By Farrah Khalil www.WND.com
Farrah Khalil explains how she abandoned Muslim rituals and found Christ
Although it has been seven years, I still have the vestiges of Islamic rituals stamped into my brain. For example, I still refuse to pet my dog before I pray. Why? Well, because in Islam, dog saliva makes all prayers null and void.
There are tons of circumstances and elements that can cause a Muslim’s prayer to “not count,” like sighing, talking, clapping, turning away from the Kibla (direction of prayer), folding one’s hands, not washing up properly, intentionally laughing, intentionally weeping about “worldly matters,” prostrating an incorrect number of times, and (excuse me for being crass) farting. These silly rituals that have nothing to do with my relationship with the Lord still “come a-knocking” when I least expect them—grim reminders that I spent eight years of my life attempting to become the best “white, female, American, Muslim in the world!”
I used to think that my conversion to Islam was Satan’s first attack against me, but I was wrong. Yes, this was Satan’s most ferocious and spiritually lethal barrage, but it was far from his initial attempt to hijack my soul. No, my salvation was “up for grabs” the moment I popped out of the womb and looked into the eyes of my self-pronounced agnostic father and Sicilian mother who had been raised by her Jewish stepfather.
The fact that my parents were not Christians never stopped them from stringing Christmas lights or hiding Easter eggs. My father loved the “essence” of Christmas—the tangible fellowship and joy that seemed to permeate the air. He loved “playing Santa,” decorating Christmas cookies, and singing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” while spinning me around in his arms. It was this “pretense of Christianity” that we practiced twice a year, combined with my paternal grandparents’ staunch Baptist faith, that allowed me to say, “I’m Christian” if anyone happened to ask. But what did that mean? I didn’t know. Sadly, I could spew out facts about Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, but when it came to Jesus, I was clueless. I knew that Jesus was somewhere in the Bible (He made a cameo appearance or two) and that a large cross was involved, but that was the extent of my Christian knowledge. Pretty pathetic.
Needless to say, I was an easy target for Satan—a virtual sitting duck. Yet, at age 11, I was still too young for thought-provoking ideologies and religious conversion. There had to be a progression—a progression that would turn me into a spiritually deprived and almost “soulless” human being. This soul-sucking movement began the day I found my mother curled up on her bedroom floor in the fetal position, eyes open, mouth wailing. It was a terrifying sight. She had just received “it,” the phone call that my grandmother had shot herself in the throat. It was all downhill from there, which is usually the case when God is not part of your life. After the initial stages of grief had passed, the three “Ds” (depression, divorce, and drugs) led by the big “D” (the Devil) completely and unapologetically obliterated my family.
I reacted to this total annihilation by becoming the most obsessive, compulsive 11-year-old girl that you would never want to meet. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer’s fears are allayed by repetitive rituals, counting, washing, etc. What fears, you ask? Well, I am sure it is different for every person, but I began to fear that if I did not concede to my self-imposed rituals, one of my family members would die.
It all started with light switches. I rationalized that if I did not flick light switches eight times in a row, someone would “kick the bucket.” The light-switch obsession eventually morphed into an insane obsession with showers. I just knew that germs from my body could potentially leap onto somebody else and they would eventually—that’s right—die. And it would be all my fault! Their blood would be on my hands! Thus, in an effort to alleviate this fear, I started taking six showers a day. But this compulsion was cut short the moment my parched skin began to crack and blister. However, the disintegration of my youthful skin in no way meant that my OCD was starting to fizzle. It just meant that my OCD was a bit ADD.
As the years went by, my obsessions continued to mutate and change. There was the towel obsession, the hydrogen-peroxide obsession, the water obsession, and then right before the big “finale” (Islam), the food obsession. To put it simply, I became so anorexic and bulimic that I will probably need dentures by the time I turn 40. Although each of my obsessions was vastly different and exceptionally bizarre, they all had one thing in common: They were “performed” in an effort to ward off death and destruction from an unknown and unnamed force. Enter Islam.
Now it was time. Everything was in place. My father had remarried, my mother was missing-in-action, and I was continuing to destroy my teeth and esophagus on a daily basis. I was also finally old enough (17 to be exact) to allow Satan to completely take over my body. And he did it via one of the most handsome humans I had ever laid eyes on—a human who would eventually become my husband. His name was Tamar, and he met all of my physical criteria: tall with olive-colored skin and jet-black hair. Like any ignorant, white girl who attended a school that was 98 percent Caucasian, I assumed he was Hispanic. I was wrong. Tamar was Middle Eastern, and on our fourth date he informed me that he was a Muslim. I had no idea what that meant, and I really didn’t care. I just knew that I was in love. And fortunately so was Tamar.
