Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

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Soy Yo

It was a difficult time in my life. My father had recently passed away, and I had recently become a single mother. I didn’t have time to grieve over my dad; I had a new baby, and I had to function and take care of him. I was in school and loved it; I had a major I was excited about, and I had to quit at least temporarily, and it felt like I was giving up my life as I had always imagined it. I loved my son, and I was living with my mom who was supportive; she was a friend as well as my mother as I became an adult.

I have always been very curious and open-minded. After I converted to Islam and then left it, a friend told me that I might have been TOO open-minded in that case. I am interested in all cultures, languages, cuisines and religions, anything different from what is part of my everyday world. I can’t live without continually learning about the world around me and its people.

I loved my religion, but I had trouble with the most basic concept in Christianity. I couldn’t understand why Christ died for humankind. Why couldn't we answer for our sins? Why did God have to send his son to die before he could forgive us for our sins? What sacrifice was that for God, anyway, when Jesus returned to him soon after his time on Earth anyway and is by God’s side now? I was taught to reflect on Christ’s suffering and be thankful for his sacrifice for us, but I couldn’t comprehend why it was necessary to begin with.

I was taking a class when I met a girl named Carrie. She was a convert to Islam. I had never met a Muslim before, and definitely not an American convert. I was fascinated. She was separated from her husband, and confided in me that he had beaten her up and landed her in the hospital. I didn’t think she should reconcile with him, but I was captivated by Islam; it was such a mystery to me.

I began researching Islam on the internet. I already owned a copy of the Quran, and I began reading it. Islam seemed to include all things I valued in my religion: modesty, (to the extreme in Islam) abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, chastity before marriage, no clergy bound to celibacy, religion as a way of life, not just ritual. It seemed perfect. There was lip service paid to diversity and respect for other religions, which I also felt strongly about. It had all of the things I already believed, and their story on Jesus made more sense to me. I wanted a change in my life and this was it. I quickly became part of the social circle of other Muslim women, started going to the mosque, and was hanging out with a woman who was helping me learn my prayers and to make woothoo, gave me some Islamic clothing, etc. I took the Shahada in private, and it was announced in the mosque.

I was reading about Islam on the internet and visiting Quran chat rooms although mainly as an observer. One night in a chat room, I received a private message and I began “chatting” with him. The first night Khalid said that he thought I was a man. Once he found out I was female, and we realized we were both single, Muslim, close in age, etc, we started talking about marriage. His parents were looking for a wife for him, and he didn’t want them to choose for him. They wanted him to marry a doctor, and he wanted a stay at home wife. He told me he was from Saudi Arabia. We were talking on the phone several times a day, e mailing, making plans. He lived in New Jersey and I was in New Mexico. We were very proud that we “arranged” our own marriage while never dating or stepping outside the boundaries of Islam.

When I told my mom my news, she was devastated. We had seen “Not Without my Daughter” in the theater as a family years before. She was warning me that it could happen to me. She is very religious and my leaving our religion was heartbreaking for her. All of my family and loved ones were asking me to think long and hard about what I was doing. People in my church were concerned about me.

After about 2 months of correspondence, Khalid came to New Mexico to meet me over a weekend. I was not in hijab yet, but I was in long pants and long sleeves in the 100° heat. I was going to make the transition to hijab when we married. He came to pick me up to go to Fajr Friday morning and I was wearing my headscarf at that time. According to him, that’s when he “knew” he wanted to marry me. We decided to get married that Sunday in the mosque. People from my church threw me an engagement party and bought me many wedding gifts Saturday night. Then Sunday, we got married in the mosque. It was small, only my mom & son, a friend my mom brought for moral support, and some of my new Muslim friends. The next day we packed up all of my belongings and the next morning we began driving our rented moving truck to New Jersey.

During that drive, I found out that he smoked, and I was not pleased. I wondered why he hadn’t let me see him smoke before that. He said he was embarrassed, as it was a bad habit of his. I also learned that he was East Indian, not Arab, as I’d assumed. This didn’t really matter to me but it was odd not to know that about a person you were already married to. He told me he’d wanted me to think he was Arab because he thought that was what I wanted. He actually was raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and he and his family only associated with other Urdu speaking Indians and Pakistanis there. He did not speak Arabic. His family was from Lucknow, and he had attended university in Hyderabad.

We got along acceptably on the long drive to New Jersey. I got very sick with a cold, and never entirely got well in the duration of our marriage. I didn’t like how he ignored the fact that I was ill, but I thought he must just not realize how sick I was.

When we arrived in New Jersey, we had a honeymoon period for a while, but even then, things weren’t ideal. The day he went back to work, I tried to call my mom in New Mexico, and got a recording telling me that I needed a pin number to dial out long distance. I thought there had to be a mistake, so I called the phone company. The operator confirmed that my husband had indeed made a change to our phone service. Either the woman assumed that being his wife, I should have the pin number, or she took pity on me, because she gave it to me. I called and asked Khalid about it. I don’t even remember what his excuse was. Needless to say, the number was changed again the next day. My mom gave me her calling card number, and that is how I kept in touch with her.

