A pariah is a person who becomes an outcast of society – rejected, unliked, or untouchable. For most of my life, that word defined me.
I experienced this “fall from grace” several years ago when I chose to leave my first husband and my religion of Islam behind.
It was a decision that took 17 years to make. I wish I could say it was like stepping through an opening and shutting the door behind me. Instead, it was more of a long walk over a bridge. After eighteen years in an arranged marriage to a man who couldn’t love and a culture that discourages love, it was a long process of getting free.
It is hard for western cultures to understand the difficulty eastern families have with individual independence. Essentially, while western cultures emphasize freedom and independence, eastern cultures tend to focus on concepts of collectiveness and unity. Thus, walking away from an abusive marriage and religion was not seen as an individual and personal decision, but as a rejection of parents, friends, and family values.
It was strange not having the protective umbrella of my extended family when I finally broke away. I had to learn to lead my tribe of boys and be an example for my daughter. For the first time, I had to learn how to assume authority. I remember clearly the day a friend told me that I could choose not to do anything I didn’t want to do! I didn’t understand the privilege of personal choice!
Over the next several years, I had to come to terms with being known as a fallen woman in my family’s eyes, and a clueless woman with a bunch of kids among my new circle of acquaintances. I had to learn how to be a woman in a new culture, with a new code of ethics. I found out that common expressions don’t always make sense when translated into another language. The lessons I was forced to learn, as I submerged myself into a new culture and a new way of thinking, had to be done quickly. At first, I had to appear like I knew what I was doing.
Most days I stumbled through every decision, and I made many mistakes. It felt like I failed at everything and I was sure God was punishing me for leaving. Now I can gratefully look back and see all the people that helped me become a real person. And through all this was Jesus. I’m so thankful. He ordered my steps straight to His door. He took me, and He healed me, and He put love for people in my heart. He gave me compassion for people who are as lost and hurting as I once was. He even gave me a love for the people on the other side of the bridge, through the door I had once closed. A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps. Prov. 16:9.