Tamar didn’t tell his parents about me until we were six months into our relationship. In fact, they didn’t even know that I existed (even though I lived just one street over). Why? Well, because it is very unorthodox for a Muslim man to get involved with a non-Muslim woman. On the other hand, my father, who had recently given his life to Christ, knew all about my relationship with Tamar, and it terrified him. I still remember the day he looked directly into my eyes and said, “Sylvia, I am so scared that you are going to convert to Islam, marry Tamar, and move to the Middle East.”
I replied to his premonition by throwing my hands onto my hips and furrowing my brow in utter disbelief. Then I shot my father one of those rebellious teen-esque smirks and snapped, “That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!” Boy, was I wrong.
After Tamar told his family about my “existence,” I began to go to his house on a daily basis. I loved it there. In my eyes, he had the perfect family. His mother was June Cleaver’s doppelganger, had June Cleaver been from the Middle East. She was constantly cooking and cleaning and bringing Tamar and me mugs of hot tea to sip while we studied.
Although Tamar’s father never spoke to me much, it was clear that he was in charge. That was a good feeling, a secure feeling—a feeling that I hadn’t felt in years and a feeling I didn’t want to lose. Thus, in the beginning, I feigned interest in Islam in an effort to please Tamar and his family. It was of utmost importance that I proved I was good enough, that I was worthy of Tamar’s love, despite my haggard past and lack of religion.
I always nodded my head respectfully, almost emphatically, when Tamar’s mother would explain why she covered her hair. For her it was twofold. First, she didn’t want to hang from her locks in hell. Second, her beauty, in its full capacity, was reserved for one man only—her husband. The last thing she wanted to do was cause another man to lust after her! That was a sin that would immediately be added to her heavenly scales, and nobody wanted “off-balance scales.”
The OCD part of my brain exploded into action the moment I heard this phrase. What was she talking about? What scales? Did I need to know about these scales? Would something bad happen if my own scales were off balance? I had to learn more. Tamar’s mother and father were happy to oblige. They taught me all about the heavenly scales that weigh a Muslim’s good and bad deeds from the moment they are born until the day they die. On that day, if one’s bad deeds outweigh one’s good deeds, even by the smallest percentage, then that person goes straight to hell. But there is hope. Good deeds can erase bad deeds, and praying on a certain night during Ramadan (the month of Islamic fasting) can expunge a plethora of sins! Furthermore, repeating certain phrases after praying the five daily prayers has the ability to annul at least 1,000 bad deeds – like magic!
The biggest sin eraser of them all is going on a haj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. This once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage guarantees the instant removal of all sins. Then maybe, just maybe, one can make it into heaven, but one is never sure. It is an intangible gambling of sorts, a virtual coin toss. Could I beat the odds and make it into heaven? I thought I could. The rituals, the math, the counting, the repetitive washing before prayer—right up my alley! Islam is the perfect religion for someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I wanted it.
I dove headfirst into the study of Islam and immediately began drowning in its murky, repressive, and hate-filled ideology. I not only started reading the Koran, Islam’s holy book, but I also began pouring through every Islamic book I could get my hands on. I read about how to pray and when to pray and where to pray. I read about the millions of situations and elements that can make a prayer null and void. I read about ways to erase sins and ways to increase good deeds—the lifelong struggle to regulate one’s heavenly scales. I read books explaining why men could have up to four wives and books about how the Holocaust was just one big lie (conspired by the Jews, of course). I read books about the life of Mohammed, Islam’s prophet, and how to emulate his life on a daily basis, like drinking in sips of three (this is better somehow) and allowing a fly to fall into your drink (apparently, fly wings cure diseases). I read about the “evil Jews” and the “infidel Christians”—Christians who erroneously think Jesus was the Son of God.
“How stupid,” Tamar’s parents would scoff. “To think that Allah (the Islamic god) would come to Earth in the form of a man.”
“How stupid,” I would repeat, thinking of my born-again father. He believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Poor thing. He was going to hell.
Yet, with all of my reading, I still hadn’t made a formal proclamation to convert to Islam until that one fateful evening. It was just past midnight and I was sitting on the edge of Tamar’s bed fiercely clutching a dark green Koran against my chest. I was feeling something, not a peaceful or happy something, but something. And although I felt “heady” and scared, I also felt powerful. It was time. “I’m ready to convert to Islam,” I whispered to Tamar. “Praise Allah.”
Two years later, I was boarding a plane to the Middle East with Tamar, now my husband, and our newborn son. I was a hardcore Muslim by this time, but the pinnacle of my Islamic fundamentalism was yet to come. The anti-Semitic rhetoric that filled every nook and cranny of the Middle East, coupled with my desire to prove myself as a “real Muslim,” turned me into a hate-filled, angry, and utterly depressed monster. At first, everyone attributed my strange behavior to culture shock, but that wasn’t it. I had assumed that living in an Islamic country would finally allow me to feel Allah’s love—something that I had yet to experience but was waiting for. When that didn’t happen, when I still felt nothing but fear and inadequacy, I began to panic.
