He set out to disprove a faith, woo a girl and now he loves both

Carlos Sandoval Bashair Alazadi

When they met at a 2007 Washington camp for scholarship winners, Bashair Alazadi was 16 and wore the traditional headscarf of all Muslim women. Carlos Sandoval was 17, Catholic and a smartass.

“I grew up in Tacoma, and I’d never seen a Muslim,” said Sandoval, a graduate of Mount Tahoma High School. “To me at the time — Arab, Islam, Muslim — it was all the same.” Born in Iraq, relocated with her family to Everett at age 4, Alazadi was used to questions about Islam. Especially after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. She wasn’t all that impressed with the depth of Sandoval’s inquiry.

“He asked why I wore the scarf,” she said. “He wanted to see my hair.”

The two stayed in touch — first by email, then telephone — and went to college together at Pacific Lutheran University.

A relationship that began as a challenge, Sandoval admitted, changed his life. “Initially, I hated Islam. I tried to convince her she’d been brainwashed, that her religion was oppressive,” he said. “I bought a Qur’an so I could read it and stump her with questions. The more I read, the more I learned, the more I came to appreciate Islam.”

He did something more. He fell in love.

“Bashair was smarter than me, more articulate. She was more assimilated to this country than I was,” he said. “I grew up a Mexican, and there was a stigma attached to that. She grew up Muslim, and there was a stigma for her, too.”

Alazadi loved him, too, impressed by the growing depth of his inquiries and commitment to her culture.

A year and a half after their relationship began, Sandoval and Alazadi asked her father for permission to marry.

“He wasn’t happy, but he was supportive,” Alazadi said.

Sandoval had to complete a transition that had begun with him teasing her.

“I converted to Islam just before the wedding. I didn’t do it just to marry Bashair. I considered it the final step in my study of Islam,” he said. “It’s not the right path for everyone. It was the right path for me.”

They married on Aug. 29, 2009.

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