The Western Convert
This is a guest post by Melanie. She has been active in the apostate community for some time and having experienced the damage that Islamism can cause first-hand, it weighs heavy on our heart. She wants to help ex-Muslims of all backgrounds: “We are all in this together, whether we we born, married or beguiled into Islam”
1. My Early Years
Although I was an American born and raised in Tokyo, Japan in 1959, I felt at home there and thrived in the international environment. My family was very secular, although Catholic in name. My school mates and friends were from every culture and every faith imaginable. If there was ever a Utopian society or sub culture, this was certainly it. We thoroughly enjoyed and embraced the diversity – except for the Russians – of course. Anyone who has lived in Tokyo knows about the “American Club” and when on the roof, could look down on the back of the Russian Embassy. We used to go up there as kids, and watch them play tennis. We were fascinated with these people who – what with it being the Cold War and all – were our enemies.
I attended Catholic schools for most of my youth, and my mother was always trying to push me towards becoming a nun. I was in awe of God, and I excelled in religious studies in school. I could think of no greater occupation or calling than devoting my entire life to God. This carried over into my adult years.
(Note: I am still agnostic at various times, because things have happened to me that had no rational explanation)
While disco was in its prime – and I was certainly a dancing ‘queen’ – my mother was extremely abusive towards her children. She did not have the excuse of being ‘religious’ or drinking alcohol to justify her heinous treatment of us. We all grew up fearing her. She tortured us, and I still have trouble at times forgiving her.
I remained fairly secular until I moved to the USA in 1977. I was getting into serious trouble in Tokyo with the wrong crowd, and my father decided to make my older brother my legal guardian in Santa Barbara, CA. I went from being in want of nothing, rubbing shoulders with the elite of Tokyo, to dirt poor. I had to get vouchers from a social worker just to have bus tickets to get to and from school, and one meal at school a day. I sold flowers on street corners just to make ends meet, and for little extra pocket change.
I then met some people who were ‘born again Christians’ and it didn’t take much to beguile me into the fold. I was obliviously happy, and thought I had found ‘IT’. I had a bad case of pleurisy, but we could not afford to go to the doctor. The pastor offered to pray for me. I went up front, and the next thing I knew, the entire congregation was all around me – laying hands on me – and praying. I suddenly felt what seemed like a bowling ball hitting me in my chest, and I passed out. When I came to, everyone was back in their seats, and I was on the floor up front feeling baffled. I was hyperventilating and realized….. There was absolutely no pain in my chest! A miracle? I was convinced it was the power of prayer, and God himself (or the Holy Spirit) had healed me!
My brother was also very abusive, and at one point attempted to rape me. I had no recourse and was terrified. Then one day he said goodbye, and never returned. Still being a minor, I had no idea what to do and was too young to pay for the small apartment we were living in.
In the interim, after my parents split up, my mother had moved to Foster City, CA. I called my father in Tokyo, and told him what had happened. I was forced to move up north to live with my mother – again. The abuse continued. I was in hell. And this is where I can fully sympathize with muslimahs. She started bringing men home, some as old as 35, trying to get me married off. I was only 17! She would come home with them, introduce us, then leave the apartment, with me alone with them for hours on end. It was a nightmare! I had to get out of there. My only option at the time was joining the military. It was the fastest way I could think of escaping, and so, I joined the United States Air Force.
I became a ‘fence rider’: one who is part of the church, but still enjoyed partying and my new found freedom. For the next 16 years I served all over the world, and my religion tagged along here and there. I started to see that my greatest focus of interest was cultural anthropology. Wherever I traveled, I would saturate myself in the culture, people, customs, etc.
In 1979, i was stationed in Mississippi at a pilot training base. We had international pilot trainees there, including many Persian trainees. I preferred the international crew, as that was within my comfort zone. Then the Iranian hostage crisis hit. The Persian pilots were desperate to marry American women so they wouldn’t have to go back. The short of it was they were given an ultimatum. Go back to Iran and be executed for treason, or seek asylum/or get married in the US, and in that case, they were threatened that their families would be executed. Being in Mississippi was no help either. The KKK became very active, and burned a cross in front of the Iranian commander’s house. And just like that, all my friends disappeared.
