A Case For Inclusivity

by Sofia Lopez Garzon

Given recent events worldwide, in particular the terrorist attack in New Zealand (may Allah grant the deceased Jannah), I feel the world could use more understanding, more tolerance, and a reminder that we are all human. As a revert, the events that have brought me to embrace and love Islam, having taken place over several years, would have been impossible without these things. 

That’s why it sparks my emotions when, being a part of the Muslim community which has been so accepting and welcoming, I see other Muslims ignoring people of different backgrounds and their traditions. Of course, Muslims trying to prevent their brothers and sisters from taking part in foreign traditions like Diwali, Christmas, and Holi just to name a few, are well-intentioned and focused on doing what they can to help the Ummah. However, refusing to experience other cultures and traditions, regardless of how they relate to our own beliefs, may stunt our own personal growth and be more harmful than we can imagine. 

What is the consequence of staying in your own bubble, a false illusion which we create against the truth which is a world so much bigger than us? Sadly, the result is ignorance and intolerance. We know everything is better if we share it. So, with this I end: share your emotions, share your smile, share your traditions, because it sounds cliché, but it really does make the world a better place. Especially my life is proof of this, thanks to the people who have known me and always support/accept me as I am, Allahamdulilah.

Interview with Sofia:

Have you always believed that God existed? If so, why? If not, why did you change your mind?

Yes, I was raised Roman Catholic, so believing in God and religion was always a part of my life. It was exactly because of this that I eventually came to learn more about Islam. As you’ll probably hear many others like me say, my religion and the establishment around it were not a “good fit” for me, because there were many things which did not make sense to me, logically. Roman Catholicism is very different from Islam especially in that it is extremely hierarchical. There is a very strict bureaucracy behind the religion, which in many cases has way too much power over the ordinary members of the church and inevitably results in corruption on many levels.

When was the first time you ever felt like switching religions?

Because of the uncertainty I felt being part of a religion that I did not wholeheartedly believe in, I decided for a while to consider myself as an “agnostic.” It was a matter of peace of mind, because deciding not to align with any established religion was much better than lying to myself. Having heard many negative things about Muslims and Islam on the mainstream news, I naturally did some research of my own because my best friend at the time (and still today), is a Pakistani-Indian Muslim. Obviously, there was nothing I read in the Quran which confirmed anything they said on the national or local televisions, or any form of media for that matter. In fact, I found many ideologies which were extremely similar or the same as what I had been taught by my Catholic family. I gained a better understanding of Islam, and that’s basically how everything started.

What made you convert? Do you ever regret your decision?

I actually never wanted to convert, but long story short, it kind of just happened. (LOL) After coming to college, I just prayed to God in the way I knew how. I asked for guidance and what was the right thing to do. You could say then, that everything happened by God’s will because fasting for the first time in my life last year during Ramadan opened a lot of doors for me mentally. There was never a definitive moment where I said, “OK I’m going to be Muslim now,” but fasting for me was profoundly different from any experience I had had within religious terms. Having read the Quran before, and knowing people from Muslim backgrounds, it wasn’t difficult for me to start making changes in my life, and I was lucky enough to get a lot of help from a lot of people. 

I DO NOT regret my decision, and I will not ever because Islam has given me hope for my future. I honestly feel that it has inspired me to be better even in ways that I do not yet understand. There may be times when other people react badly hearing my story, or even Catholics who look down on me for my decisions, however I am someone who believes in honesty and I can sleep soundly at night because I know I made this change for me. Nobody told me to make this life changing decision, I was not pressured in any way to do anything. Today I say I am Muslim with pride because Allah (swt) put me in this situation and guided me to this.

How did your family/friends react to it? 

Actually, many of my family members do not yet know about my “official” transition… However, I am lucky to have sustained support from my close circle of friends. Nothing is weird, nothing is awkward because my personality is the same. I am still the same daughter, sister, friend, and student they know! I think it’s also been really interesting for them to see that being Muslim can mean many different things. There’s a need especially for majority non-Muslim populations to see the diversity within our Ummah.

How included do you feel in the Muslim/IOC community?

Advice to fellow Muslims? Non-Muslims?
Any advice I can give would definitely be helpful for either group of people. When we talk about the issue of radicalism, there are people guilty on both sides. I know many Muslims would hate to hear another Muslim use this word to describe them, but I think its important to hold ourselves accountable. Its true that the Ummah is being attacked from all angles by people who are less than understanding of who we are and our beliefs (that’s an understatement). I am well aware of all the unprovoked hate we are getting just for being ourselves, therefore I understand the people who say, “We don’t need someone from within attacking us as well,” but without introspection how can we ever expect to improve? As I’m sure everyone can agree, it would be nothing short of arrogant to assume that our Ummah has no problems. Similarly, we would be simple accessories to the crime if we didn’t shed light on the injustices Muslims are facing at the hands of other Muslims, issues like the conflict between culture and Islam, the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, etc. deserve a place in our discussions. Obviously, I am not someone qualified to talk about most of these things, but what I can say is I will continue to encourage every person regardless of their background or religion, to look at themselves with a critical lens. For us, if being a Muslim means being the servant of Allah (swt), then we must lower our egos in honor of that truth, admitting our faults, and working together to become better as a community, InshAllah.