The Ahlulbayt were the main reason for my conversion. Allah has made our hearts soften and attracted to them because they are the most magnificent manifestation of Allah in this world. Their hadiths move every part of my being.
An Exclusive Interview of a Revert to Islam, Catherine Reyes, from the United States, by Bentolhoda Mofakhami
Catherine Reyes, 26 years old, was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Both of her parents are immigrants from Mexico and came to the United States over 26 years ago. She has one older sister and four younger brothers. She is a photographer working in LA. She had always been searchring for the truth her entire life. She had lived 22 years of her life as a non-practicing Catholic and became Muslim four years ago by the Mercy of Allah. She believes that the deep theological and monotheism discussions in Islam and the Ahlulbayt were the main reason that drove her to convert to Islam.
Sister Catherine! Rahyafte team (related to Edoardo Agnelli Islamic Association) appreciates you for accepting the interview. For the first question please tell us how you got familiar with Islam.
I’m sure I heard about Islam during my early years of middle school and high school but I didn’t start noticing it until I was about 20 years old. I began to see many women in hijab and I just remember being intrigued by them. The first moment I started inquiring about Islam was when I was 22 years old.
What drove you to convert to Islam?
Many things drove me to convert to Islam. Mainly it was the fact that I could relate to the religion so much when I was first learning about it. The monotheistic aspect of Islam is what first drew me towards it and with an open mind I began to ask more questions. In 2013 one of my greatest friends was riding his bike and got hit by the train. He was pronounced dead at the scene. I had never experienced such a tragedy in my life. His death taught me so many lessons. When I saw his dead body, during the funeral, I came to the realization that this was going to be me as well at some point and I decided to ask Allah for guidance. I prayed so hard and sincerely for the first time in my life. I asked Allah to guide me towards him, and subhanallah my prayers were answered in the next few months. I came across a book called Discovering Islam by Sayed Mustafa Qazwini and in it, there was a short passage by Imam Ali (pbuh) from a sermon in Nahjul Balagha, The Oneness of Allah. I remember weeping from amazement because I had never come across such powerful words. I had always felt this way towards God but never knew it. I fell completely in love with Imam Ali (pbuh), and I told myself that I would learn everything there was to know about this personality.
What was your religion before converting to Islam?
I was a non-practicing Catholic because of Mexican tradition. I had always believed in God but I just didn’t know anything about Him. I also believed in Prophet Isa (pbuh) but never as the son of Allah, that concept never made sense to me and no one was ever able to answer my questions. After high school I tried to be Christian but I couldn’t relate to the religion. I was not satisfied with it. Before becoming Muslim, I considered myself Agnostic and I practiced some Buddhist traditions but never considered myself a part of any faith system.
What specifically attracted you to Islam?
The Ahlulbayt were the main reason for my conversion. Allah has made our hearts soften and attracted to them because they are the most magnificent manifestation of Allah in this world. Their hadiths move every part of my being. The other thing that attached me to Islam is the deep theological and monotheism discussions that are taught by our scholars.
What was your family’s reaction after you became a Muslim? Did you have any problem with people who knew you?
When I told my family that I was learning about Islam, they found it very normal. I was raised in a very open minded household and my family was supportive of my hobbies and interests. When I told them I was going to become Muslim, they didn’t think I was serious and they didn’t know what being Muslim actually meant. When I told them I became Muslim and started changing my lifestyle, they were confused and thought it was only a phase. When I first wore hijab is when they began to get concerned. I had lived 22 years of my life as a “normal” American and they thought someone was brainwashing me. I didn’t know how to explain to them what was happening me so I got into many arguments with them the first couple of months. They never hated me or made a problem for me, they were just concerned and I would easily get upset and frustrated because they would ask ignorant questions. As time went by I gained more knowledge and was able to express myself to them. This is an event that cannot be described, it can only be experienced. I thank Allah that He blessed me with a supportive family that has my back in everything.
As for my friends, I didn’t tell anyone what was happening. I just stopped talking to them because I knew no one would understand. I was already busy with work and hardly hung out with them, so I deleted all my social media accounts so no one would talk to me. I didn’t want anyone to interfere with my decision.
What is the most beautiful Ayah of the Quran in your opinion? And why?
