Islam is about trying to pray and trying to be a better person, student says.
Story and photos by Neven Jones
When Marilyn Martinez came back to San Antonio, she did not speak English. She was born in the U.S. but raised in Mexico as a Catholic. When her parents divorced, she moved to Texas to be with her mother.
She attended this college and earned an associate degree in dental assisting.
She had been in the U.S. for six months when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened.
As Martinez watched the events unfold on television, she wondered why the media portrayed Arabs as terrorists and made Islam seem like a bad religion, she said.
Several months later, in February 2002, she met her future husband, a Muslim from Saudi Arabia, through a classmate at a barbecue and began to learn about Islam.
A few months later they began dating, and seven months into the relationship, she accidently walked into his room while he was praying. That was the first time she ever saw a Muslim pray.
After a year of dating she wanted to learn more about the religion so he brought her books about Islam written in Spanish.
In 2005, she began wearing a hijab, a head covering, periodically.
Martinez recited her Shahada, a declaration of faith, in 2013 in the presence of a sheik and several women from the Mosque and has been a Muslim for eight years, she said.
Shahada is when a Muslim recites that there is only one god, Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
Martinez did not have to change her religion to get married. In fact, she converted after she separated from her husband. She did it for herself, not for him, she said.
She and her husband divorced because of their cultural differences, not religion, she said.
Now that Martinez is Muslim, she says the religion is different from how the media portrays it.
She said her conversion to Islam helped her to be a calmer person.
It helped her to accept things that happened in her life but did not change who she is.
Martinez says she is Mexican by heart and her religion is separate.
Her family respects her holidays. When she fasts during Ramadan, her whole family waits to break fast with her at sundown, she said.
She accepts Jesus was a prophet, like Muhammad.
Martinez always questioned the crucifixion of Jesus, and worshipping saints did not resonate with her. Muslims do not worship statues; when she was Catholic she always questioned why she had to pray to saints.
At Christmas, she celebrates with her family but does not participate in the Catholic rituals.
When she prays at home, she wears abaya, a prayer dress that covers her body.
Praying five times a day is calming, she said. Sometimes, she prays when she is sad. Muslim women must cover their hair, neck and arms to their wrists and their legs to their ankles or the prayer won’t count, she said.
She separates Arab culture from the religion. She shakes men’s hands even though some Muslim women do not.
Covering the body in public is a personal choice and not something that is forced upon Muslims.
Martinez likes to cover up and wear hijab because she wants people to know anyone can be Muslim; it is not exclusive to Arabs.
She is a modest person anyway. Wearing hijab does not stop her from being active.
To keep track of prayer times, Martinez uses an app called “Athan” that can be set to go off before the five prayer times to alert the user it’s time to pray.
Martinez said her friends said even though she changed her religious belief, she is the same person. She is at peace with herself.