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Apostasy: Why One Woman Left Islam
The following is a harrowing true account from a former Muslim. It describes in detail how her experiences in Saudi Arabia forced her to accept that Islam is not the "religion of peace" as it has been described. In her own words, Flora del Mindanao tells why she could not remain a Muslim:
My home is a small village by the sea near Zamboanga in the Southern Philippines. The majority of the people in our village are Muslim but there is not the sharp distinction that you find in some parts of the Philippines. The next village down the shore from my own is predominantly Christian and the two villages interact very closely. People from each barangay shop in the market of the others village for items they can't find in their own and generally work very well together. There are Christian weddings held in our village hall when the church in the next village is not available and the church hall in the Christian village was the location for many Muslim weddings when our own village hall was being renovated. We all attend the "fiestas" at the other villages and there are many intermarriages between villages with Muslim girls and boys both being allowed to marry outside of their religion. I never knew that a Muslim woman was forbidden in Islam from marrying a non-Muslim until I left my homeland and that was only one of the many discoveries that I was to make about the reality of Islam.
Fishing provides the primary means of living for the people of my village and coconut farming is the next main occupation. Life is simple and while most of our people are poor, real poverty is rare. Most families have sufficient food to survive with no difficulty and you don't find children suffering from malnourishment. When all else fails and a family begins to slip into poverty due to some unexpected tragedy there is the timeworn tradition of the father, mother or eldest child picking up the burden by going abroad for employment to help support the family. In the case of my family it was the death of my father which brought us to the brink of starvation and as I at 16 was the eldest child, this is my story.
It was a blistering hot summer day when I first came to Saudi Arabia as a young woman to work as a housemaid or 'khadama' as they say in Arabia. It was so different from my home in the humid tropics in the Southern Philippines but it was a small price to pay since my family was depending on me. I had been told I would be working in the household of an esteemed Salafist Imam and I believed I was lucky to work for a famous man of Allah. I was also proud of the money I would be able to send back for my mother, to help with the care and education of my brothers and sister. I understood that I had to put my own education and life on the hold and had left the school that I had been attending and my hope of someday graduating from college. My family needed me after the death of my father and according to my Islamic upbringing the family always comes first.
Work begins early for a 'khadama' in Saudi Arabia and it means being awake before the sun rises to have food ready for the breakfast and tea with honey for the Imam before his morning prayers. After that it is preparations for the children to wake up, getting them fed, dressed and delivered to their schools. Upon returning to the home the focus turn to the madam of the house and the daily routines of scrubbing floors, washing clothes, preparing food, setting up the house for lunch, retrieving the children from school, serving food, washing dishes, cleaning cars, entertaining the children, accompanying madam for carrying bags on shopping trips, preparation of more food, serving dinner, more cleaning of dishes, preparing the children for bed, running of baths, collecting the soiled clothes, serving late tea and coffee. Interspersed with that you must always be prepared to take care of requests of the madam or Imam and the children. Food is always taken in quick spoonfuls, usually from the remains of the family meal leftovers after all the family has eaten. Punishment is quick if you are slow to respond, little matter that your tardiness it is due to the demands of someone else in the household. Punishment can range from a harsh word to a slap, but usually there is no time to dwell on it since there is always another requirement that needs to be attended to. Sleep is always in short supply and there is no possibility of even thinking about rest before all of the family has gone to bed.
The first year passed quickly and in my exhaustion I barely noted the passing of my anniversary there. Ramadan was a particularly trying month with my own attempts to fast while at the same time continuing with most of the normal daytime activities. This becomes particularly difficult when it is combined with much of the family staying awake all of the night eating, praying and eating some more while always expecting to be waited on for every need. The normal 4 hours of sleep that we usually manage became no more than an hour daily. This was usually after the morning prayer and until the children woke up an hour later to get ready for school. The only way to survive Ramadan was to catch secret 5 or 10 minute naps in the kitchen while waiting for the next orders from the family. Muslims are always happy when the Eid al Fitr arrives at the end of Ramadan, but for a household staff it is more of a physical collapse after the exhaustion and lack of sleep during the 'holy' month.
There were short periods of relative peace when some members of the family went for vacation or visits elsewhere, but it was a rare event. Usually the family never all traveled together so someone was always at home and needed our service. Time passed, however, and we always knew that eventually we should be able to leave to go home to our families in Philippines for a break and to recover for our return. The normal household worker contract was for two years, but some workers will stay into a third or even a fourth year without vacation so they can send the extra money home.
Life continued toward the completion of my second year in Saudi Arabia and I was facing the decision of whether to go for a month of vacation or to stay and accept the extra money. The normal routine in Imam AbdulRahman's home began to change as the end of my second year there. We noticed a gradual increase in tension around the home and more family arguments which would result in the Imam beating the madam or one of the household staff. There seemed to be problems also at the madrassa which Imam AbdulRahman headed and he seemed to take his frustration out on his wife and the household staff. The madam of course could not strike back at the Imam so she would take out her own anger on the household staff later. This would result in a shout or a slap or even a hard beating if she felt something was not done to her approval or sometimes just to take out her frustration.