The bomb threats began – usually in the barracks – and I cannot count the times that we were awoken in the middle of the night and evacuated while bomb squads would comb the barracks for several hours. Security was heightened beyond belief.
In December 1983, I was shipped off to Diyarbakir, Turkey. I was terrified. Right before leaving, I watched, “Midnight Express”. BAD idea! But my fascination outweighed any fear I had. The PKK had started some heavy hitting and refugees from all over the region came to Diyarbakir for refuge. I remember hearing the adhaan when we would go to the bazaar. It fascinated me. It sounded beautiful to me! I made many friends there, and also got deeply involved with the local orphanage. Because of the PKK, the orphanage was overcrowded, and they did not have the means to support the ever growing number of children there. I never distinguished the Kurds from the Turks. They were all just little ones, victims of crazies, and I loved them all with every fiber of my being. Since I spent so much of my free time there, the locals offered to take me and a few other Americans to various archaeological digs, and sites, that I doubt very few foreign eyes had seen. It was a bitter sweet assignment. The one thing that we were warned about on a continual basis was to NEVER even discuss Jesus in public. That just someone overhearing a discussion could have been considered us trying to proselytize muslims which carried SEVERE consequences.
3. The Cult
In 1987, I was befriended by this woman I worked with in the Air Force. Turns out she was a pastor of a church, and I decided I was going to fully dedicate my life again to Christianity. It was a Pentecostal Holiness church. This means NO pants for women, dresses/skirts to the ankles, no sleeveless shirts, no makeup, not cutting of the hair, no movies, no swimming, no unisex sports, no interaction with the ‘brothers’ outside of the church (sound familiar?). NO dating without the pastor’s consent, and definitely NOT being alone with your date. But the doctrine we learned seemed amazing at the time, revelations of the bible I had never heard before. I soaked it up like a sponge. I was immediately called to teach (which came naturally to me), and then called to be an apprentice pastor. I wanted to do missionary work, working with the poor and orphans. But because I was not married, they refused to send me overseas. And like in all cult religions, exclusivism abounded. Everyone else was either going to wind up in hell, or some lower level of heaven than we were. Many people snubbed outsiders, but I just felt sorry for them.
In 1993, now completely saturated in the fear-based doctrine, I was in a living hell. When the man I had fallen in love with was killed in a car accident, I came to realize that there was no way out, and I was suicidal. The idea of leaving my religion was out of the question because by now, they had convinced me that if someone left, they would be attacked by dragon (demon) spirits, and even possessed by them, with a one way ticket to hell. ALL contact with anyone in the church would be severed, because we were afraid those dragon spirits would jump off the person onto us. The sharp claws of this cult dug deep into every member. I was at their bible institute at their headquarters in Indiana. I HAD to get out of there if I was to have any hope of having ANY quality of life.
In 1995, I finally got the “elders” to agree to me moving back to California, to assist a small mission in Redwood City. The pastor there was a friend of mine. And to a degree, I could breathe again after so many years. I spent about two years in that church. Well, some things went down with the pastor, and they threatened to pull her license. Instead, they gave the church over to this young couple who were barely out of their teens. I was like, “Screw this!” Slowly I stopped attending services, prayer meetings and bible studies.
My dad was then living in Mountain View, CA. One morning, sitting on the front porch it hit me all at once. I had been 1) sucked into a cult, 2) falling for ALL their shit, 3) If there WAS a god, why the HELL did he let me get involved in that living hell for so many years! I started crying in absolute disbelief! I was PISSED! One of the things they accused me of before I left Indiana was that I was unknowingly practicing witchcraft! I didn’t even know what witchcraft was! I couldn’t call my friends because now I had dragon spirits on me and they wouldn’t even speak to me. I was completely cut off.
I started studying witchcraft, because I wanted to know what I was being accused of. Once I got the general idea (no belief in biblical god, or the devil, or heaven/hell) I thought, “wow, that was actually a compliment”, vs. the insult they intended!
So I started practicing paganism. Still feeling a strong spiritual pull, I couldn’t identify where it was supposed to be. I didn’t seem to fit into any organized religion.