In addition, I had no car, no driver’s license, and didn’t know many people. Winter came, and I was still always sick, so I couldn’t really leave the house. I was lonely, and wanted to subscribe to cable so I could have a window to the outside world. My husband and I had a huge fight over this, and he relented, but he told me I could only watch news, and the minute he came home, it was turned off.

My husband was revealing himself to be more and more strict. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, there had been no halal meat store. The Muslims I knew used meat from the grocery store. I knew that they looked at all ingredients carefully lest there be some gelatin or some other offensive ingredient. In New Jersey, we traveled about 30 minutes to a halal meat store. We’d stock up and stuff it all in our freezer. Khalid was convinced that all meat in the US has been exposed to pork. I have worked in a butcher’s block, and I know the stringent regulations of the food industry don’t permit cross contamination of meats. There were so many products that might not be halal, even soaps. I loved to cook, and this made it somewhat difficult.

Whenever I received any compliment about my cooking, I would explain that I had been a sous chef, and that that experience had taught me a lot. I had been working since I was 16, and he wanted me not to tell anyone about the jobs I’d held, because it would embarrass him.

Soon my entire wardrobe consisted of shalwar kameez, a pair of pants with a long tunic worn over them, and a matching scarf, called a dupatta. They were beautiful and comfortable. I had some in the Lucknowi style of embroidery, and even some my mother bought me at an Indian store. I always used a headscarf along with the accompanying dupatta. A friend of mine had a catalog business that sold Islamic clothing. It was in her home that my husband bought me my first Jilbab, a long robe meant to wear over your regular clothes to obscure any hint of a shape. After that, I could not leave the house without that, either. Khalid had our long hall closet filled with his tailor made western style suits, however.

My husband would get upset with me if I had the blinds open in our apartment, someone might see me! I was in the habit of running out to take out the trash without hijab; it was only a few feet. He was angry about that. He started quizzing me about it daily as well. He called me at home from work daily to ask me if I had performed my prayers, performed woothoo beforehand, used the pitcher of water in the bathroom, etc and then questioned me about these things when he got home as well. He insisted that after my shower I get dressed in the bathroom before coming out, as he was not supposed to see me only wrapped in a towel. He would tell me to leave the room and not come back until I was clothed. It’s hard to put clothes on when you’re wet, in a hot steamy bathroom! Sometimes he clearly liked what he saw, but he was fraught with guilt over it. I was his wife; it was bizarre to me that he had this attitude.

I was required to sit down and drink my glass of water in two or three gulps exactly, according to Sunnah. He was trying to make me become right-handed and stop using eating utensils also according to Sunnah. When we rode in the car, or any other time I was idle for a while, he made me do the Subha (like a rosary) aloud, so he could be sure I was doing it, and so he could continuously correct me. If I said I wanted to relax and think to myself, he told me I should only think of Allah at all times. He was telling me I should give my son a complete bath every time soiled a diaper. He was on my back about my every move. He, by the way, was clean-shaven, used mouthwash that contained alcohol, (while at the same time insisting that I not use vanilla extract in any cooking because of the alcohol it contained) smoked, did as he pleased.

He then began to pressure me to be in hijab at all times in the house, even if I was alone. I was to make my shower short, to avoid being naked any longer than necessary, yet he was angry if I wanted to wear anything to sleep. He wanted me to sleep facing him, but I couldn’t sleep that way. My compromise was to sleep in a spoon position. He had me at the very edge of the bed every night, lying practically on top of me. If I asked him to move over to give me room, he’d sulk and be angry with me the rest of the day. He was pressuring me to get rid of all my family photos. He was pressuring me to change my son’s name to an Islamic one, even though he knew I’d named him after my recently deceased father. The only reason he didn’t want me to change my name too was because he liked it and he thought it sounded Islamic. My brother called me one evening for the first time since we’d married, and Khalid stood next to me harassing me to get off the phone. Later that night he told me he was hoping I would break ties with my family because they were unbelievers.

My name was on none of the accounts we had, and I never had any money. If I was trying a recipe, and I could even get to a store, I had no money to buy the ingredients. I, like a typical American love chocolate. Khalid was convinced that it was the root cause of all of my health problems and forbade me to have it. I started selling things at a consignment store to get chump change for things to brighten my day. Meanwhile, he was going to Dunkin’ Donuts every day for coffee.

