God Lifted My Veil
I was born in Jordan to a Muslim family. My uncle, who’d moved to Chicago, told my dad about the wonderful opportunities in the U.S., so my dad moved our family here when I was eight years old. While he was excited about providing for his family, my father worried that we’d grow up “Christian.” So while my siblings and I went to a public school during the week, we attended Islamic studies on the weekends. The only friends I had were the Muslim children who attended Islamic studies with me.
As I grew older, my dad became more concerned about the possibility I’d become “Americanized.” So when I turned 14, my father decided I should return to Jordan to live with my grandmother. I wasn’t thrilled about living so far from my family, but when I arrived in Jordan, I loved the people, the culture, and Islam, so I was happy to stay.
More than 90 percent of Muslims are of the Sunni sect—those who strictly follow the Qur’an and the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad). Since my family was Sunni, I prayed five times a day, fasted during the month of Ramadan, read the Qur’an daily, wore the veil (covering my entire body, and showing only my hands, face, and feet), and tried to imitate the prophet Muhammad in every way. But no matter what I did for Allah, I felt I needed to do more to avoid his wrath. I tried to earn his favour so I could go to heaven.
I spent three years in Jordan, but missed my family so much that I asked my dad if I could return to live with them in the U.S. Once I returned, I stopped wearing my head covering because I didn’t want to look like an “oddball,” but I still kept strong in my prayers and my faith. And I was content—until my father decided it was time for me to get married.
Arab culture dictates men and women are not allowed to date. When a man finds a “suitable” woman, it’s usually through family connections. The man and his family visit the young girl’s home to meet her family. The “couple” are allowed to speak to each other, but only in the presence of both families. After several similar visits, the couple decide if they want to get married. In Islam, a woman has the right to say no, but in the culture, the family usually pressures the girl to say yes. In both the culture and religion, a woman can marry her first cousin. So when I turned 23, my dad pressured me to marry my first cousin who lives in Jordan. While I was against the marriage and certainly didn’t want to spend the rest of my life married to someone I didn’t love, I didn’t feel I had the choice to go against my father’s wishes. My father flew there ahead of me to prepare for the wedding. The rest of my family couldn’t afford to fly to Jordan, so my father would be the only immediate family member at the ceremony.
A week later, my elder brother took me to the airport to ensure I got on the plane. Because of tight security on international flights, my brother was unable to take me directly to my gate, so he dropped me off at the main terminal and went home.
As I waited for my flight, I thought about my future. I didn’t want to marry my first cousin. But if I didn’t, I’d disgrace my family.
In Arab culture, when a woman disgraces her family—or is even rumoured to have done so—she deserves to die. I knew if I left the airport and ran away, my family would come after me to kill me for disgracing them. But the longer I thought about how miserable I’d be married to a man I didn’t love or respect, the more angry I became. “I’ve fasted for you; I’ve prayed five times a day to you; I’ve even studied the Qur’an for you,” I inwardly screamed at Allah. “And this is what you allow to happen?” Right then, on February 10, 1990, I stopped praying and worshipping Allah.
I grabbed my luggage and escaped to the nearest hotel to hide. I didn’t have much money and desperately tried to think of what to do next. I didn’t have many American friends because my father wouldn’t allow me to be influenced by their “Satanic ways.” But I did know one American woman whom I called from the hotel. I told her briefly what had happened and asked if I could stay with her for a while. She came immediately and picked me up.
When the plane landed in Jordan 16 hours later without me on it, my father became furious. He called my brother and told him to find me.
I stayed with my friend for a few weeks, until one day my brother showed up at her office with a gun. He told her, “I know you have my sister. Give her back before anybody gets hurt!” A co-worker called the police, but my brother left before they arrived. My friend got home that night and told me it was too dangerous for me to stay with her any longer, but recommended I stay at a shelter for women suffering from domestic violence.
When I arrived at the shelter, they told me I couldn’t stay there either because they’d seen two men showing my photo at a nearby restaurant. They sent me to another shelter an hour away.
After several weeks at that shelter, and only after I began to feel safe, did I allow myself to feel any emotion. Everything I’d bottled up burst out of me, and I sobbed as I mourned the loss of my family and my way of life.
Because I had a naturalised U.S. citizenship, I joined the National Guard for the government’s protection. After my training, I returned and found a job. Miraculously, I hid from my family for four years. I missed them so much. I finally gathered my courage, contacted my mother, and met with her and my younger sister. We spent most of our time together in tears. The rest of my family had little to say to me. But slowly over time, my family and I began to make peace, and I was amazed at how they finally accepted me back. I thought, “Allah didn’t neglect me after all”, and returned to my faith. I didn’t pray five times a day or worship him the way I had in the past, but I thanked him daily and did good things I thought would please him.
In February 1998, I accepted a job for a company based in Texas. Three days after I moved, I met Robyn who was walking her dog in front of my apartment. We started talking and became fast friends.