2001 – I had spent about a year taking care of my father, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Eventually, it became too much for me, and my sister and her husband took over. In Oct 2001, I drove cross country and moved to Reno, Nevada. I still had strong resentments that the cult had taken the best years of my life, and no longer was I interested too much in paganism. I still had this nagging fear about hell, however. Several years had gone by, and I went back to school. I took an anthropology class, and my professor said he would give me a degree for my experiences alone, all I needed to do was learn the terminology. Well, lo and behold, throughout the course, several Islam based cultures were studied.
4. The Revert (Out of the frying pan, into the fire)
I started surfing the web for everything I could find about Islam. I was fascinated! Much of it felt familiar and I became more curious. I found a Muslim chat room, and before I knew it, I was feeling ‘at home’ there. One day, I came across this Shia site, and I pulled up this very long prayer. It was written, and spoken in English. I fell prostrate because that prayer said everything I was thinking for many years. I WANTED to have hope again. I WANTED to believe there was a god. I WANTED assurance, that I wouldn’t go to hell! I told my internet ‘dawagandists’ my revelation from that prayer, and while they frowned on it being ‘Shia’, they were elated I was ready to do my shahada. Plus, they showed me how absolutely ridiculous Christianity was, which I still held much resentment for. So I embraced Islam wholeheartedly. They helped me find a Masjid. I was no stranger to praying for hours on end, fasting, and studying scripture – it was second nature for me. They claimed they were Sunni, but after much studying, and dialog, I am convinced they were Salafis. They were slowly grooming me for the ultimate goal — to be a niqabi.
Then, the private messages started coming in. “ASL?” I was swarmed with perverts wanting cyber sex, and the ultimate acquisition – an American visa! Even one of the dawagandists, probably the most conservative of them all, started messaging me and our conversations went south, very quickly. I finally told him, I was trying to be a good muslim and our conversations were seriously haram. The guilt saddened me.
The masjid… well… They HATED me there! I was an American white woman. They stared at me constantly, and I could feel the mistrust and daggers flying at me. I got very discouraged and left. The first “sermon” for Jummah that I heard freaked me out. “Shaytan will piss in your ear if you miss Fajr”. What the…???! I was happy that Fajr was my favorite time to pray. But the wudu and repetitive prayers started me wondering. I studied diligently! Hours on end of recitation and rote memorization. But the more I studied, the more I realized that Islam was nothing more than a plagiarized, twisted version of Christianity. The contradictions started appearing everywhere. The glorified holy wars sickened me. Reading about Safiyya bint Huyayy horrified me! This was good? This was “holy” and a reward from god? After what they did to her husband???
I gradually frequented that website less and less. I realized that it was ALL bullshit. ALL OF IT. ALL Abrahamic religions! I had just gone from one irrational and insane religion to the next. I cannot say which is more twisted to be honest. I think they are equal in how much heinous acts are condoned and REWARDED by god!
I was lost again. About a year or so later, I found the Council of Ex-Muslims (CEMB). I had never heard of Ex-muslims (once in the chat room someone came in, and I was privately warned to block them because they were kaffir. I had no idea what a kaffir was at the time).
I realized I was now a Murtad (apostate, or one who leaves Islam after having believed in it), and all that that encompassed. I became really nervous and fearful of running into someone from the masjid (I had long since removed my hijab), since I had now learned about the consequences of leaving Islam.
The amazing people in CEMB helped me through what I liken to the five stages of grief when someone dies. Not only the leaving of Islam, but the realization that this god was a fraud. I WAS LIVID! I got depressed, really depressed. I tried bargaining. I tried everything until acceptance finally came.
After being on CEMB for approximately two years, I joined Facebook and found some of my CEMB friends there. Kiran, who works for the CEMB, was one of them. It was recently that she referred me to a group she had just co-founded, the Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA). For a couple of years on CEMB, I kept asking about and looking for Ex-Muslim groups in the USA, since the CEMB is based in England. I had pretty much given up looking for a stateside organization, as the only ones I found were ultra conservative Christian groups looking to both damn all Muslims, and convert those who left Islam to Christianity. A few years ago, I managed to get together a small group of Ex-Muslims from different states and organized a meetup in New Orleans, where we had the time of our lives! I am looking forward to working with EXMNA, making new connections with other Ex-Muslims, especially other former converts, and helping out in any way that I can.
Once I accepted the truth, I had a sense of a freedom like never before. I could be me for the first time in my life!