The situation deteriorated late into July until one night we heard a violent argument between the Imam and the madam. Eventually Imam AbdulRahman called for the driver to take the madam back to her family along with her belongings. At first the rumor was that the madam was divorced, but eventually we understood that was not to be the case. Since the Imam did not want his wife to have a possibility of a life with another man, he decided instead to force her into legal limbo as a virtual prisoner in her parent's home. This did not bother the Imam since he had the option of still being able to marry other women, but the madam was forced to live in shame in her family home with no social life and no chance to leave. The separation itself was a shame to her family, but to take the case to the sharia court was out of the question since the Imam was powerful member of the religious community. Such an act would only bring more shame to the wife's family. Far better in their opinion to keep her as a virtual prisoner at home - not divorced, not married, simply existing on a day to day basis.
For a while after the madam departed life around the house became a little easier. As time went on, however, Imam AbdulRahman would become angry with us for no reason and inevitably someone would receive a beating. We were all told that no vacations would be granted for the time being and my hope of a visit home came crashing down. Little did I know that was about to become the least of my worries.
Late one evening the children and the Imam had retired so I was finally able to go to my room and prepare for sleep. I finished my bedtime shower and when opening the shower curtain to reach for the towel I was stunned to find Imam AbdulRahman standing in front of me with his nightgown pulled up and holding his sex with one hand. As I frantically tried to cover my nakedness he pulled me from the shower and shoved me into the bedroom where he pushed me down onto my mattress on the floor. As I began to recover from my shock I lashed out and tried to push him away but a heavy fist against my head stunned me. He quickly put his knees between my legs and forced them apart with his hands painfully grasping at my breasts. I began pleading for him not to do this since I was still a virgin and only my future husband was supposed to see what he was seeing. The pain of my head where he had struck me suddenly became meaningless along with everything else in my life as he pushed himself painfully up inside of me and began pounding on top me until he finally relived himself with a shudder. He then got off me and wiped himself with the bed sheet and pulled his pantalons back on and left my room. As he closed the door I remember hearing through my own sobbing the click as he locked the door from the outside.
The following week was one of nightmare interspersed with torture as the Imam came nightly to my room and forced himself on me. Sometimes he forced himself into me once and other nights twice or even three times. For the first two weeks I was not allowed outside of the room and the Indian housemaid Meera brought food for me whenever she could. Finally one morning the Imam told me that he would let me out to go back to work on the condition that I told nobody and made no attempt to escape the house. He told me that I was his by right of the holy Qur'an and any attempt to leave would be met by beatings and worse. As a final indignity he forced me to strip my clothes and took photographs of me in my nakedness and while forcing me to perform terrible acts of sorts that I had never imagined. He told me that these would be shown to the police as evidence of my "depravity" and copies of my shame would be sent to my village if I ever told anyone what happened or tried to escape.
I don't even remember how I went back to my household work as I was in a constant state of pain and self disgust. I moved through life as little more than an unthinking robot and the passing of time had little meaning. I was a prisoner in this household with absolutely no rights as a foreign household worker from a third world country. I was raped and abused and molested for three years by this man and the only excuse he gave for what he did to me was that I was possessed by his right hand and thus lawful for him
. At some point in my life I lost all hope and believed that I had no other purpose in life but to remain there as an object for him to have sex with when he wanted, When he didn't need me my only life was to work in his household. I was nothing more than a receptacle for his seed and something upon which he could relieve his lust. I remember crying at night since I was sure no other man could ever want such a damaged and wretched creature as myself.
I had many duties in the household with cleaning and taking care of the children, but I was sometimes also sent to help clean of the madrassa where the Imam was the manager. During my cleaning duties at the madrassa and its mosque I occasionally caught sight of the young men who the Salafists brought from their home countries to learn Islam in Imam AbdulRahman's madrassa. Students would come to the madrassa for one to five years to learn the way of the Salaf and then return to teach it in their homelands.
During one of my cleaning shifts at the madrassa I was surprised to see a student who I was sure must be from my homeland. I knew that Imam AbdulRahman had visited the Philippines on several occasions to recruit potential students to come to Saudi Arabia to learn Islam and study with the Salafists. This, however, was the first time I had seen someone who looked like he may be from Philippines. The students were also responsible for helping to clean the madrassa and a few days later I passed the same young man in the corridors as we went about our duties. I averted my eyes to look at the floor as was expected but I couldn't help but to look into his face as I passed to see if he really was from my home country. After we passed I heard him pause and call out to me in our language asking if I was Moro. I looked back and answered yes but quickly hurried away in fear that someone may see us talking