I was 23 years old when life came to a disturbing halt inside the Chicago O’Hare Airport on February 10, 1990. In one hour my plane would depart for Jordan where my father waited with the man he had chosen for me to marry. I would not return to the United States unless I was married. My life would never be the same.
As the third and middle child, born in Jordan, I was the first in my Palestinian family to carry a Muslim name, Ruqaya, after one of the prophet Mohammed’s daughters. When I was eight, my father moved the family to the United States for financial reasons. He feared his daughters would be overly influenced by the United States, possibly even marry American men, so he planned to move the family back to Jordan after a few years. My father held strongly to his Arab customs and wanted his children to follow Islam while living here. An Arab Muslim woman who married a non-Muslim man disgraced her family, for it is forbidden in Islam.
When I was to start high school, my father sent me back to Jordan for my studies, while my family remained in the United States. I lived with my grandmother, my uncle, and his family, and I became a devout Muslim. It was a relief for my father to know he didn’t have to worry about me; I was living the life that pleased both God (Allah) and him.
Although I visited my family in the United States, I was happy living in Jordan and following God’s ways. I prayed five times a day, fasted for the month of Ramadan, read the Quran (the sacred book of Islam) daily, and wore the veil (covering my entire body, except my hands, face, and feet). I tried to imitate the prophet Mohammed in every way, but no matter what I did for him, I felt it wasn’t enough to prove my obedience. After three years in Jordan, I returned to the United States to live with my family in Chicago.
In the Arab culture, a woman marries when a suitable man asks for her hand. Dating and courting is not allowed until after the engagement, so the woman isn’t acquainted with her future husband until after she is engaged to him. According to Islam, a woman has the right to say no to anyone who asks for her hand, but in the culture, the family usually pressures her to say yes. When I turned 23, my father decided that I should marry my first cousin in Jordan. He traveled ahead of me to prepare for the wedding, then he made arrangements for me to return soon afterward.
As I sat in the airport that Saturday in February, waiting to board the plane that would take me to my wedding, I faced a future filled with disgrace or misery. If I ran away, I would disgrace my family and possibly endanger my life. (Arabs have actually killed their daughters for disgracing the family.) If I went to Jordan, I would be trapped in a miserable marriage. I felt my heart screaming to God in anger. Out of everyone in my family, it was ME who prayed to You, ME who fasted for You, ME who studied the Quran. This is what You allow to happen to me? What are You doing to me, God? I decided to stop praying to God and to stop worshipping Him.
That day was a turning point, a day that completely changed my life. I took my luggage and fled to the nearest hotel. My airplane landed in Jordan 16 hours later, and when my father realized that I wasn’t on it, he went out of his mind. He called my brother in the United States, who desperately began searching for me.
Only God could protect me, but I was so angry at Him that I didn’t ask for His help. I didn’t have much money, but I couldn’t risk working because my family would find me if I used my social security number. My father hadn’t allowed the family to cultivate many American friendships, so I felt lost and alone in a strange country. I needed courage, strength and wisdom.
So that the government could protect me from my family, I joined the U.S. Army National Guard. Once I was finished with my military training, I went back to a suburb in the city where my family had lived and hid there. I found a job and became successful, and I made many close friends. Four years later, I mustered up the courage to contact my family. Little by little, I began to make peace with them. I was amazed at how readily they accepted me back, and I attributed it to God’s grace in my life. God didn’t neglect me after all. In gratitude, I felt the need to return to Him. I no longer prayed five times a day, but I thanked Him daily and did things to please Him.
In February 1998, I accepted a new job, relocating to Dallas. I knew no one in Dallas but was excited about my new opportunity. I planned to find success in international sales – but the Lord had other plans. Under the strangest circumstances, I met a woman walking her dog in front of my apartment. She and I became instant friends, and she invited me to her church. I didn’t see any harm in going to church. After all, I thought, God sent Judaism and Christianity, too. He won’t be upset if I go to a non-Islamic church.
Right away, I enjoyed the pastor’s sermons. I only disagreed with him when he talked about Jesus being the Son of God. Sometimes he would say that Jesus is God in the flesh, but other times, he would say that Jesus is the Son of God. He was obviously confused. How could Jesus be God AND God’s Son?
I continued to attend church, until I heard the pastor say that missionaries go to Muslim countries where the people don’t know Jesus Christ. I thought: Of course Muslims know Jesus. The pastor is sadly mistaken. I need to set the record straight. After the service, I introduced myself as a Muslim to the pastor, and told him that I did know Jesus Christ. Apologizing for making a blanket statement, he said, “I know that Muslims believe He was a prophet.” His comment became another turning point in my life. I wanted to meet with him to talk about his faith.
I was convinced, heart and soul, as a practicing Muslim that the prophet Mohammed was God’s last messenger on Earth and that the Quran was the last book sent by God. The Quran clearly states that Jesus was a messenger, born of a virgin mother Mary and that He performed many miracles, such as bringing the dead to life, healing the sick, speaking when He was a baby, and creating a bird out of clay. God loved Jesus so much that when His enemies were preparing to crucify Him, God sent someone who looked just like Jesus to die on the cross in Jesus’ place. Muslims believe that Jesus never died, but was raised to heaven to be protected from His enemies. In the Quran, Jesus claims that He never told anyone to worship Him, but to worship the One true God.
I began to wonder why Christians and Muslims had such different beliefs. I studied both Christianity and Islam and came to the conclusion that the Bible and the Quran couldn’t both be right. I wrestled with many questions about Jesus: Was Jesus crucified? Did Jesus die on the cross for man’s sins? Is Jesus God or the Son of God? Is God a Triune God? Is the Bible accurate? A professor at Dallas Theological Seminary taught me about the Old Testament prophesies regarding the Messiah and how they were fulfilled by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. I came to believe that Jesus was crucified for man’s sins.
The only thing I still wrestled with was whether or not Jesus was God. In Islam, it’s blasphemous and unforgivable to believe in any other God but Allah. Therefore, Jesus’ claim to be God was the most difficult truth for me to accept. One day, I prayed to Jesus: Okay, Mr. Messiah, it’s my way or the highway. If you are God, You will prove it to me by doing what I want You to do. Jesus didn’t respond.
On Sunday, August 2, 1998, an Iranian Christian pastor invited me to his home. He asked where I was in my search. I told him that I believed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but I didn’t believe in His deity. I also told him that I would want a man like Jesus to be my neighbor, my brother, my father, my boss, my judge in a court of law, and my king, because no one in history compared to Him. He said: “If you think He is that wonderful and that He died on the cross for your sins, will you confess that before God?” I agreed, so we prayed together.
That Sunday evening I received Jesus as my Savior. And after that decision, His deity became clearer with each day. Three years later, I’m all the more grateful for God’s shepherding guidance as I journeyed to Jesus from Islam. The Lord was always there for me when I needed Him – and even when I thought I didn’t need Him. He has taken me down roads and turns I never dreamed I’d take. Above all, I’m constantly amazed by His great love for me. He sent Jesus to die on the cross for me. How humbling and precious that truth is. The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not be in want.
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