After my mom died of cancer when I was in my early twenties, my entire sense of self was lost. Before she died, I would say I was a good Muslim girl for the most part. I never drank, and I prayed as much as I could. But after she died, I drifted away from God.
A few years later, I met a guy named Maurice* at my old job. He was gorgeous, with dark hair and dark eyes behind by thick black glasses. I was super into him, but it was hard dating in secret; we were both Arab, but I was Muslim by name, and he was Christian. In fact, he was a devout Christian with psalms all over his Facebook profile. Even though we live in New York, our workplace was full of Arabs like us, so we couldn't be public. He was stressed out a lot about people finding out and ruining his career.
I decided to spare him the angst, and after a few months, I ended the relationship.
A few months after that, a book called The Green Prince came out; it was about the son of a terrorist leader in Palestine converting to Christianity. I missed Maurice a lot, and figured I should read it, if anything, just to be closer to him or understand him more. I was extremely moved by the writer's sacrifice when he converted and wanted to find that same peace he had that I lost when my mom died.
Even though I knew we couldn't get back together, I called up Maurice and asked him to take me to his church. I sat with the priest there and explained my situation, and from there, he helped me join the congregation.
I became baptized a year later, and I'm happy. In fact, I eventually met my husband, another Christian, in the church. We got engaged and married in that same church I was baptized in. My husband even invited Maurice. But my family wasn't invited.
See, here's the thing: In the Arab world, it’s hard to leave Islam. Converting to Christianity is considered worse than being an atheist. When I started dating my husband, I told my gay Arab friend who also lives in hiding about dating a Christian, and he told me that was the worst thing I can do.
I'm over 30, which, in Arab culture, means that I'm over the hill. I know my mom's side of the family thinks there is something wrong with me. I'm not sure when I will them that I'm married, if ever. Every time they ask me about my love life, I say I'm busy or I'm too traumatized to have kids after my mom passed. I'm so lucky that I live in NY and that they are thousands of miles away, or I wouldn’t be able to pull it off; I haven't been back to my home country, Egypt, in six years. My husband wants to show me off to his family there, but because my mom's side of the family has over 50 people in his area, I am too scared to go.
In addition to family members, I haven't told my best friends from back home about my conversion or my marriage. I'm not sure what I'll do when I have kids. At work, everyone knows me as that Christian Arab girl. As a result, I don’t like people getting too close to me anymore.
Before I converted, I was a very happy-go-lucky. I used to socialize and had no problem opening up to people. Now, I’m just reserved. I do have one friend that attended my wedding and knew me from my conversion. I even had to lie to her and tell her that I didn’t convert, as that’s considered the worst crime possible in Islam.
At church, I was assigned a godmother, and she loves to put my business out there, which is difficult. I try to avoid everyone so they don’t ask me why I left Islam. They don’t treat me like one of their own, mostly because I don’t let anyone in. On the rare occasion that Islam is mentioned, everyone still usually looks at me.
My life is so different in so many ways since I converted. I have a sense of peace and stability that I never had before. I lost my father recently and realized the meaning of having true faith by trusting that he was in a better place. But my anxiety levels have never been worse. I’m constantly afraid to run into anyone from my past.
Some days, I feel sad that I've essentially lost over 100 people in my life due to my conversion, but my husband and my new faith make it all worth it.