Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Family United

Many Muslims who leave Muhammad behind leave their families behind as well. Khaled was an unusual exception in that his wife Rena chose to remain with him after he left Islam, and eventually joined him in crossing the bridge to a new life. Their story was given in Arabic here.  I would like to repeat it, and then add a few comments.

Khaled introduced himself as originally from the Shemer tribe in northern Saudi Arabia  although he was born and raised in Jeddah. As a youth he was a serious Muslim, memorizing over 20 suras of the Quran and regularly practicing the Arkan Al Islam (the pillars of daily Salat or prayer, Sawm or fasting the month of Ramadan, giving Zakat or charity, and fulfilling the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca).

Rena is from a Sunni Muslim family in Damascus, and was the first woman in her family to wear the hair covering of the Hijab. After hearing a well-known Shaykh say that even his place in Jannah or heaven was not guaranteed, Rena wondered what chance she had and decided that wearing the veil might help gain Allah's approval.

When host Rashid asked the obvious question of how a Saudi man and a Syrian woman had came together Khaled replied he and his first wife, a Saudi woman, had divorced. Syrian women were known for their beauty and compatability, many of his friends and relatives were happily married to Syrians, and he decided to try his luck. Saudi men must receive a special license to marry an Ajnabiya, or foreign woman, but one of Khaled's friends knew the Emir who could grant the required permission. Armed with permission to marry a woman from As Sham, or Syria, Khaled made the trip. Rena, for her part, wanted a husband who was as serious a Muslim as she was. When she learned that Khaled not only prayed regularly but worked in Jeddah, she decided that someone who lived only a few miles from Mecca's Kabah was as close to Allah as one could get and gladly married him.

The couple spent a three-month honeymoon in America, and during that time met a lawyer who suggested they migrate to the United States. Although they did not take his proposal seriously and returned to Saudi Arabia, they made several more visits to America and deepened their friendship with the lawyer. He began to talk to them about his Mormon faith, but Rena was unimpressed. "How could they believe," she asked, "In a God that ate and drank and had lived as a human being?" She visited his church, but to show her contempt tore off a long strip of toilet paper in the restroom, wrote all her questions on it, and took them to their friend.

"Toilet paper?" asked an astonished Rashid. "Why would you use that?"

"I'm embarrassed to admit I did that," replied Rena. "It was just to show him that I was superior to him. I was raised to believe we Muslims were the best people raised up for mankind (Quran 3:11). In Saudi Arabia I had begun to wear the Niqab and I even wore it in America.  When we flew from Jeddah to the States, I was the only woman on the entire plane who did not remove her Abaya during the flight.

"When I handed him the strip of toilet paper and told him these were my questions," continued Rena, "I was sure he would be shocked. But I was the one to be shocked when he just smiled and said, "I hope I have the answers." They then sent missionaries to our house to try to convince us, but I refused their message."

"Why would you go with him to church in the first place?" asked Rashid.

"I was curious," replied Khaled. "I had never been to a church. There are churches in Syria, and Rena had attended the Christian weddings of her friends. But there are no churches in Saudi Arabia. I had no interest in what they believed, but was curious to see the inside of a church.

"After I returned to Saudia Arabia," continued Khaled. "I had a dream in which Jesus appeared to me. I knew immediately that he was God."

"Just like that?" asked an astonished Rashid. "You had never read the Bible or anything?"

"The only thing that had happened," replied Khaled. "Was that in America my friends had asked me to pray about whether Mormonism was true. When I next performed my prayers, I asked God to show me the truth and protect me from error. Nothing happened, except that after I returned to Saudi Arabia I had this dream and thought God was telling me to read the Bible. It is impossible to obtain the Bible in Saudi Arabia, but I found it online. Since I was interested in Jesus, I began to read the New Testament."

"My response," interrupted Rena, "Was to tell him the Bible was Muharraf (corrupted), as we learned in Islam. He insisted on reading it, and to my amazement when he reached the crucifixion of Jesus he began to cry. "Why are you crying?" I asked him, "That is just a fairy tale."

When Rashid asked Khaled why he was crying, he had a simple response. "Can anyone read the story of the crucifixion and not weep? I was the one who should have been on that cross, not him. He gave his life for me."

"You understood that?" asked a surprised Rashid. "And you knew nothing of Christianity?"

