But on closer inspection, you discover that she has blue eyes. A few strands of sandy blond hair peek out from her head veil. Or perhaps she’s black and speaks with a distinctly American accent.
She’s not from the Middle East, you realize, but from your own backyard! In fact, she could be someone you went to high school with.
Why would an American woman marry a Muslim man and convert to his religion and way of life?
The answer might surprise you: She could have been tricked into conversion. And the result might be intense physical and emotional abuse.
In growing numbers, women all over the United States are marrying Muslim men from other countries. Many find themselves trapped in a nightmare of oppression, abuse and control, according to W.L. Cati, founder of Zennah Ministries, an organization that reaches out to women married to Muslims.
“I should not be alive,” says Cati, an American woman who endured an abusive relationship with a Muslim man from the Middle East. After 14 years of horror, she managed to escape. Most women, she says, don’t make it out alive.
“I’m not bashing Muslims,” Cati says. “This is a morality issue. We’re talking human rights.
“They are allowed to beat their wives and children. They are even allowed to kill. And this is going on right here in the United States.”
Cati was born again in 1972. She loved the Lord and was in a full-time singing ministry. But when she met Muhammed, he swept her off her feet.
“He talked to me about his principles [and] family values,” she remembers. “That a wife doesn’t need to work, how a husband should be supportive of his wife. I thought, This is the man of my dreams. He was flamboyant, romantic, and passionate, and I fell head over heels for him.”
Cati’s Christian parents and friends tried to talk her out of it, but her mind was made up.
“The way he explained his religion sounded very much like my own,” she says. “He told me Allah meant ‘God’ in Arabic. He said that they believe in Jesus, heaven, hell, the Ten Commandments, angels, the prophets and the Bible.”
When Muhammed asked Cati to marry him, she said yes, promising to marry in a mosque and raise their children as Muslims.
During the ceremony, Cati repeated phrases in Arabic with no idea of what she was saying. After the ceremony, she read her marriage certificate and was shocked to find that her first name had been changed to a Muslim name and that she had converted to Islam. Her new husband assured her that it was “just on paper,” but suddenly Cati’s knight in shining armor turned into a nightmare.
“The more I submitted to his religion, the more he and his family had rights over me,” she explains. “He controlled everything—money, my decisions and my social life. He usually stayed out all night in strip bars or with other women. The physical abuse started while I was expecting our second child.”
On the outside, Cati’s life looked like a Hollywood fantasy—seven homes, a nine-carat tennis bracelet and any car she wanted. But inside she was experiencing a living hell. She called the police many times to report beatings and other abuse but never pressed charges.
“My husband always made me feel like it was my fault that he hit me,” she says. “I always ended up saying I was sorry to him.”
In the midst of Cati’s nightmare, her parents continued to pray for her. One day she and her husband rented their vacation home to a ladies’ group.
“I didn’t know they were Christians,” she says. “They came in and started praying over everything. They prayed that I would come back to Jesus.”
When Cati returned to the home, the Lord started speaking to her heart. A neighbor invited her to church, and surprisingly, her husband gave her permission to attend as long as she didn’t convert.
“That night at church,” she remembers, “I started crying and couldn’t stop. I can’t remember what was said, but God was talking to my heart.”
Eventually, Cati reconverted to Christianity, making a decision that enraged her husband. Their children became born again and prayed for the salvation of their father. Finally, Muhammed threw them out of the house.
Cati was penniless, but “there was no pain or tears,” she says. “God’s mercy and grace gave us freedom from the Muslim way of life.”