Maybe I was praying incorrectly; or maybe I was praying at the wrong times? But that was impossible. I had my watch alarm set to go off at the beginning of each “prayer block,” the very beginning, so that I had plenty of time to wash up. And then it hit me: I wasn’t washing up correctly! My prayers were not going through! Oh no! Was I not getting enough water behind my ears or between my toes? Did I not gargle enough or let water drip all the way to my elbows? In a fit of sheer hysteria, I stripped off my clothes and ran into the shower. I stood under the water for at least 30 minutes and allowed the hot shards to saturate my entire body. Then I pushed in the plug and let the water rise until I knew that my feet were completely immersed. I had to make sure I was washed up properly – had to make sure my prayer would go through. I would never make the same mistake twice, never.
I spent the rest of my time in the Middle East (three years to be exact) living as a suicidal hermit whose skin was cracked and bloody – the dire consequence of living in the shower. Yet the constant bathing, constant praying, constant counting, and constant hating never brought on Allah’s love. I finally assumed that I was doomed – that my scales would never even out. It was too late. Pointless. I wanted to die, and I wanted to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. But the Lord had other plans for me. They were plans I couldn’t even fathom.
Eventually, Tamar got sick of watching his wife morph into a pale waif with hollowed eyes and blistered skin. With more than just an ounce of bitterness, he decided to save my life and move us back to America. I was more terrified than happy. I just knew that Allah was going to crash the plane, because it was my fault that we were leaving an Islamic country to return to “evil America.” To be honest, I was shocked when our plane touched the tarmac without a hitch. But my happiness was short lived. I reasoned and even conceded to the fact that Allah would simply kill me some other way. It was inevitable. I had read the Koran enough to know how Allah worked. His anger and bloodlust were insatiable. I just hoped vengeance would be quick and, hopefully, painless.
Over the next two years the Lord began to slowly but surely work on my heart. Four outstanding and, in my eyes, supernatural events took place that led to my blessed and undeserved salvation. The first event occurred the night I returned to America, the night I asked my father if I could drive his car to the grocery store. I hadn’t driven a car in almost three years and was hankering to get behind the wheel of my father’s Oldsmobile. Although there wasn’t anything I necessarily needed, I parked “Old Gold” in front of the neighborhood grocery store and walked inside. The sound of people speaking English was like music to my ears. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed the familiar white noise.
I took my time perusing each aisle and smiling affectionately at items I hadn’t seen in years. After spending an hour just looking, I decided to buy a single pink toothbrush. With purchase in hand, I got in line behind a man wearing a long, black robe. I was used to seeing people in long, black robes. The Middle East was full of people in long, black robes. Thus, I didn’t bat an eye or furrow a brow at the man’s outfit – until he began to speak. The robed man in front of me was telling the cashier about the wonderful bar mitzvah he had just attended. A Jewish male’s rite of passage? My eyes immediately flew to the top of the man’s head. How had I missed the yarmulke (Jewish skullcap)? I couldn’t believe it! I was standing behind an “evil Jewish rabbi.” Ironically, right as this thought entered my mind, the “evil Jewish rabbi” turned around and said, “Why don’t you go ahead of me. You only have one thing.”
To say that I was shocked is an understatement. Why was this “evil Jewish rabbi” being nice to me? Jewish people, especially rabbis, were supposed to be mean and nasty, weren’t they? That’s what I had been told. That’s what I had read. In fact, more than one person in the Middle East warned me not to buy products that may have “passed” through Israel. Why? Well, it was quite obvious. Everyone knew that Jewish people poisoned food, especially baby food, that was on its way to Islamic nations. This was common knowledge, wasn’t it?
“Please, go ahead of me,” the Jewish rabbi repeated, shaking me out of my wide-eyed stare.
“Thank you,” I murmured, throwing money onto the counter and grabbing my toothbrush. I desperately needed to get out of the grocery store – desperately needed to get away from the strange feeling I was feeling. But I couldn’t get away from the Holy Spirit. The moment my body sank into “Old Gold’s” faded driver’s seat, I curled into a ball and started to sob – purging out years of unfounded and unwarranted hate toward God’s chosen people.