There are so many Ayahs in the Quran that are special to me but one that really touches my heart is:
“The believers are only those who, when God is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord the rely.” (۸:۲)
This ayah, is so special to me because the Ahlulbayt are the epitome of these words. They are the truest of believers and are the most God fearing because they are God conscious. This Ayah reminds me of them, and it reminds me to strive to be like them, to fear Allah and remember Him and strive to be one of the true believers, InshaAllah.
What’ your opinion about hijab? Did wearing hijab have any effect on your private life? Do you think it is only dedicated to women?
Wearing hijab was one of the greatest things I experienced when I first came to Islam. I knew it was wajib but I didn’t actually experience that until I first wore it which was about 2 months after I said my Shahadah. I value hijab greatly because my entire life I lived without hijab. In the past, I never dressed in a provocative way but people always had something to say to me and I couldn’t stand when people looked at me. The day I wore it, I felt a sense of protection, I automatically saw that people perceived me differently and wouldn’t look at me in that way. It felt as if I was forcing people to respect me, and I had never doubted wearing it or taken it off since then. Everyone at work was concerned and began to ask me if I was ok, if someone was forcing me, etc. The questioning was so overwhelming for me and it was very emotional but at the same time, I knew I was doing the right thing and pleasing Allah.
Hijab is not just a scarf. It is also the manner in which you dress and the manner in which you deal with people. These things cannot contradict and I think it is very important for everyone to understand the concept of hijab before wearing it.
The physical veil is wajib upon the female but man also has hijab and that is keeping his eyes away from women.
How do you analyze the family institution according to Christianity and Islam?
There is nothing as complete as Shiism, the true religion of Allah. The Imams of Ahlulbayt give us the tools for very matter in our lives including how to deal with our families. Islam has taught me the true value of family and not to take our loved ones for granted. This is something that I completely overlooked before becoming Muslim. I had always loved and respected my family, but it is much deeper now.
What was your feeling when you prayed for the first time? Wasn’t it hard for you to pray 5 times a day?
Prayer is one of Allah greatest mercies upon us. My entire life I had never thought about Allah throughout my day. The only time Allah crossed my mind was when I was going through a difficult period in my life. I am always amazed by Allah’s wisdom, how He knew that we need prayer 5 times a day to remind us of our purpose. Prayer was not difficult at all. Of course, I do not speak Arabic, but when you decide to take a step towards Allah, He takes 10 steps towards you and what seems difficult becomes easy. I have a long commute to work, so that was when I practiced reciting the prayer verses. I recorded myself, and replayed the recording in my car until I was able to recite prayer, Alhamdulillah. I began to pray at home and at work and it was one of the greatest things I have ever done. Prayer times never fail to amaze me until this day. I am grateful for this great blessing Allah has bestowed upon us.
How do you see the spread of Islam in your country?
There are so many people converting to this religion Alhamdulillah. Michigan is probably the most Muslim populated area in the United States, but even then I think our communities could be better. It would be amazing if there was Mejalis everyday because it is so easy to deviate in this society with everything that surrounds us.
If you want to say some words about the beauty of Islam, the peace, the calmness you have found in this religion what do you say?
Becoming Muslim was definitely something that I never imagined would happen to me. I didn’t know this then, but now I know that I had always been searching for the truth my entire life. The problem is that I was searching in worldly things like art, music, relationships, etc. The thing is, Allah manifests Himself through all his creation, and His beautiful attributes are demonstrated in things of this world. Naturally, we will be attracted to anything that has these qualities because they are qualities of Allah, but once you meet the Ahlulbayt the bar is set. There is nothing or no one that comes close to their greatness. They are those who have the greatest and strongest characteristics of Allah and who have the most knowledge of Allah. I couldn’t help but to fall in love with them. When you love someone, you want to know everything about them and you would do what it takes to please them. Their sorrows break your heart and their happiness lightens up your life. Allah is wise and he knows who to choose for His divine authorities in this world.
Thank you very much for your attention. May Allah bless you and keep you strong and firm on this true path.
By Bentolhoda Mofakhami
DUA: Allah please accept this from us. You are All-Hearing and All-Knowing. You are The Most Forgiving. You are The Most Relenting and repeatedly Merciful. Allah grant us The Taufiq to read all the 5 prayers with sincerity.
(Taken from: To Be Earnest In Prayers By Amina Elahi)
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