Khalid was reluctant to add my son and me to his health insurance, and once he did, he complained about the premiums. I had a $20 co-pay for every doctor-visit, and couldn’t go to the doctor on short notice because I had to find a ride and wouldn’t be able to pay. I developed a problem in my legs; they were swollen and painful and I had a fever. I couldn’t kneel to pray, get in and out of the bathtub, and sometimes I got dizzy and light headed. One day he had to leave work to take me to the doctor, and he refused to speak to me the rest of the day because he was angry with me for asking him to leave his job. One time he accompanied me to the doctor for my legs, and I allowed the doc (male) to look at my bare legs and feel the swelling. I thought nothing of this. Khalid was furious! I explained that I had called many doctors, and this one was the only one able to take new patients. He forbade me to see that doctor any more.

He decided that it was my job to wake us up for Fajr every morning, and if we missed it, it was always my fault, though I repeatedly tried to reject this as solely my responsibility.

Our evenings now consisted of dinner, prayers, listening to Quran in Urdu on cassette, reading it in English, then reading hadith in English, more prayers, bed. That was it; that was my life. It was getting more and more oppressive and suffocating. He started talking about moving to Saudi Arabia. This was the most exhausting period of my life. I have always had trouble sleeping, but at that time, I always slept well, I was incredibly drained. The man would wake me up in the night to pick fights with me because he was angry that I’d fallen asleep before he wanted me to. He’d remind me that I was supposed to be so gratified to him that I’d bow at his feet. He also grew a liking for biting me and leaving bruises and teeth marks all over my body, and refused to stop it. I could go on for many more pages about how my life was going down the toilet.

I had kept my old scriptures on a top shelf of the bedroom closet, and one day he found them and tried to make me go throw them into the dumpster. I’d had a Quran for years when I was non-Muslim, why all of a sudden now could I only possess scriptures on Islam? I made a lame excuse, and hid them the next day. I just could not bear to do what he asked. I had known in a corner of my mind that I was living a lie, and at this point, I admitted it to my self, at least partially. I prayed that night, the way that I thought was right. You sometimes don’t know what you had until it’s gone. There were some key beliefs that I needed to have in my religion that were missing from Islam. I knew it wasn’t right. Here are some of the beliefs I longed to have back:

§ God loves us and wants us to have joy, and has given us a plan for that reason and because he simply loves us and wants us to return to him. EVERY human being gets this opportunity, no matter where or when he or she lives, or what religion he or she practices.

§ Honesty in all dealings – in business, family, strangers, even “unbelievers.”

§ Compassion, fellowship and kindness to our fellow man regardless of faith.

§ Men and women cannot reach heaven without each other; both have equal capacity for righteousness and equal worth.

§ No rote prayer, it should be in your own words and language with appropriate respect, from your heart. Saying the same thing every day in a language you don’t understand is not sincere in any way, and means nothing.

§ Free agency

§ The idea that love, compassion, kindness and equality between a husband and wife are the best things they can give to their children and themselves.

§ That if someone renounces their faith, you do not ostracize or KILL them, you respond with genuine concern for them and if they don't want your support, mind your business, it’s personal.

§ The extreme importance of separation of church and state and freedom of religion. (even Islam)

§ The importance of obeying and respecting the laws of the country you live in.

§ The necessity of utilizing your talents, whatever they are, to benefit yourself and the world.

§ It’s harder to get to hell than most people think. One must reject every opportunity to repent and almost want to go there. I don’t think the reality of hell is quite as cruel as most think. It’s a mental hell, knowing you could have done better, and that you were wrong. The vast majority of people won’t go to hell.

§ The individual worth of every human being that ever lived or will live on this Earth.

I found all of these traits lacking in Islam and concluded that I required these to be parts of my life. I’ll never take those convictions for granted again.

Also during the time I was with Khalid, I reflected on my parents’ relationship. They were best friends. They put each other first at ALL times. My dad’s first consideration in EVERY decision was my mother and how it would affect her. When he married her, she came before his parents, or anyone else. He did things all the time just to make her happy. My mother gave him the same consideration. They were partners in life. It was plain to me that I wanted the same type of marriage, and it was not going to happen with Khalid or any Muslim.

One weekend, my mom came to visit, and after she left, she was troubled by what she had observed about my life. She asked a member of my church in New Jersey to visit me and give me a secret reserve of cash. Then some old family friends and my mom called and urged me to leave him. I could no longer endure that life and was easily persuaded. While he was at work, I called a taxi, packed one suitcase, took my son and checked into a hotel about 2 hours away.

While in my hotel room, I started to worry about Khalid. I decided to call him using the calling card. I thought that by using that card, he couldn’t find out where I was calling from. I left him a note, so he knew I’d left. He was distraught, but one of the first things he asked me was how I got the money to travel and check into a hotel. He was able to call *69 and find out where I was, and a hotel employee told him my room #, then she had second thoughts and called my room to ask if she should call the police. I told her no, and answered the door. Luckily, my mom was flying in to help me on the trip back, or I never would have gotten him out of my room, nor would I have made it onto a plane.

