In 2004, Jitam gave birth to Jerimiah John. We call him the ‘boy-boy’ because his brother Josiah is called ‘the boy’. It just happened that way, and everyone in the Kampong has stuck to it. Anyway, during her confinement, Jitam stayed at her mom’s with the children, and I was alone at our farm, some 15 km away. Aside from farm work, I was doing a lot of research and writing, and suddenly it dawned on me that this was a perfect opportunity to read the Koran. The book had sat in my library for over five years and I had only skimmed it, without really taking it in.
After the first few pages, I couldn’t put it down. At one point, I found myself weeping. No sooner had the tear reached my cheek than I read the verse about those who weep! I was dumbstruck! I finished the book in three days. Immediately after reading it, I turned to the last page of the Bible, to the Book of Revelation, and read through a verse which confirmed that Jesus was not God. I was never able to clearly read that verse before; it was as if some sort of veil had lifted from my comprehension. I closed the book. It was after midnight, and except for the cat, jinn and angels, I was alone.
I then dropped to my knees, prostrated, and confessed the Shahadah in English. When I arose, I was a Muslim. Well … not exactly! You see, I had always been a Muslim, I just didn’t know it. So when I rose from the carpet, I knew it! Over the next two weeks, I remained alone and re-read the Koran another two times. A few days later, Jitam came home with the boys. After they went to bed, I told her.
Speechless, shocked, benumbed, confounded, stupefied, etc., any of these words and more would describe her reaction as she sat and listened. You should understand that she and I were both Christian Ministers, well respected in the Bidayuh community of the SIB evangelical Church. She had also been a missionary among the Iban longhouses for 4 years before I met her. So to hear her beloved husband speak the praises of the enemy camp was a bit too much for words to describe.
Exhausted, we both went to bed. The next day she went back to her mothers with the children. I would have to say that ‘gentle silence’ governed the departure, which remained open-ended. A day later, she returned with a squad of her family members: two brothers, mother, and an aunt. The brother who spoke the best English, refused to sit and simply stood there in our living room and demanded to know if I was serious. I said yes and offered to defend my position, but he refused me any opportunity, and they all then demanded that I leave the country.
There was nothing much left to say. Silence was king for a minute, and then I asked them for 30 days respite to prepare my departure. They left after going through our papers to find the land title documents, which they took with them. Jitam left with them, having never said a word. She was the last out the door. I followed her and gently begged her to come the next day so we could talk.
After they left, I collapsed in a corner and wept for about 10 minutes. What confronted me was losing everything I had, plus my beloved little family. But even as I blew my nose and wiped the tears, I told Allah it was OK, I would do it, – I had no other choice! My conversion was complete and irrevocable. You see, I knew too much about the errors in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, and after Al’Qur’an’s complete exposition, there was nothing else and nowhere else for my soul to have rest, except in Islam.
That night, I wrote a letter to Jitam, because I knew she would come to the house before I got home the next day. In it, I made it clear what her future would hold for her and the boys without my guidance and blessing. I made her look in the mirror of a love and future she confessed, but was ready to abandon because of her family and her culture. When I came home, she was sitting on the couch, with the letter in her hand , crying.
She stood up and embraced me, tenderly at first, but then she lost control and began beating me with her fists. I let her pound away until she tired. All she could say was ‘you, you, you, you…’ as she flailed away. I took her in my arms again and comforted her as only a husband can do, then we sat down. For about an hour, I explained my conversion and the scriptural reasons why I could not change. She listened patiently and lovingly. In the end, she saw my resolve, and knowing me as only a wife can do, she knew I wouldn’t change my heart or mind. Then, we made love.
For the sake of appearances, and to distance her family, she agreed to go to Magilis Islam and confess with her lips but not her heart, the Shahadah. This she did, but never made any effort to study Islam, and I never forced her to.
Meanwhile, her family threw her and the children out of her mother’s house. For two months, we were at wits end ,trying to work and cope with a newborn, as her mother wouldn’t help. About a month later, one of her brothers, a man I had fed for four years (him and his wife and 4 children) came to my house in a fury and chopped down about twenty of my fruit trees. Jitam’s mother was with him, but she didn’t help him. She just stood and watched. I left in order to avoid bloodshed, it just wasn’t worth it!
Her mother then sat with Jitam and examined her, finally asking her if Jitam really-really loved me. When her mom was satisfied the answer was yes, and that I had not forced her into anything, all was well between the two once again. But my relations with the family never really healed. There’s more to the tale, but that should satisfy your curiosity for now.
Thanks for asking and Wasalaam,
Dr. Omar Zaid Newsletter
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