If you are a well-educated young female Arab from an established Christian family in the Middle East, there is no easier way to get your fifteen minutes of fame than to announce you have converted to Islam. After Ruba Qewar made her shahadah in 2005, she was the darling of Muslim TV talk shows and the Arabic media. Things changed five years later, when she apostatized from Islam and publicly declared she was leaving Muhammad behind for Jesus.
Ruba was the guest for two successive weeks on Rashid’s Arabic TV program Daring Question. Arabic speakers can watch here and here.
The first question addressed to her, as could be expected, was why she left the religion of her ancestors for Islam. Ruba replied there were four reasons. First was that as a Christian living in a Muslim society, she always realized she was a minority, a second-class citizen. Second was the theological question of how could Jesus, an ordinary man, be God? Next was the linguistic attraction and power of the Quran when recited or read in Arabic. The final reason was that her Muslim friends asked her questions about Christianity she was unprepared to answer. Rather than resorting to Christian sources to find the answers, Ruba noted wryly, she looked up Islamic websites for their answers and became convinced they were correct. She was also influenced by ex-Christian scholars and authors such as Bart Ehrman, who left their traditional beliefs behind to announce they were now agnostics or atheists.
Rashid then played several clips of Ruba appearing on Muslim talk shows after she converted to Islam. I found it interesting that even in those interviews she admitted her main obstacle to becoming a Muslim was the person of Muhammad, the things he actually said and did. It was her desire to feel part of her society rather than a looked-down-upon Christian that caused her to finally accept Islam.
When asked about her relationship with her Christian family and friends after her conversion, Ruba noted she practiced the important Islamic doctrine of al-wala wal-bara, in which Muslims are not allowed to take non-Muslims (including family members) as friends.
Even after she publicly announced her conversion, Ruba still struggled with the historical Muhammad. She found it impossible to believe that a person who was maasoum, free from error, could do things such as I have described here. It was the linguistic pull of the Quran in Arabic, not the person of Muhammad, that had attracted her to Islam. She eventually aligned hereself with the Ahl-al-Quran (about whom I have written here), who believe that only the Quran and not the sayings and life of Muhammad (known in Islam as the Sunnah) are inspired by God.
Ruba was now studying in the United States, and married a Muslim from an Arab country. He did not approve of her affiliation with the Quran-only Muslims, and their marriage ended in divorce. She noted that 80% of Western woman who embrace Islam and marry Muslim husbands become divorced. (comment: this is even the case with women who write books about Islam, such as Maryam Kabeer Faye).
Before the divorce, Ruba's husband encouraged her to seriously study the Sunnah. She did so, and showed her certificate in Quranic recitation and her university degree in Islamic studies. She became very devout in her faith, praying more than the required five times a day, fasting more than the required month of Ramadan, avoiding contact and conversation with men other than her husband, wearing the full niqab, and leading dozens of people to Islam. Most of her converts were American women, although she was also influential in the conversion of several Arab female Christians.
The interviewer asked Ruba how she reconciled her new found faith with Muhammad's questionable acts such as marrying the nine-year-old Aisha, or encouraging his son to divorce his wife so the Prophet could marry his own daughter-in-law Zainab. She replied she learned these were things Allah allowed and even commanded his Prophet to do; her role, as is that of all Muslims, was not to question but simply accept. She quoted the Islamic doctrine that what cannot be understood by Aqel (reason) must be accepted as Naqel (divinely revealed and not to be questioned).
What was the beginning of Ruba's return to al-Maseeh (Jesus)? She said one simple but basic factor was the treatment of women in Islam. When she wanted to study fundamentalist Islam with one Shaykh, he informed her he would not teach her simply because she was a woman.
From her "Quran-only" perspective, Ruba began to examine what the Quran says about women and compare that with the example of Jesus. Even that is not allowed in Islam; the Muslim is not to study other religions because he or she might be influenced by them. One Hadith relates that Muhammad became angry when he saw the Caliph Umar bin Khattab with a copy of the Torah, "Why are you in doubt? Did I not come with the pure white message? If my brother Moses were alive, he would follow me." Christ's exhortation to the Jews in John 5:39, noted Ruba, was the opposite, "Search the Scriptures, for they testify of me."
Ruba reached a dilemma in her study of the Quran. As she found challenging verses, Muslim Imams told her to study their explanation in the Tafseer, the expositions written by famous Muslim scholars. But as she read the Tafseer and found the explanations even more unacceptable, the Imams told her to forget them and just read the Quran!
Ruba gave one example, the verse in Al Nisa (Quran 4:34) where men are told to Hajr disobedient wives before beating them. The root meaning of the verb means to isolate, or tie up and leave alone. English interpretations of the Quran translate it as "forsake", saying it means to have the wife sleep alone until she comes to her senses (to properly obey her husband).
But is that the correct translation? How does one of Islam's most famous expositors, Al Tabari, explain Hajr? "It does not mean forsake, because to just leave her and not talk to her is useless for the woman, since she is arrogant and does not want to listen or talk to her husband. If he leaves her alone, he will be doing exactly what she wants! The correct explanation of the verse means to tie her to the bed - like the Arabs tie a camel - and have sex with her by force."
(Muhammad's three-step program to deal with marital conflict as presented in English translations of Quran 4:34 never really made sense to me. Step one, according to these translations, is to admonish the wife. Step two is to send her to a separate bed, and step three is to let her have it - that's the beating part. Perhaps some female Muslim readers can explain this to me, but if you are having a fight with your husband and his response is to scold you and tell you to sleep in the guest room, along with a warning that he's about to get physical, how does that make you long for reconciliation? It will only make you fearfully submit, which is exactly what he wants.)
Ruba next began to debate with Arabic-speaking Christians in the chatrooms of Paltalk. To her surprise, she discovered there were logical answers to her questions about Christianity, whereas her doubts about the Quran began to increase (there is a reason American convert to Islam Yusuf Estes warns young Muslims, as I noted here, to stay away from Paltalk!).
To make a long story short (the longer version can be read here), Ruba discovered she had left one religion, called Christianity, to join another named Islam. In each of them she found contradictions, weaknesses, and failures in the lives of its followers. Her spiritual journey eventually brought her back to the person of Jesus, and his invitation to follow his example as a lasting pattern of life.