Event No. 2 was, and is, a necessary but gut-wrenching memory. Tamar had received an anonymous video email depicting the beheading of Daniel Berg by Islamic fundamentalists. He asked me if I would like to watch the video with him, but I declined. Unfortunately, we lived in a small apartment, which meant that, although I couldn’t see the video, I could hear the video. And what I heard I will never forget. The animal-like screaming and repetitive chanting of “Allah Akbar” seemed to resonate throughout the entire apartment. But I was confused. I understood why the Muslims were chanting, but why were they screaming? It didn’t make sense. And it wasn’t possible that the screams were coming from Daniel Berg, because he had been beheaded. “Why are the Muslim men screaming?” I called out to Tamar.
My husband returned to the living room looking as if he were going to throw up. “It wasn’t the Muslim men screaming,” he eeked out. “It was Daniel Berg. They… they sawed his head off slowly … too slowly.”
Event No. 3 concerns the famous, and now a bit “infamous,” Mel Gibson. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and there seemed to be nothing “watchable” on television until Tamar and I heard the TV announcer declare, “Coming up next, it’s Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ.”
This was a movie I had vowed never to see. Yet, for some reason, I tossed the remote onto the couch, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “Let’s watch it and see what all the hubbub is about.” Strangely—very strangely—Tamar did not object. So there we sat, two Muslims, watching The Passion of the Christ on Sunday afternoon. When the movie was over, I pretended to be unaffected. But, honestly, I was so affected that I hardly knew what to do with myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about Jesus. Had He really endured all of that pain for humanity? I didn’t get. And the reason I “didn’t get it” was because I had made the very unlearned and ignorant decision to convert to Islam without doing any type of research. I hadn’t read the Bible. I hadn’t read any outside secular sources to back up or disprove Islam. I hadn’t compared the life of Jesus with the life of Mohammed. I hadn’t examined the history of Islam. I hadn’t done anything! I was a lazy, naïve, uneducated convert. Unfortunately, I hadn’t made this connection – yet.
Event No. 4 was the final event: Islam’s deathblow. Being back in America made my desire to be the best, white, female, American, Muslim in the world soar to new heights. I wanted to prove to my family, my friends, and anyone I came into contact with that I was a “supreme Muslim.” But I needed something other than just my word to back me up – something academically tangible.
I began taking online Islamic courses based in Pakistan. The courses were graded and allowed the student to print out certificates of completion upon the culmination of each course. I had obtained two of these certificates, which were displayed on the living-room wall with pride, when I began taking a course titled, “The History of Mohammed.” What I learned in this course was gut-wrenching, perverted, and downright gruesome.
Mohammed married a 6-year-old. Really? Mohammed had a pregnant woman killed for mocking him. Really? Mohammed had thousands of Jews killed and thrown into a mass grave. Really? Didn’t Hitler do that also? It was as if I had been punched in the face. Although I didn’t know much about Jesus, I inherently perceived that He was nothing like Mohammed – nothing like a monster. For the first time in eight years, I was questioning Islam.
Unfortunately, Muslims are not allowed to question Islam. Allah really, really hates it when that happens. I was cognizant of this and was completely terrified. I just knew that Allah could read my mind. He could read my doubt-filled queries. But I was doubting! And Allah, or the tangible presence that was hanging out in my home, knew it. I could feel the anger and darkness. I could smell it, and it was petrifying. Therefore, I did the only thing I could think of: I pretended to pray.
For the next week, I continued to don my black headscarf and perform my ritual prostrations. Up and down, up and down, up and down I went – eyes darting here and there. It was as if I were saying, “Look, Allah, I’m not questioning Islam at all! Don’t you see me praying? Don’t you see me going up and down? I’m still Muslim. Please don’t kill me.”
One can only live in abject terror for so long. With more than an ounce of trepidation, I called my mother – the woman who had given her life to Christ while I was living in the Middle East and the same woman who now helps run a Christian mission.
“Mom,” I whispered into the telephone. “I don’t want to be Muslim anymore.”
In one of the calmest voices I have ever heard, my mother told me to get onto my knees and pray. When I contended that I didn’t know how to pray, she told me to simply speak from my heart – no movements, no washing up, no repetitive chants – just talking. It felt so strange at first. I didn’t know how to sit or where to place my hands or how to actually begin.
Finally, I just did it. I got down on my knees and talked to God. I begged for forgiveness for worshipping a false god for eight years. I cried out for protection. In gut-wrenching sobs, I told the Lord that I was terrified of Allah. By the end of my prayer, I was exhausted and shaky, but completely peaceful. I still remember lying back onto the floor and breathing. My fear that I had been carrying around for so long was gone!
I felt protected and, finally, loved. Thank you, Jesus, for never leaving me.
Mrs. Farrah Khalil is the Texas representative for International Christian Concern, one of the groups that helped free Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan. She teaches Bible, American history, and government/economics at a Christian school. It has now been seven years since Mrs. Khalil left Islam.