By Rafael (Suleyman) Castro

I was raised in a non-devout Italian Catholic family.
I was baptized, attended Sunday school, and took first Communion.
I had a happy childhood – the wonderful world of saints and Trinitarian dogmas protected me from harm, so I believed, and sparked my imagination.
But this beautiful reality was shaken at the age of 12 when my mother stopped bringing me to Sunday Mass. She let me know officially that she didn’t believe in Sunday services and that I was old enough to make my own choices about religion. Thus, I was free to go alone to church, as she had discharged her duty as a Catholic mother to teach me Catholicism.
These words left me hurt and disappointed not only with my mother but also with God. How could God have given me a family that had taught me religion out of a sense of tradition rather than inspired by sincere faith?
I stopped going to church and I was so disappointed with religion that by the age of 14 I started to forget Him.

By the time I reached high school, existential questions began to harass me. After all, who is able to live without God for long? As I grew up and matured I realized that life is only worth living if it is more than the sum of its parts. I believe that God inspires this realization in many.
But where to look for God?
I had a wonderful Indonesian friend who lent me a copy of the Quran. However, in high school I was too immature and too brainwashed by Hollywood movies to appreciate its beauties. I only looked out for sentences that I interpreted as hostile towards non-Muslims in order to satisfy and confirm my prejudices. I was blind, biased, and foolish.
At the age of 18, I went to college and became seriously interested in Judaism. I liked it because it was truly monotheistic, unlike the Christianity in which I had lost faith. I studied Judaism for over seven years, and went as far as entering yeshiva. Yeshivas are the rabbinical schools where students wear the traditional black suit, black hat, and study long hours. I appreciated the rigorous learning and brilliant rabbinical polemics; yet today I embrace Islam. Why?
To begin, I saw several Iranian movies that dispelled the stereotypes I had about Muslim culture as backwards and violent. I realized that Muslim countries may not shine today in terms of military prowess or on economic rankings, but that Islam offers a worldview that is far more respectful of human dignity and human self-sacrifice than any other (I highly recommend “The Colors of Paradise” to readers who really wish to understand what I mean).

Secondly, I understood that Judaism teaches compassion for the Jewish people, whereas Islam sees in every human being a person who deserves to be a Muslim regardless of ancestry or brilliance in legalistic discussions. This is especially apparent in the warmth and hospitality that one experiences in most mosques, whether one is Muslim or not.
Last and most importantly, the beauty and nobility of Surah Al-Baqara moved me to bear witness to Islam. I think that any honest reader of those pages would admit that only an angel could inspire such a beautiful proclamation of God’s wisdom. And that those who are too materialist to admit God’s existence should read through the hundreds of Prophetic Traditions and ask themselves: How could nature/ destiny/chance concentrate so much wisdom in one man without the gift of prophecy?
Thanks to Islam my life has changed. Before Islam I used to lethargically sleep until late-morning at every possible opportunity.
Nowadays I wake up for morning prayers before six and live my days far more productively. I believe Islam has renewed my will to live, has given me self-respect, and made me a more generous person. These are three virtues that are hard to find elsewhere.
Islam is not withdrawal from the world, nor a worldly conquest in the name of God. In my two months as a Muslim, I am beginning to understand that Islam is a re-conquest of one’s life by surrendering one’s will to God rather than to worldly pursuits. And that is true freedom.
It goes without saying that my conversion cost me some friends and worried my family for some time. Nevertheless, my family eventually grew more comfortable with my decision, and I am glad to say that the new friendships that I made amongst the Muslims have proven invaluable during this period of transition.
This along with the new outlook on life that Islam has given me have made my reversion to Islam a rewarding experience.