I Grew Up as a Muslim—But Then Rome Called

My journey from Islam, to atheism, to Protestantism—and finally home to the Catholic Church

(photo: Pixabay/CC0)

“Now, recite Ayet-ul Kursi,” my religious education teacher bellowed.

His bushy mustache twitched as I straightened my back and flawlessly recited the Arabic words. The color of his cheeks changed from pink to red, because he had no other option but to give me full marks. I answered every question and recited every prayer. As far as the Turkish public school was concerned, my knowledge of Islam was impeccable.

He dismissed me from the oral exam. I walked back to my desk at the back of the classroom under the watchful eyes of all sixty of my classmates and said: “You know, there is no God.”

The teacher slammed the table with his ruler and said: “Get out of my classroom!”

As a full-blown atheist in eighth grade, I left with a smirk on my face. Thus began my time wandering in the desert, searching for truth, and a place for my heart to call home.

When my parents’ broken marriage ended, the Muslim faith I clung to for so long did not give me any comfort. As my prayers went unanswered, a question of doubt persisted: Was there anyone listening? I started to doubt anything my parents taught me.

For the first time in my life, the servile fear that was engrained in me from early childhood gave in and I decided to read about Muhammed and Islam for myself. What I found out about Muhammed’s life was unbelievable.

Once that crippling fear was gone, the Ideal Man stood in front me as his true self: a man who was hungry for wealth, power and lust. This was a man who consummated his marriage to a 9-year-old; ordered the murder of his critics; justified the slaughter of his defeated enemies; sold women and girls to slavery; lusted after the wife of his adopted son; legitimized concubinage; and acquired enormous wealth through his conquests. Any time there was a need, a new Quranic verse came down to give Muhammed his desire. I was young, but I had the eyes to see that Islam would not withstand scrutiny.

This was not a man I wanted to follow. From then on, it was a short jump to atheism, because the only god I ever knew was the irrational, capricious and unloving Allah. Instead of religion, I dove into the sciences for answers and thought I had found freedom by the rejection of every moral edict, which led to a life of drunkenness and debauchery.

Yet, I was honest enough to realize that my chosen path went nowhere. It was all futile, but I had nowhere else to go, because god’s existence was not compatible with science, or so I thought.

Years passed as my heart hardened. I had no fear other than not achieving my worldly goals, like entering a good university. My family ties weakened by the year, and the short encounters with my father assured me that marriage or family were nothing but social constructs. I loved no one but me.

The Lord knew that I needed someone as determined and critical as I was, so He sent a Protestant missionary in a city of five million where churches are extremely hard to find. Since I had already figured out the secrets of the universe by age 19, I wanted to liberate this woman from the servile chains of a false god. She, on the other hand, saw a broken and sinful young woman, who was wronged by her parents. Despite my rebellious and callous demeanor towards any belief system, she knew that I was in desperate need of grace.

For three years, we butted heads. Many nights, I spent hours looking for rebuttals. But, in the end, I had to give in that science could not provide all the answers, and there might be a god. The possibility that god could exist was overwhelming to me. But how could I follow an all-powerful being who let so much evil happen?

I did not understand sin or free will until I read a chapter by Dostoevsky that dealt with Christ’s temptations in the desert. Then, I knew that every evil in the world is committed by humans. To be truly free, not a slave, we have to have free will, which means we can sin, which means there will be victims. For the first time, I caught a glimpse of a God who wanted us to love him, not simply fear him.

With a simple vision of the childishness of rejecting His eternal gift, the Holy Spirit knocked some sense into me, and at the age of 22, I became a Christian.

My true father had pursued me in the middle of the desert that was my life, and showed me what true fatherhood meant. Now, I was the daughter of the everlasting King who loved me unconditionally. This time, the fear I felt was filial, where a child fears to disappoint his parent. The creator of cosmos had died for my many sins so that I could be His daughter. My life changed eternally.

I was baptized at a Protestant church and learned more about this God who became man, who was nothing like the prophet I grew up with, who was loving and kind, and who would answer and guide me.

But I still had lingering questions that Protestantism could not answer. My heart was still searching for home.

How was it that Bible was the only authority, if there was not a Bible for centuries? How was it that we could not lose our salvation? Did God take away our free will once we became Christians? How was it that Jesus who died on the cross ascended without leaving anyone to guide His followers? Would my belief system come tumbling down if the Theory of Evolution was proved beyond doubt?

These questions brewed in the back of my mind, until a good friend became Catholic. Such betrayal!

In my quest to prove him that the Catholic Church had strayed away from Christ’s path, I stumbled upon all the answers to those brewing questions. Yes, Christ had left an authority to guide us. No, we were not saved by faith alone. Yes, the Holy Spirit was able to protect Christ's teachings. No, the book of Genesis was not a scientific narrative. The Catholic Church, much to my own surprise, was able to reconcile faith and science.

Rome was calling me home and I answered. My journey from Islam to Catholicism was a road less traveled in my country. Yet Christ, in His great mercy and love, opened my heart and placed His servants in my path, guiding me, ultimately, to the very Church that He founded.

I was home at last.

Derya Little has a Ph.D. in politics from Durham University in England. Her articles on foreign affairs have appeared in academic journals and Catholic World Report. Little is the author of the new book, From Islam to Christ.