April - June 2002, Texas

Islam in the Texas Panhandle

By Juan Galvan.

I grew up in the Texas Panhandle. I had a boring childhood, I should mention, again. I spent over half my life in two small towns, Turkey and Quitaque. Turkey was named after Turkey Creek. Turkey’s first newspaper was called the ‘Turkey Gobbler.’ Quitaque was named after an Indian name which means horse manure. I sometimes joke that I am uncultured as a result. The population of both towns is less than 600 and shrinking. In 1972, the Turkey and Quitaque schools consolidated creating Valley School halfway between the two towns. I attended Valley School and have fond memories of life as a Valley Patriot. One day I would like to speak at Valley School about Islam. I am not certain why I would have such a desire. I could reach a larger audience anywhere else in Texas. Perhaps, because Valley School, Turkey and Quitaque, are still what I call home. I returned to the Texas Panhandle last month to visit my family in Pampa.

While visiting my family, I decided to install Windows 2000 but I didn’t know I would need updated modem drivers. I went to the library to download the drivers. I ended up spending the afternoon at the library. I was very proud of myself because I gathered the courage to pray at the library. I prayed between a couple of book shelves. I checked out the religious section of the library. I was happy to see a few books about Islam. While visiting my family last summer in Memphis, Texas, I could not find any Islamic literature at the library. I donated a Qur’an to the Pampa library. The two copies available appeared worn out.

While at the Pampa library, I took a break from writing e-mails. My eyes felt as if they were about to explode. I spend too much time writing e-mails I am embarrassed to admit, and may even deny, it. During my walk, I found a Baptist Christian school. In front of the school, a sign states “The Crusaders” below an image of a European knight. In colleges around the country, you will find a Christian organization called Campus Crusade for Christ. Perhaps, in three hundred years, we Muslims will have schools whose mascot is the “The Mujahideen.” By then, some creative Muslims would have begun the Campus Jihad for Allah. Yes, crusade good, jihad bad. I can be very sarcastic.

As soon as I arrived in Pampa, I searched through the Pampa phonebook looking for Pampa Muslims. I hoped that Muslims rented an apartment for the daily prayers. At least, Muslims got together to prayed Jumah on Fridays, I hoped. In the phonebook, I found only a couple of Muslim names. Both were doctors. One of the doctors lived in Amarillo but had his phone number listed in the Pampa phonebook. I did not call the other doctor. I was not certain if he was Muslim nor did I want to bother him. I also called the Amarillo mosque to inquire about the existence or nonexistence of Pampa Muslims. The person who answered the phone told me he knew of only one Muslim family in Pampa but he didn’t have their contact information. I told him I would come to the Amarillo Mosque if I had the opportunity.

I have to always remind myself that I am not a Baptist preacher. At a recent Southern Baptist Convention, a crazy Baptist said some foolish things about our Beloved Prophet. I wished a well-known American imam would have responded with, “I know you are but what is he?” I try to be as subtle as possible when discussing Islam. I distributed Dhikr beeds to each of my family members. They had never seen Dhikr beeds before. I told them that remembrance beeds are used by many Muslims after prayer as they recite “Allah Akbar,” “Subhanna Allah,” and “Alhamdulila,” each thirty-three times. Dhikr beeds create curiosity.

I brought Islamic literature for my family. I gave my mom some pamphlets. I told her she could ask me questions after reading the pamphlets. I also gave her a copy of the “Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam.” I let my sister Mary borrow my book full of Qur’anic versions. The verses in the book are classified into topic-related categories. She asked, “Where did you get this book of poetry?” Many non Muslims are pleasantly surprised to learn that the Qur’an is poetic. A few days later, she returned the book while I was out jogging. I hope she enjoyed the book. I gave the book to my younger sister, Cathy. I want my family to understand and perhaps, appreciate my religion. People need to educate themselves about Islam before embracing it. The Muslim community has plenty of ignorant Muslims as it is. Allah guides who He will.

Islam can definitely seem strange to non Muslims. One day, Jerry, my sister Mary’s husband, saw me praying. I was in prostration at the time. He stood beside me and then lowered his face toward the carpet. I tried hard to maintain my concentration. After the prayer, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was praying. “Oh, I thought you had lost something in the carpet,” he said, “I was about to help you.” On another day, Mary and Jerry’s kids watched me pray. ‘Mary and Jerry’ sounds like a delicious brand of ice cream, by the way. I think watching a Muslim pray must be a strange observation for non Muslims. An American Muslim convert once told me that his decision to revert occurred after visiting a mosque. After seeing Muslims pray, Michael knew that the way the Muslims prayed was the correct way to pray to God.

