From Mexico to Madina: The Story of Rafael

By Saqib Ali, Author at iERA

Rafael Barajas was born and bred in the second largest city in Mexico — Guadalajara. Growing up, as most children in his country, he aspired to become a professional footballer but his football career was never meant to be.

It All Started with a Game of Chess

As a competitive online player of this medieval strategy game, Rafael realised that he didn’t recognise some of the flags of his opponents, in particular, those with a crescent. This peaked his interest and led to him to explore their background and culture. This inevitably led him to Islam, and he downloaded a copy of the Quran in his native Spanish, which he devoured in less than three days!

His original intention was to read the Quran as he would any other book, but as he read on, he discovered that it wasn’t a ‘normal’ book per say and was incomparable to anything he had read previously. As a family of devout Catholics, his parents were cautious with what he and his sisters learned and watched, so Rafael had to keep his exploration of Islam and the Quran under wrap.

From the very first page, Rafael noticed all the phrases of thankfulness and gratitude to God, something he had not experienced in his own faith at the time, Christianity. It was the feeling of tranquillity that Rafael received while reading the Quran which spurred him to explore the faith further. He was overawed with the topics and framework of rules covered in the Quran, from justice to social rights, that ultimately convinced him the divinity of the Quran and Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Unable to escape the call of Islam, Rafael had a choice to make — to press forward sincerely and answer the call or continue to deny his fitrah.

“The ones who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whose description they find in their Torah and the Gospel. He commands them to do good and forbids them from evil, permits for them what is lawful and forbids to them what is impure, and relieves them from their burdens and the shackles that bound them. ˹Only˺ those who believe in him, honour and support him, and follow the light sent down to him will be successful.” Quran 7:157

During Ramadan of 2008, it was the Mexican Independence Day; therefore, Rafael had a day off and decided to set out and journey to a community he had been doing some research on. Rafael needed to ensure that he was not the only ‘crazy’ person in his city who believed in Islam. Rafael discovered that this community gathered in the evenings — at the time Rafael did not understand why. hint: it was Ramadan — during that time of the night there was no public transportation, so Rafael’s only option was to borrow his father’s bicycle which took nearly an hour thirty minutes to arrive at his destination. He was both physically tired from the journey but also nervous at the same time, not sure what to expect next with meeting a Muslim for the very first time, let alone a community of them!

Rafael tentatively knocked on the door, a man with a smiling face but slightly bemused opened the door. Usman from Pakistan who immigrated to Mexico, welcomed Rafael with open arms. Rafael went inside and spoke to the people, just knowing that this occasion was right, he committed to the shahada, a moment he would cherish for the rest of his life. It’s as if this fateful evening was predestined to occur. The venue was rented only for Fridays and Ramadan, and was a notoriously dangerous area — it’s is near a railway station which is known for individuals from Central America using this form of transport as an aid to cross the border illegally over into the States. This area is known to be unsafe; however, Rafael did not think about his safety at the time, he felt protected strangely enough an extraordinary feeling he can still remember to this day. Later on, Rafael discovered that this fateful night when he became a Muslim was the 27th night of Ramadan — possibly ‘the Night of Power’.

Returning home, Rafael took back with him a present from the Community, a Spanish translation of the Quran — the same one he had been reading on his computer but this time a physical hard copy. Rafael was also gifted a prayer mat and a few other books. However, Rafael had a niggling issue; his family were still unaware of his reversion — Rafael did not want to cause any problems with his immediate family members who practised Catholicism — he hid all his gifts as he was unconfident to having a confrontation at such an early stage. All his presents were bunched up underneath his jacket — bulging out — sneaking back into his humble abode and hid the items into his closet.

As time progressed, Rafael’s parents began to notice subtle shifts in his behaviour, such as politely turning down an alcoholic beverage and preferring a glass of water in its place.

It was only upon acceptance to the prestigious Islamic University of Madinah that Rafael plucked up the courage to tell them about his Islam. He had mentioned the idea of studying abroad, but they didn’t pay much attention to it. However, when the acceptance letter came through the post, he informed them of his intention. His parents were miffed: “Saudi Arabia? But why? It’s full of Muslims!?” Rafael replied “Erm… But I’m Muslim too…”

Initially, the shock overtook them and they were unable to speak. Eventually, they would ask more about Islam and even read the Spanish translation of the Quran, becoming more supportive of their sons’ decision. Rafael’s mother would cook his food separately to everyone else’s, and they respected his new way of life despite some bumps along the way like the noisy rush for the pre-dawn prayer.

One year into his degree in Madinah, Rafael’s mother was taken ill, forcing his return to Mexico to care for her. Eager to continue his learning, he became active in online dawah through eDialogue. This gave him ample opportunity to fine-tune his rhetoric, especially towards Atheists and Christians. With this new found knowledge along with a deeper understanding of Islam, he gained from studying in his time at Madinah, he was able to pull together and garner a support network within his home city of Guadalajara.

In April 2018, arrange the first ever Exhibition about Jesus — Son of Mary, from an Islamic perspective in Mexico. With his prior knowledge and vast experience of both giving dawah online and as the Imam of the local Masjid, he was able to answer all types of questions in a clear and concise manner — elevating the status of Islam to those who had limited knowledge of it. This was the contributing factor that led several people to embrace Islam with the permission of Allah (swt) that very same day.

One of the main benefits of becoming Muslim for Rafael is that it has softened his heart — he used to consider himself as an insensitive person — lacking empathy, especially to the ones closest to him. However, since reverting, his family have noticed a significant change — for the better! His Catholic parents visit Rafael and his wife in the Masjid, where his father finds peace, whenever he spends his time there. A constant prayer, derived from the Quran, which Rafael makes for his parents to Allah (swt) is for Him to have compassion on them as they did for him when he was a child so that they are guided to Islam.

Rafael has joined IERA to convey the call of Islam across Mexico. IERA is a UK-based charity dedicated to continuing the Prophetic Mission – sharing a compassionate and intelligent case for Islam with the entire world.