Reflections on my Shahada
By Juan Galvan
Written June 26, 2001
About two weeks ago after Jumaah prayer, Golam encouraged me to say shahada, the Islam declaration of faith. I told him that I wanted to wait until I knew the Muslim prayer. I had already been learning the prayer. I had already memorized a couple of chapters. I told him that Catholics usually have to study before receiving a sacrament. I had been attending Jumaah prayer for about a month already. He said to me, “If you feel it in your heart already, you should just take shahada. No pressure. Allah says no compulsion of religion. But you never know when you will die. By saying shahada, you will be a Muslim in the face of God. But you should think about it, and if you know you’re ready you should go for it.”
I thought for a second or two what my friends and family would think. I also wondered if I was ready to be a good Muslim. Golam grew up in Bangledesh, a country that is primarily Muslim. I don’t think he’s experienced the various temptations that are condemned in Islam. I guess the idea of never drinking again was a scary thought. Then I took a deep breath and told Golam that I would go ahead and say shahada. Then he told me that later that night after Maghrib, I would make shahada. He told me what to expect, “You’ll say shahada first in Arabic and then in English. Afterward, the brothers will congratulate you.” Then he told me what I would say next. I kept butchering the Arabic so I asked him to write it down on paper. In English I would say “I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah. I also testify that Muhammed is His servant and messenger.” Before I left the mosque, Golam instructed me to take a shower before going to the mosque.
While leaving the mosque, I told my Imam and Mamun that I was taking shahada. The Imam instructed me, “You don’t have to make the shahada public public. You could say it in front of one person and the person doesn’t need to be a Muslim.” I suppose I’m used to the Catholic way of things, formal. An informal shahada would be like going to a bus stop and saying “Hi, I’d like to say shahada. I testify that”” As I left jumah prayer, I read the shahada over and over trying to get the words and pronunciation right. “Ash-hadu Al-la Ilaha Il-lal-Lahu Wa-ash-hadu Anna Muhammadan ‘Abduhu Wara sulah.” I wanted to memorize it so I wouldn’t come across as too ignorant. When I would attend mosque on Fridays, I would pray with the congregation. I had asked the Imam if it would be acceptable. I had already memorized Surah 1, Al Fatihah, which begins the prayer and had remembered it in English and Arabic already so I didn’t feel too lost. I also memorized Surah 112, Al Ikhlas: “Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.”
The reasoning of man can lead people to do the dumbest things. When I arrived at home, I reasoned that “after tonight I will never eat pork again, and I also have a pepperoni pizza in the freezer so I’ll either need to throw it away or”” Ok, so I ate a pork-filled pizza before shahada. At least, I didn’t wash it down with some beer. Finally 7:00pm rolled around. Golam knocked on my door, and I went to his car. He asked me how I felt. I said I felt good. I felt guilty for eating the pizza. He then asked me if I had taken a shower. I replied in the affirmative. I told him I couldn’t believe I was about to be a Muslim.
When we arrived, someone was serving dinner. After being served, Golam and I sat with the other men. The food was delicious as always. Golam stated that in Islam when someone has a child the family will feed the community as a thank you. My friend Mamun ate with his hands. I used a fork. I couldn’t decide if it was for religious reasons, if he merely wanted to eat with his hands, or if he was too embarrassed to ask for a fork. I tried handing him a fork. He said that there’s a haddith about eating with your hands. Mamun is also from Bangledesh. He has a big heart. Before visiting a mosque, I thought all mosques were packed with Arabs but most people who attend Austin mosques are mostly from Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. I once asked an Asian brother how long he’s been a Muslim. He’s from Malaysia. Azlan said his parents and grandparents were all Muslim. I was stunned.
Before magrib prayer, I told Golam, “There’s lot of peace. Lots of peace in knowing that I only have to worship God. I don’t worship money, wealth, or any of that. I don’t have to please the world.” Golam nodded. Recently, he stated, “Look at America. They have all the freedoms. Still there are so many unhappy people. You would think everyone would be happy.” I have spent most of my life trying to be accepted. I simply believed Islam was true. I wanted to be a Muslim. That was all that mattered. Would I be a good Muslim? Maybe. Maybe not. “Muslims are the most religious people in the world. How can I ever be like that?” I wondered. Hayya Alal Falah, Hayya Alal Falah. Come to success, come to success. Finally, prayer time had come. Congregational prayer is amazing when you think about it. Every Muslim regardless of race or nationality in the world pray toward one location, Mecca in Saudia Arabia. Together, we all form concentric circles around the Kaaba. Beautiful. Amazing. After prayer, it was time to say shahada.
Golam stood up, faced the crowd saying, “There’s someone who will take shahada. He attends the University of Texas. He grew up in Texas. He’s been coming to the mosque regularly.” Next thing I knew I was sitting in front of everyone. I was about to go through a “Muslim baptism” as a Christian friend once put it. The Imam said, “Look what Allah has done. He has touched the heart of another. Brother, what is your name?” “Juan Galvan,” I responded. I was handed a microphone. He told me to repeat what he said. The Arabic I said wasn’t exactly as I had practiced. I had the paper I used to practice in front of me. I wish I could remember exactly what was said. “I testify that there is no God but Allah. I also testify that Muhammed is his servant and prophet.” Then he stated, “I also testify that Jesus is his servant and prophet. God has no brother and no mother.” I recalled how adamant Muhammed was about never being worshipped as a God. Stating that Jesus was also God’s prophet reminded me about the significance of Jesus within Islam.
After saying shahada, the Imam stated, “Congratulations. God forgives the sins of those who turn toward him. And if he wants he can turn your previous bad deeds into good deeds.” Everyone clapped then stood up to shake my hand or hug me. I felt very much at home. I tried hard not to cry. I wish there was a way I could tell all the Muslims I’ve ever met that I’ve embraced Islam. I would want them to know how much I appreciate them for telling me about Islam. Meeting all those Muslims were a part of a series of events that brought me to where I am today. Alhamdulila. All praise and thanks to Allah.