"I understood it from the first instant," replied Khaled. "I realized that he had the option not to die, but he choose to die for me."

"And I was laughing at him," interrupted Rena. "I didn't believe a word of it."

"As I continued reading in the New Testament," contined Khaled, "I saw references to people with names like Daniel and Isaiah. I didn't know anything about them, so began reading the Old Testament. I am a scientist, and was looking for evidence that what I was reading was true. One day I reached the sentence, "You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews (Job 10:11)."

"I was in the kitchen," said Rena, "And I suddenly heard him shout Allahu Akbar!"

"Which is our Arabic Hallelujah!" added Khaled."

When Rashid asked why that verse caused such a strong reaction, Khaled explained. "I have studied the human embryo. The Quran says that Allah first created the bones, and then clothed them with flesh (Quran 23:14). I had always realized this Ayah did not make scientific sense, but never challenged it. When I read the description in Job, it was much more precise and correct."

"He called for me," added Rena, "And told me to come see where the Quran was wrong. My immediate response was, "Allah forgive him for this great sin." I told him that the Quran must be correct, and that he should ask a scientist. He went to a professor of human development who told him, "I know that the Quran is wrong, but as Muslims we must accept it.  If I ask you about the embryo on a university exam, however, I want you to reply scientifically and not according to the Quran." I was upset when Khaled told me what the professor had said, and told him to ask a religious Shaykh."

When Rashid asked Khaled what the Shaykh said, he replied, "He simply said he did not want to talk about it and suggested I ask the author of a Saudi university textbook that tries to relate the Quran to science. I sent him an email, but of course never received a response. I also asked the popular preacher Amr Khaled, who also did not reply."

"I was terrified," said Rena, "To realize my husband no longer believed in the Quran. He had become a Murtedd bound for Jehenim, an apostate going to hell. We were in Saudi Arabia, where he could be killed. He stopped saying his prayers and going to the mosque. When I told my mother that my husband was thinking about leaving Islam, she told me that if he did so I should leave him and return to Syria. It would be Haram and Zina (forbidden and adultery) for me to stay with him."

"I began to express my doubts to my work colleagues," continued Khaled. "Soon some of them made a formal complaint about me to the authorities and I was questioned. At that time I denied everything, and swore I was a good Muslim. I returned to the mosque and started saying my prayers. I became a coward. I was interrogated three times, and I denied each time."

"I've interviewed many people who left Islam," said Rashid. "Some of them are very bold, and others like you buckle under pressure. Why do you think there is this difference?"

"I was frightened of the sword," replied Khaled. "If you saw the public executions that take place in Saudi Arabia, you would understand. It is a terrifying sight to see people beheaded in the public square."
"I perhaps had a role in this," added Rena. "I told him to be quiet, and not to admit his doubts about Islam. I would say things like, "I love you...think of me and your children...don't leave me a widow." I wanted him to return to Islam and receive God's forgiveness. I did not want him to die a Murtedd."

When Rashid asked how Khaled's family responded to his doubts, he replied they took him to a psychologist. It was at this time that he decided to leave Saudi Arabia. He informed Rena that he loved her and wanted her to stay with him even if she did not believe as he did, showing her the Biblical instruction that Christian husbands were not to divorce wives who did not share their faith (1 Corinthians 7:12). Rena recalled American movies she had seen in which husbands and wives committed themselves to each other "for better or for worse, until death do us part". She realized she would rather leave with Khaled, even though the marriage would be considered Haram, than stay in Saudi Arabia without him or return to Syria as a divorcee.

Khaled then told the amazing story of how they left the country. Having been investigated three times, he realized he was probably on the Saudi no-fly list. Remembering the Biblical story of Moses and the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14), Khalid prayed, "Lord, miraculously take us across the Red Sea as well (comment: the Red Sea crossed by Moses becomes much wider as it extends towards Jeddah and into the Arabian Gulf)." As they stepped up to airport passport control, the officer informed them the computers were down but he would write down their passport information and enter it into the computers later! They gave him the required information and an hour later were flying away. Khaled had not informed his family he was leaving the country, and when he called his mother the next day she informed him the Muhabarat (the Saudi Intelligence Service) had come to the house looking for him.

