Follow This Turkish Woman ‘From Islam to Christ’
For the second time this month, I’m going to recommend a deeply personal book by a woman. Last week it was the memoir of a family’s survival under Communism, Forty Autumns, by Nina Willner. This book, From Islam to Christ, by Derya Little, is more of a spiritual memoir. It offers hard-won, painful insights into the lives of hundreds of millions of people whom we typically wouldn’t hear from. I mean, Muslim women. Derya grew up in Turkey, which for decades was much more secularized than most Islamic countries. But the culture, as she reveals, is still deeply Islamic.
In fact, as she recounts her parents’ marriage, we see that Turkish women in some ways have the worst of both worlds: Islam, and secular modernism. The “emancipation” that the-once secular Turkish state offered women meant that most wives and mothers are expected to work outside the home. But the deeply-engrained Muslim, Turkish culture still demands that they cook. Multicourse meals, in fact. They also do the housework, and are subject in many ways to a deeply patriarchal worldview. Imagine Western culture without any trace of our old chivalric ideals. Without the courtesy and deference that 1500 years of honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary infused in the West. A world where even heaven is described in terms of what it offers heroic male warriors.
Little recounts how her mother withered into depression under the strain. The family grew cold, as her father pursued extramarital affairs. It finally split when he decided to take on a full-time mistress — in fine polygamous style.
Slaves of God
We learn about Little’s Islamic upbringing, and the image of an inscrutable, glorious but arbitrary God. One whose infinite distance from his creations is constantly underlined, whose believers call themselves “slaves of Allah.” According to standard Muslim practice, Little learned by heart long Arabic prayers and scriptures, with no idea what they meant. Again, she faced a faith that was stony and impermeable, as unyielding as the stern father whom she saw quickly drifting away.
Spoiled for Faith
Then Little entered a subculture about which most U.S. readers know very little: secularized, culturally Muslim atheists. Little met other irreligious teens, and devoured “New Atheist” books along with popular scientific tracts. She dabbled in drugs and alcohol, and “liberated” sexual behavior. The latter had the predictable result: Little ended up getting two abortions, striving each time to rationalize what her soul told her was evil.
Many Muslims who reject that religion are spoiled for any faith whatsoever.
Whatever she told herself at the time, she now sees that she was anything but free. No, she was simply reacting, lashing out, at the impoverished human world she saw around her. She was digging the hole ever deeper.
Finding Christ in Christians
It’s all too common that Muslims who come upon some reason to reject that religion are spoiled for any faith whatsoever. They have seen such a harsh, unbending and anti-rational form of belief that they recoil at the supernatural. No wonder: The form in which they’ve seen it crowds out and crushes the natural. The Muslim God, we must remember, is not subject in any way to rational understanding. He need not be consistent. He need not keep his promises. As Robert Reilly wrote in “The Closing of the Muslim Mind,” Islamic thinkers consider it sacrilegious to speak of “laws of nature.” Every thing that happens occurs because God positively wills it. Neither the universe, nor man’s free will, has any autonomy whatsoever.
Little’s story takes a turn for the hopeful when she meets some foreign Christians — a lovely evangelical couple who hire her to tutor their child in Turkish. She sees the mutuality, love, and fundamental equality between men and women that only Christian culture made possible. She glimpses a faith that doesn’t impose itself from above on servile souls. Instead it takes root in the heart, and links us to a God who actually loves us. Who loved us enough to take on our lowly nature, then suffer and die.
Attracted by these Christians, Little sought others out. Soon she was studying the Bible, and worshiping alongside them. She asked to be baptized, and was.
Swimming the Tiber
But her journey wasn’t finished. And here her book goes from generically Christian to specifically Catholic. Little explains the intellectual issues that troubled her, which left her unsettled. Looking for answers to questions about authority, community, and salvation, Little eventually connected with a Catholic missionary priest. Instead of regaling her with arguments, he asked her to step back. To disconnect from her constant focus on her own mind and its demands. Instead, he taught her the rudiments of contemplative prayer. He even urged her to indulge her part-time past-time of painting. It was while she was painting pictures with a silent, peaceful mind, that Little found her answers. She joined the Catholic Church in 2008.
Fast-forward a few years. Little has married a U.S. Marine she met on a Catholic dating site. She’s at home with small children, doing housework. Meanwhile, her dissertation sits unpublished on a shelf. She might pause to wonder if she is making the same mistake her mother did. But she doesn’t. The love of a Christian marriage to a courteous loving man who sees her as equal silences that worry. She finds in the daily task of cherishing, forming, and educating tiny human beings abundant joy. Still, the fine mind that God gave her craves something more. It drives her to write … this beautiful and uplifting little book.
The Next Great Group of Unreached
It’s good spiritual reading for anyone, but women in particular are likely to enjoy it. The story it tells will become a much more relevant one, as the West fills up with Muslim immigrants. The brittle, male-driven, honor-drunk culture Islam creates will not be enough to hold millions of people in the next generation. They will reject it, as Little did. They will be looking for better answers. Reading her memoir will help us understand how we as Christians can help to offer them.