By Hana Mazhar
Gabriella, 35, born and brought up in Mexico, comes from a middle class family of five brothers and is a mix of Latino and Hispanic.
She embraced Islam in 2013. She was previously raised as a Catholic. She completed her bachelor’s degree in communication in Mexico followed by her master’s degree in education.
Currently Gabriella is a first year master’s degree student in communication at IIUM. She is doing her second master’s degree.
Before leaving home to further her studies here, she lived with her mother and her two brothers. Far away from Malaysia, she had no knowledge about this university or the country. She notified me that IIUM was searching for students who were skilful in language and active in religion and da’wah.
She, being from a country with less than 1% of Muslims, was selected along with four more residents from Mexico to join IIUM. Ergo, she embarked upon this unknown journey with her heart full of bittersweet love and memories, leaving behind her family and friends.
Gabriella landed in Malaysia end of October in 2016 and joined IIUM to pursue her degree. The university was beyond her expectations; she had underestimated her expectations.
Her experience so far at the university has been very cooperative. She feels she is more accepted in this university than her workplace as she developed different views. Her identity had not been appreciated in Mexico.
Gabriella said she feels uplifted being a Muslim. “When a person has no limitations she or he faces many problems, and continuously being indulged in activities that diminish personal morals,” she said, adding that “the people in the west mostly have no limitations to their actions”.
Gabriella started studying about different religions in her late 20’s. She was quoted saying, “I was only trying to find peace in my heart and I found Allah.” She wanted to know the reality of life; she started comparing religion and understanding different dimensions of religions.
Everyone around Gabriella told her that she is following the wrong path; she faced a lot of criticism by her own family, but her religious identity encouraged her so much that she went to study Arabic in Cairo for eight months. The painful criticism from her society made her stronger and it gave her more power to believe in Allah.
Personally, I feel people born into Muslim families do not practice Islam with their utmost attention and dedication. Since we were raised as Muslims, we do not have the devoted loyalty to explore. We follow what our parents followed, we obey what our parents obeyed and we neglect what our parents neglected.
This in turn leads us to have a lose connection with God. When we missed a prayer as a teenager, our parents would force us to pray or remind us of God’s punishments to petrify us; henceforth we would be pushed to pray. It could be either that our parents were our source of fear and we would perform prostration to satisfy them or to satisfy our need of satisfying them.
Gabriella on the other hand, has no one to satisfy but Allah; she could easily choose to not be a Muslim in her country, where she was asked multiple times to leave Islam and take her hijab off. However, instead she chose to follow her heart and chose paradise for herself.
She enlightened me by telling me that she has no one to disappoint but Allah and no one to satisfy but Allah. She prays for Him and fasts for Him. There would be no one to rebuke her over her actions or to remind her to pray. She prays because she wants to and needs to.
Gabriella has the same beliefs as me, when it comes to gender equality. Women for sure hold a paramount amount of importance and responsibility, but they cannot survive without a firm being. Ever since our childhood our fathers and brothers guard us.
Men and women complement each other, and it is no shame to agree that we need men as much as they need us. Gabriella expressed the same feelings as me, telling me that women cannot do everything on their own, they need support and sometimes they even need help.
In Islam women are to be taken care of by their husbands, it is their prime duty to keep them safe, however, this is seen lacking in the western society. Women feel that they are liberated when they do everything on their own, they have started to do anything for money and this makes them feel liberated. It makes them feel responsible to raise themselves.
“Imagine a woman sitting in a bus; will she stand up for a man so he can sit? No! Because usually men lend their seats to women.” This shows double standards, we say we are equal but in reality we know we are not, we are different. Both duties of men and women are separated according to their abilities. Women and men do not have equal rights, but they do have equally balanced rights in Islam.
Usually children in Gabriella’s culture are expected and encouraged to find their own spouses, as Gabriella mentioned, children are inspired to date, so that it is easier for them to find their other halves.
She also said that these days it is not even important to get married in the western societies, people can have live-in relationships and hold no responsibility over one another. They are allowed to move in with their boyfriends or girlfriends, which is culturally acceptable.
As for Gabriella’s family, she left the house when she was 27 and started to live independently
One main misconception about Mexicans is that people believe Mexicans are drug exporters and drug addicts, the same way people believe that all Muslims are terrorists.
Her journey through Islam was very heartening, Gab is a very strong woman, she had to witness a lot of criticism and bullying, but she did not give up on her hopes. Allah always had a door open for her when He closed one.
She feels really blessed to become a part of this religion. She does not regret losing her friends because of her new identity. She told me that Allah cleansed her life by taking away those friends from her.
She feels elevated. She feels more accepted in Malaysia as this country is a Muslim majority and she does not have to face any sort of criticism. Nevertheless, her life then was very inspiring as every bad word used against her gave her the courage to become what she is today.
The disparagement she had to face made her stronger and a better Muslim. She misses her family and she would love to go back, but she would not want to live her life there as there is no halal food to eat and always chose fish over meat.
She wants to visit her parents and loves studying abroad as she is able to learn a lot about different cultures and traditions. Gab has left many of her cultural identities in Mexico, as she has become a new person which is very empowering.
Gabriella told me that, even if she goes back to Mexico, she will not be accepted the way she is now. She feels that she does not belong to the Mexican culture anymore because her culture is inspired by Catholic teachings and she defines herself having one culture and one religion, that is Islam.
“My culture has changed because of my religion, I cannot think of living in Mexico as the culture there is not what I follow. I follow Islam; Islam is my culture and my religion.”
Message of a revert, Gabriella Mondragon. ***