Rena then described the family conflict they experienced after they left Saudi Arabia. They first went to Jordan, where she knew no one and felt completely alone. She was determined to raise her children Muslim, and included them in her daily prayers and Quran reading. When asked if he objected to this, Khaled replied that the most important thing to him was his relationship with his wife, and he would not stand in the way of the religious training she gave the children. He jokingly commented that one of the reasons Saudi men like to marry Syrian women is that they have the reputation of being willing to put up with a lot, and Rena had certainly done that with him!

They remained in Jordan for three difficult years, with Khaled unable to work and their children not allowed to attend school. Rena continued to argue with Khaled about Islam, and when she was unable to win the arguments because his background in Islam was stronger than hers she decided to do a comparative study between Muhammad and Jesus. She suddenly discovered that all the questions she had harbored in her heart since childhood about Muhammad and Islam, questions Muslims habitually repress and do not persue, rose to the surface.

She gave the example of Muhammad ignoring the blind Abdallah bin Umm Maktum while he was trying to impress the leaders of the Quraysh (Quran 80:1,2). How would she have felt, she asked herself, if she were Abdallah? She read the story of Muhammad ordering the stoning of an adulterous woman, and listened to Khaled's explanation of Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery. She was still unwilling to read the New Testament for herself, feeling strongly that it was not "her book", but began to allow herself to question Islam's Prophet.

"One day," continued Rena, "I decided to have a long conversation with God. I told him the story of my life, with all my dreams and fears. I felt him telling me to open my heart to him, and I asked my husband to pray with me. I asked God to come into my life, and for the first time in my life I ended my prayer with the words "in the name of Jesus, amen." As soon as I said those words, I felt God's Spirit fill me from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes. My immediate reaction was to take off my Hijab and never wear it again."

"As soon as I removed the Hijab," said Rena, "Threats and persecution began to come from our neighbors. We were forced to move six times in Jordan, three times because of poverty and three times as the result of threats. Each time we moved to a smaller and poorer residence."

"I know that you came to the United States through the United Nations as refugees," asked Rashid. "Was that difficult?"

"When we first applied for refugee status in Jordan," replied Rena. "I was still a Muslim wearing the Hijab. The Muslim lawyer who handled our file informed me he would not allow my husband to travel to the United States. He could either return to Saudi Arabia, the lawyer said, or remain in Jordan and experience a moderate Islam far removed from Wahhabi influence. When I informed the lawyer that if my husband returned to Saudi Arabia they would cut off his head, he passed me to another UN official. This person asked me if I was proud of my husband for leaving Islam. They were both lawyers, but acted as if they were the people whipping us. We complained to the UN in Geneva, and they offered us an interview. Following the required procedures, we were admitted to the United States."

At one point in the program, Rashid opened the phone lines. "I wish," said one caller, "That all the terrorists who travel from Saudi Arabia to Iraq via Syria could follow Khaled's example. He also went from Saudi Arabia to Syria, but eventually to America for the sake of freedom."

"I've always had a negative opinion of Saudis," said another caller, "Until I heard Khaled's story. He is a wonderful example of a noble Saudi man."


1. Muslims love to boast that the Quran explained embryology hundreds of years before modern science. As Khaled pointed out, the Quranic explanation (which, by the way, was copied from a Greek physician named Galen who lived 450 years before Muhammad) that the fetus is first a skeleton on which flesh is added makes no scientific sense. An aborted fetus is made up of flesh and tissue, not a sack of bones.

2. The response of Saudi scientists to the Quranic myth of the embryo is the same as the response of Saudi archeologists to the Quranic myth of Thamudians building houses in rocks at Madayn Salah (it was the Nabatians building tombs, as I have discussed here). In both cases the response is, "We know it is not true, but we dare not question the Quran."

3. Were the American ambassador in Riyadh to ask a Saudi official whether Khaled would have been mistreated, imprisoned, or killed had he remained in Saudi Arabia, the official would probably say No. He might even quote "there is no compulsion in religion" (Quran 2:256). Whether Khaled or the official is lying is up to you to decide.

4. Were the American ambassador in Amman to ask a UN official whether Muslim UN lawyers would discriminate against individuals seeking refugee status because they had left Islam, the official would probably deny it. Again, whether that official or Rena is telling the truth is yours to decide.

1 comment:

Susanne said...

Very interesting! I enjoyed reading this!