I visited my grandparents. They are in good health. I have not told them that I am Muslim yet. I am not sure they could take the excitement. They would not be angry so much because I embraced Islam as they would be that I left the Roman Catholic religion. I was not in the mood to argue with my grandpa. When I was a teenager, he invited me to eat dinner. I was glued to the television. I told him I wasn’t hungry. With a vicious look on his face, he asked, “What? You don’t want to eat grandma’s food??” I went straight to the dinner table. I always enjoyed seeing my grandpa pray whether at church or at the altar in his bedroom. I recall wishing I could feel the way my grandpa feels as he prays toward a statue of Jesus or of Mary. Today, when I pray at a mosque, I feel a closer relationship to God than I thought ever imaginable.

On the way to my grandparent’s place, I popped in a cassette called “Purpose of Life,” which explains the fundamentals of Islam. There were a couple of issues my dad raised. My dad pointed out that he knew someone who did memorize the entire Bible. I said, “You’re saying he memorized the entire Bible?” “No,” he corrected himself, “he read the entire Bible.” “I’ve read the entire Bible,” I told him. Laughing, he replied, “No wonder you’re so messed up.” I continued, “But kids as young as eight have memorized the entire Qur’an. I think that’s a miracle.” He also pointed out that Jesus was not a Muslim. I responded, “Well, in the sense that he obeyed God, worshipped only God, and all his actions were for God. Islam means obedience and submission in its purest sense.”

I visited with my siblings as much as possible. I love my brother but not his cat. He has a wild cat. His cat loved biting me. I’d push his cat away, and it would run back to bite me some more. The cat bit my finger during tashahud. I’ll forgive his cat this time. Cruelty to animals is forbidden in Islam. My brother and I get along fairly well. I guess he has forgiven me for the way I treated him when we were growing up. I remember once tying him up and telling him I was going to leave him outside for the entire night. I’m not sure how he escaped because I do not recall setting him free.

I went to Amarillo with my brother and his wife to watch movies during the weekend. While returning to Pampa, I read a sign that said Quail Creek Road, which I knew led to the Amarillo mosque. I asked Robert to take me there to pray. Within a few minutes, we found the mosque. I convinced my brother to enter the mosque and that was no easy task. He was surprised that we Muslims take off our shoes before entering a mosque. During my first trip to a mosque, I was worried someone would steal my shoes. I showed Robert how to perform wudu. That’s wudu, not voodoo. “Now you know what I was doing with my feet in your kitchen sink the other day,” I said. While leaving the mosque, he said, “That wasn’t so bad. I was thinking they were gonna stare at us funny and say something because we’re Mexicans.” I grinned. Many Muslims at the Austin Mosque are still surprised to learn that I’m Mexican-American. As one brother said, “Oh, I thought you were a terrorist like the rest of us.” Muslims have a funny sense of humor.

The following Saturday, Robert, his wife, and I watched a couple of more movies at the theater in Amarillo. Once again, we went to the mosque after the movies. I convinced my brother again to enter the mosque. A Latino brother once e-mailed stating that as a young boy he was afraid to get near a mosque because he and his friends were told that the people there enjoyed sacrificing humans. After praying Isha, the imam began to speak to my brother about Islam. He gave Robert an overview about Islam. An American brother named Salim who grew up in Borger gave me his phone number. He knows a Muslim from Pampa and said he’d give me his phone number when I call. Robert and I ended up spending over an hour at the mosque. His wife stayed in the car. The next day, I returned to Austin.

As always, it was difficult leaving my family. God has definitely blessed me with a loving family. I get along well with my parents and all my siblings. At the Amarillo airport, a Christian asked me, “Are you taking Jesus onboard with you?” I replied, “No, I’m taking my faith onboard with me.” In God we trust. We shared a pleasant conversation. I could not gather the courage to pray at the airport. I was afraid to get cloth lined. I admire an Austin brother. He has a long beard, usually wears a thobe, and still continues to pray at the airport. He and his wife receive annoying stares, he told me. At the airport, he recently told an older lady, “Don’t worry. We’re just Muslim. We’re not gonna hurt you.”

While onboard the plane, I met a Latino from Borger named Jose. He was about to visit his sister in Nashville. We ended up sitting beside each other. Before leaving the plane, I handed Jose a small booklet about Islam. He received the booklet with a smile. I did not give him the literature sooner because I did not want the passengers to hear the word Islam onboard the plane. I did not discuss Islam on the flight. It’s almost as if saying Islam is like saying ‘bomb’ nowadays. As I left the plane, I felt very saddened because deep inside I know the chances of Jose embracing Islam are rather slim. The Texas Panhandle needs a foundation to foster the growth of Islam.