‘See, what had happened was…’

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason and intellect intended us to forego their use”-Galileo Galilei

On April 4th,2010, I ended twenty years of being a Christian and entered the realm of Islam. In my apartment with two witnesses I recited the words that would make it official: ‘Ashadu allah illaha illala; wa ashadu anna Muhammadar rasullah’. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah;and Muhammad is His messenger.

At the time I knew that I was only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of my knowledge of Islam. With 1400 years of scholarship, I knew I could study Islam all my life and still have more to learn. But this wasn’t enough to dissuade my conversion. After all, I reasoned, I currently knew much more about Islam than I’d known about Christianity at the time I officially accepted it. When I responded to the invitation that Sunday in 1990 at my Grandma’s prodding, I’d never heard of Constantine or Martin Luther. I had no idea what the differences between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians were. I wouldn’t learn anything about church history until I was fourteen years old, and even that knowledge would come from a secular source-public school.

I believed that Allah, the name for God in Arabic, was the same as Jehovah, the deity introduced in the Old Testament. Mercy was one of Allah’s attributes. As a convert from Christianity, I appreciated this attribute. As a Muslim I was always mindful of Allah’s mercy. Every prayer opened with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem-In the Name of Allah, Most Beneficient, Most Merciful. I loved these words and often recited them to myself. It was essential for me to believe in a God of limitless mercy. After all, if there was a limit to God’s mercy there could be no hope for me.

Though Allah was merciful, one had to obey a lot of rules in order to please him. This became clear within my first month of being Muslim. My acrylic nails? They had to go. My skinny jeans and five-inch leopard print stiletto heels? They had to go. My gold and turquoise eyeshadow? Temporarily retired, only to see the light of day at all-female gatherings or in the home for my spouse. My perfectly arched eyebrows? Shaping them was haram, so to be a good muslimah I had to leave them alone. I didn’t question the logic of the changes I made at the time. Sure it was drastic. But it seemed a small price to pay for Jannah and its’ eternal delights.

An odd thing happened on the way to Jannah though: I started to think. It began with a very small issue: plucking eyebrows. I had accepted letting mine grow naturally and ceased having them threaded. But when I came across the hadith that the prohibition is taken from( http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/21119/eyebrows) I was troubled. It was one thing to say shaping the eyebrows was bad. But to read that Allah would curse women for doing so was simply ridiculous. Where was the mercy in cursing someone for such a small thing? How could a truly Divine being be so petty?

I wish that this was the only bizarre and disturbing ruling that I found. It wasn’t. While studying the Islamic views on marriage, I learned that I essentially had no right to ever deny my husband sex. If he called me to bed and I refused and he was angry all night as a result, the angels would curse me until the morning. You can read more on this at http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/33597. Again, this did not seem like the decree of a merciful God. Neither did the instructions on how to deal with a “disobedient wife” found in Sura 4:34, where men are told to beat their wives(lightly in the Yusuf Ali translation) in order to bring them in line.

Within months of my conversion, I found myself in an uncomfortable place. Sure, I could remain on the path and continue to practice Islam. I’d have to pay a steep price in order to do so though. I’d have to a make a conscious decision to turn off my critical thinking skills and stifle my intellect. It would have been easier to continue practicing Islam. I’d devoted myself to the cause fully and didn’t want to face the ridicule that would come if I jumped ship. But foregoing the use of my mental faculties wasn’t a compromise I could live with. Once this became crystal clear I knew I was an apostate.