I returned home, to sweet freedom and relief. I was still not admitting publicly that I no longer considered myself Muslim, and was still in hijab, though I detested wearing jilbab and quit wearing that immediately. I could eat in a restaurant again! I could watch TV, go to the store, eat with a fork, I was free!

I’m not sure how long after I was home, a week or two at most; I made the final decision to leave Islam. My mom and I had been talking about many things, including the issue I had about Christ. I came to a good understanding about it and I was more certain than ever of the truth of the religion in which I was raised. During that time, I had still been negotiating with Khalid about reuniting, but I thought for sure, when I told him of my apostasy, he’d want no more to do with me. Not so. He was upset, but he still wanted me back. I’m positive he thought he’d get me back to Islam.

A few days after that, I discovered I was pregnant. I had been on the pill, and in the last month, had run out my prescription. Khalid prevented me from getting to the doctor, so I became pregnant. (Fast!) A friend asked me why we didn’t just give up sex. She didn’t understand that that was not an option given to me.

I had doubts about telling him I was pregnant, because I knew he’d be capable of making me re-live the story of “Not Without my Daughter.” I was taking a couple of days to think it over, and a muslimah “friend” in New Jersey called to chew me out about leaving my husband and about my apostasy. I don’t like to lie, and I’m not good at it, so when she blurted out “You’re not PREGNANT are you??” I stammered, “Um uh um why would you ask?” She said, “Well you ARE married.” I came clean. After that, I had to tell him before she did. When I told him, he was overjoyed, as if our marriage was peachy and we were ready to have a child! He wanted me to come back to him right away. I was considering it, because I thought maybe it’d be better to be with him and our child than for him to take the child away from me. I told him again and again that I was not going to go back to Islam, and he was saying I didn’t have to, but our child would have to be Muslim, and I could never bring him/her to church, and that he’d prefer that I not attend church myself, either. We were always fighting about that and everything else. He was trying to get me to leave my son to live with my mom if I went back this time. He started sending via e-mail anti-Christian articles and articles on apostasy, and telling me he'd been advised to take our child to Saudi Arabia.

One night, after a particularly bad fight, I noticed I was bleeding. I went to the hospital where I had a miscarriage. When I was discharged, I knew Khalid would be suspicious so I signed forms to release my medical information to him.

Sure enough, he accused me of having an abortion. Despite that, I was still talking to him. I discovered that at the same time that he was begging me daily to return to him he was also looking for a new wife and telling the women and their parents that he was divorced and that his ex-wife had fallen out of favor with Allah. I decided then to see an attorney and get divorce papers, and he did the same in New Jersey. We each were served papers in the same two days, and we both signed them. My attorney advised me to file with his set of papers since we had lived the length of the marriage in New Jersey and we had acquired no property together.

We STILL were talking, and we had one terrible fight, where he said he was canceling the divorce. He sent me a nasty e-mail the next day calling me the murderer of our child and telling me that all I ever cared about were my evil, filthy mom and son. This was the point when I decided never to speak to him again. I forwarded the e-mail back to him to read again, and to some of the other women he was talking to, but I have not spoken with him since. For a well over a year after that, I was in the dark as to whether I was married or divorced, and I had trouble getting the information. I didn’t consider it worth speaking to him again to find out. When I finally got my divorce certificate, I had already been divorced almost a year, and I finally was 100% free!

For a couple of years more, I still considered Islam a religion of peace. I felt it was a positive element of millions of lives. I blamed my failed marriage on my husband’s abuse, not realizing that his abuse was acceptable in Islam. Though Islam was not the full truth, I thought Muhammad might have been inspired with some truth to give to his followers. I even thought he might have been a prophet, but not the best or the last. I assumed the religion had been polluted and changed to what it is now. I even knew about the horrors of the Taliban of Afghanistan, and thought they were severely misguided. I was a non-Muslim apologist for Islam.

Then the day of September 11 arrived. I wondered what Khalid thought, and believed he may even support the terrorists. He hated the west, he was here of course for the money, and he felt guilty about it. To him, all westerners were unclean, polluted immoral and evil and out to corrupt him and the Muslim world. I still told people that Islam was a religion of peace, and that the terrorists had perverted Islam. I was starting to doubt it though. I was reading more about the terrorists, the Taliban, and Islam, and starting to change my mind, starting to think Islam is evil. Khalid was following Sharia and exercising his rights as a Muslim man. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda were also following their scripture.

When I happened upon Faith Freedom International, a website for ex-Muslims, concerned non-Muslims and Muslims who questioned their faith, I couldn’t believe there were other people who understood my questions, who had left Islam, who even hoped to end it. The truth was undeniable. Islam is not and never was a religion of peace.

Used with permission from Faith Freedom