This video starts with a really terrifying and painful story. One of the parts that stands out most to me is the description you gave of the men shouting "Allahu Akbar" as the woman was beheaded. "Allahu Akbar" - "God is great"... It feels so dissonant to shout in a moment like that. Can you help us understand how these words are used, and what theology and emotions are being conveyed?
In Islam, "Allahu Akbar" is pronounced when something good happens, and when something bad happens. It's giving praise to Allah: "God is great." According to Islam, Allah does good to people, and he does bad to people. In the Bible, we see that Jesus does good to us; he does not do bad. He does not bring evil. But in the Muslim view, although there is a devil, he doesn't have much influence. It's Allah who does good and evil. So this shout...it's glorifying the good and the bad that Allah does.
Although in the Muslim view, this beheading was seen as good.
This shout, coupled with witnessing this act of violence: How did this affect your view of God?
I was fearful of God. Watching something with your eyes versus being told what happened are two very different experiences. But, being a Muslim...Islam already imposes fear over the people [so it was already there]. But still, even with the fear, all glory goes to Allah. When my father said, "That could happen to you...", I believed it.
How did this experience affect your time in prayer? Specifically, your Salaat prayers, asking God to keep you on the straight path?
Allah is untrustworthy. Muslims know this. Even if a Muslim tries... If you try to do everything to attain Paradise, based on the good deeds and bad deeds....Even if you have all good deeds and bad deeds, and they die, on Judgment day, Allah can change his mind.
I was fearful of Allah; I was fearful of my family. I wanted to do everything the best I could do; they were watching me constantly, everything I do. It's a works-based pressure religion. Even though they know the end results...
I want to say, especially for women: There is no guarantee to women for Heaven offered. For women most likely they know they're not going to make it. Unless they're a virgin, maybe. [Slight laugh] It's like, "Just keep trying."
This story brings to mind the interaction between Jesus, the mob, and the woman who was about to be stoned to death... Jesus said to the crowd, "Let him who has no sin cast the first stone." And after they left, he said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin." What would this story have meant to you at the time (if someone had shared this story of Christ with you that very day?)
If someone would have shared that with me, first, I would have taken it as, "Well this story is not in the Qur'an, so it must be made up by Christians." Because Muslims see that what's not in the Qur'an as something made up, or corrupt. They don't trust the information of the Bible*. Second, I would have thought "Wow, someone is really seeing the situation, the woman's life...and they're having compassion over her situation." But with having an Islamic mind, I would have said, "There is no forgiveness and mercy for sin, so she should have been punished for her crime."
As a Christian, it can be confusing to encounter this response. We often expect Muslims to join in our perspective right away: to believe that "Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). To love mercy. It's so deeply engrained in us.
The view that Jesus was going against the law of Moses - against the law of God - and that the woman should have been stoned: this is completely foreign to many of us. But of course this view isn't new: We see this constantly raised in the Biblical narrative. And in response, we see Jesus's words: He didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. How do you respond to Muslims who see the Christian stories of Jesus as something that stands against God's will, rather than completing it?
We have to understand the context: Islam is law-based, just as Judaism is. Islam teaches that God sent the Taurat (books of Moses), Zabur (Psalms), the Injeel (book of Jesus), and then the Qu'ran. So what Islam wants to do is bring all the Jewish and Christian people to what they call truth, which is acceptance of Islam. When we tell Muslims that Jesus came to fulfill the law, or that he has the authority to forgive, we are stating a belief that goes against the teachings of the Qur'an. You will have to provide them lots of proof from the prophecies of the Bible for them to see: like Jesus did on the road to Emmaus. Because at the moment, they are blinded.
The Biblical imagery for being blinded is having a veil over you (2 Corinthians 3:14-17). Let's talk about the niqab - the covering you're wearing in this video. This is a really loaded symbol for many Americans. We think of ISIS; of terrorism. I remember you saying that you wore this when you first came to America. Can you tell us what that symbol meant to you at the time?
When I first came to America, I wore the niqab many times because I was not familiar with the Westernized culture as much. In my eyes, it was my culture... [Not more than that.]
But I did wonder what they were thinking when they were looking at me. I would think "They're looking at me, but they're trying not to look at me." One time I wore the niqab at an event where there were many Christians...And when I walked in, I want to tell you... There was a huge group in the lobby. No one looked me in the eye. Everyone looked past me. And I really felt invisible. Like, "There is a woman in a huge black garment....How can you not see that?" [Laughs] I felt that they completely ignored me. Just...like I was invisible.
I'm sure in their heart and their mind, they were experiencing fear — "What's going on here? This isn't normal." Even — "Oh my gosh, suicide bomber."
So at this point the niqab or hijab wasn't a religious symbol to you? It was only culture?
No, no. In the eyes of Muslims, the religion is the culture. They're the same thing.
But not necessarily in America — not everyone is a Christian. I didn't know that. There are Christian Americans and non-Christian Americans. I had no idea. [When I first came to America], I thought they were all Christians.
I was in America for 8 1/2 years before a Christian invited me into a church...Before someone said anything about faith.
What was your view of Christianity during that time?
When you're living in the Islamic world, the America that Hollywood shows is what you think being Christian is. So everything I was watching on TV was Christian, in my eyes. Honestly, I saw promiscuity as Christian.... I saw drinking alcohol, getting drunk, doing drugs... I saw short skirts...my first years in American high school, I saw girls wearing these very short skirts. They were cheerleaders, I know that now. But I didn't know at the time. And I saw the men, watching the girls perform, the skirts... All of this, it felt like such an immoral culture. And to me, this was Christian.
At the time, "Christian" also meant Christmas trees and Santa Claus. And Easter was about Easter eggs and stuffed bunnies, chocolate crosses. I was very confused by these celebrations.
It was also the crucifix. My uncle, who was an imam, talked a lot about the Crusades [who used the symbol of the cross on their shields]...that they were Christians, and how many Muslims they killed. So the cross was a symbol to me of the Crusades: and to me, that was the other part of being Christian.
And the impression must have grown in the silence... Nothing was really said to change this image you had?
One thing I want to tell you in defense of this silence... I'm not against the people I was watching; it's not their fault. In my home, in almost any Muslim home, it's understood not to go out and hang out with the infidels. Not to go hang out with "immoral people." "Don't hang out with Americans."
Islamic culture is an honor/shame culture. [You can't associate with people who you view as "dishonorable," or that dishonor spreads to you.] So I was definitely restricted when I was in America. My parents were trying to control me by having me not be involved, not asking questions... So I know that also played a role in it.
What were the questions you wanted to ask?
What is the true meaning of Christmas? What is the meaning of Santa Claus in your holy celebration? I would want to know... what happens in the building, in a Christian building. In a church. What happens inside?
I also would've asked about the things I was seeing was that were dishonoring God. I was really God-conscious. I was raised to always worship God: He's holy, he's watching every move I make... Every move I make has to be acceptable in his eyes. And these people are living without fear of God. Why?
I would have also asked....You're Christian, but Islam came after Christianity, so why are you not Muslim?
And is Allah a Christian God? And why — if he's the same God, why am I following him differently? And why are they following him differently? I did think that question...a lot.