! Well, as in the other cases discussed, it is not an option to wear it or not, it is simply a commandment that one freely decides to obey or not. And therefore, my decision was firm and convinced from the heart. I don’t want to say it was easy, no, but it makes you mature and showers you with blessings. And today it is part of me, and I like it because it keeps me conscious and away from banalities.
To be continued …
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