When she invited me to go to her church, I agreed. “It’s probably okay,” I thought. “My faith believes that Jesus was a messenger of Allah, too. I’m sure Allah won’t be upset if I go to church.” I enjoyed the pastor’s sermon—except when he talked about Jesus. Sometimes he’d say Jesus is God, and sometimes he’d say Jesus is the Son of God. How could Jesus be both God and God’s Son? But I continued to go to church with Robyn until one day the pastor said the church was supporting missionaries in Muslim countries where they don’t know Jesus. I thought, “Of course Muslims know Jesus. I need to set the record straight.” After the service, I introduced myself to the pastor, Pete, and said, “I’m a Muslim, and I do know Jesus.” I was thoroughly convinced the prophet Muhammad was the last messenger and the Qur’an was the last book sent by Allah. The Qur’an clearly states Jesus was a messenger born of a virgin mother, Mary. He performed many miracles such as bringing the dead to life, healing the sick, speaking when he was a baby, and creating a bird out of clay. Allah loved him so much that when his enemies were preparing to crucify him, he sent someone who looked like Jesus to be crucified instead.
Muslims believe Jesus never died, but was raised to heaven to be protected from his enemies. Jesus, in the Qur’an, claims He never told anyone to worship Him but to worship the one true God, Allah. According to Muslims, the Bible has been changed—and Christians and Jews don’t really have the true books.
When Allah gave Muhammad the message, Allah preserved the Qur’an and made sure no one changed it. The more I attended church, the more I wondered why Christians had different beliefs than Muslims; both the Bible and the Qur’an couldn’t be right. As I wrestled with Christianity, I asked Robyn and Pete: “Was Jesus crucified? Did Jesus die on the cross for our sins? Is Jesus God, or the Son of God? What is meant by the Trinity? Is the Bible really accurate?”
I read different books on Christianity and Islam and discovered the Bible hadn’t changed; its books were accurate. Then Pete introduced me to a Bible professor, Dan, who took me through the messianic prophesies of the Old Testament and showed me how they were fulfilled in the New Testament. At that point I was able to believe Jesus was crucified for our sins. But I still wrestled as to whether or not Jesus was God. In Islam, to believe in any god other than Allah is blasphemous and unforgivable.
On Sunday, August 2, 1998, several months after I started to investigate Christianity, an Iranian Christian pastor named Iraj, whom I met through Pete, called and said he’d like to meet to discuss our beliefs.
That evening I visited with him and told him I believed in Jesus’ crucifixion, but not in His Deity. I also told him I’d studied the life of Jesus and no one in history compares to Him. Iraj said, “Well, if you think Jesus is that wonderful and that He died on the cross for your sins, will you confess that before God?” I agreed, and we prayed together. That was the day I received Jesus as my Saviour. After that, God’s Spirit began to open my eyes to the truth of Jesus’ deity.
It’s been almost four years since that day. My dad and elder sister refuse to speak to me. I maintain a relationship with my mom, who doesn’t mention my conversion. My brother rejected me. The rest of my family tolerates my new religion.
One of my deepest longings is to see my family and all Muslims accept Jesus as their Saviour and to see Christians burdened for the Muslim people, especially the ones living in the U.S.
I’m so grateful Jesus led me to Himself. He’s been there for me when I needed Him—even when I thought I didn’t need Him. In Islam, I had to work to earn God’s approval. Now I’m free to bask in God’s unconditional love. Above all, I’m amazed He loves me so much that He died on the cross for me—so that now I’m a daughter of God.
4 WAYS TO REACH OUT TO MUSLIMS
There are more than 1 billion Muslims in the world, and more than 5 million in the U.S., making Islam one of the fastest-growing religions in America—quickly emerging as the second-largest religion behind Christianity. Here’s what you can do to make an impact.
1. Pray for them. The only way a Muslim will ever come to Christ is if the Holy Spirit works in their hearts to draw them to the truth. Pray specifically that: Muslims would be open to reading the Bible and would believe the Bible is the preserved, authentic Word of God; they’ll believe Jesus was crucified for their sins and resurrected from the dead; God will remove any misconceptions they have about Christianity; God will give them courage to surrender to Christ.
2. Know your faith. It isn’t as important to a Muslim what you know about Islam as it is important for you to know about your own faith. Steep yourself in God’s Word so you can address any questions a Muslim may have about what the Bible and Christianity teach.
3. Remove any misconceptions about Muslims. Not all Muslims are extremists, such as the Taliban. Not all of them hate Americans or Jews. Basically, they want the same good things from life we want. Many Christians assume all Muslims know Islam and the Qur’an very well. The fact is, however, most Muslims are Muslim in name only; they know little of their faith.
4. Befriend them. The best way to reach out to a Muslim is to show her Christ’s love. Sharing the gospel isn’t enough to reach a Muslim. She has spiritual blinkers on (2 Corinthians 4:4) that require time, prayer, and the outpouring of Christ’s love working through you. But the results of your persistence will be worth it (Galatians 6:9).