“I see a lot of love in Christianity, I see a lot of anger and hate in Islam,” stated my anonymous Iranian-American interlocutor to me in his condominium building manager’s office. My interview partner related a revealing personal spiritual and geographic journey away from his boyhood Islamic faith and Iranian homeland to an adult Christian conversion in America.
The son of personally pious Muslim Iranians, “Martin” lived in Iran until 1974, when his parents sent him away at the age of 16 to England for high school. Without any coercion from his parents, his own devotion had prompted him at the age of 12 to attend Quran classes and undertake the Islamic regimen of five daily prayers. Yet Islamic law only requires that boys begin these prayers at the age of 14.
Martin ended his Quran class visits and daily prayers shortly before leaving after the ninth grade for England, where the juxtaposition of his Islamic faith and life in the West created a personal crisis. “I was living in England, all the classes are mixed, boys and girls,” he recalled. “As a Muslim I am not supposed to shake hands with women, I am not supposed to date, I am not supposed to drink, and I couldn’t do that in England.” To violate Islamic strictures in a country like the United Kingdom, “it doesn’t necessarily even have to be sex. But your normal daily life — you can’t do it.”
Seeking to solve his personal dilemma, Martin recalled from his religious training that “in Islam they have different classes of sins,” some minor and forgivable (saghira), others grave and unforgivable (kabira). Among the latter, being a munafiq or hypocrite, the “way I learned Islam, is never forgiven by God. Assume that you are an atheist and you repent towards the end of your life, God will forgive you.” “But if you are a Muslim and you are a munafiq, God will never forgive you,” such that Martin wanted to avoid declaring himself a Muslim while flaunting Islamic norms. “I became an atheist out of selfish reasons, because at least there was a chance for me to get forgiven.”
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