This article was later published in Areo Magazine (March 2nd)
Below you will find my interview with Yasmine Mohammed. Yasmine first came to my attention when I saw that many of the same people who had liked my Facebook page had also liked hers. Curious, I contacted Yasmine and heard her harrowing life story and thought that the opportunity to share her account with our shared readership was too good to pass up. Yasmine was incredibly kind to agree to the interview (conducted via email), and below was our exchange.
First off Yasmine, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I am aware of the personal risks you face whenever meeting someone new and trusting them, and I am grateful that you've chosen to trust me enough to have this discussion. I do apologize in advance that some of my numbered questions might be "bundles" of two or three related questions, but obviously you can answer the questions you want and not answer the questions you don't want to answer.
1. I first became aware of your work when I noticed that a lot of the fans on my Facebook page were also fans of your Facebook page. But for those readers of mine who may not know about you, tell us about your past and how it ultimately led you to leave Islam and become an activist.
I grew up in a strict conservative Salafi family. I was put in hijab at nine and in niqab ten years after that. I was forced into a marriage with an Al Qaeda operative. I had a baby with him. I escaped with my daughter, my high school education, and a niqab on my face. I had nothing but the strong desire to break the cycle and protect my daughter from living the life that I had lived. I started university, and while I was there, I took a History of Religions course, and that's when it all started to unravel. I realized that the Qur'an was nothing more than a book full of plagiarized stories, it was not this divine thing written by some supreme deity. It deserves no more respect and reverence than "The Cat in the Hat". Actually, "The Cat in the Hat" deserves more, because at least it was Dr. Suess' original work.
2. You mention that you were forced to marry a member of Al Qaeda, and on your website you say that this particular one was bailed out of a prison once by Osama Bin Laden himself. Can you give us an idea of what day-to-day life is like being married to an Al Qaeda fighter, especially as a teenager?
It's been almost twenty years since I escaped, and that question instantly put a knot in my stomach and filled my eyes with tears. I don't know how to accurately describe this to you. I suppose the best analogy I can think of is suffocation. Have you ever had that moment of panic because you swallowed something the wrong way and now you're coughing and you can't catch your breath? Expand that moment into years. That's probably the best way I can explain it.
3. Can you tell us how you escaped from this husband— this madman— and how you escaped from the world of radical Islam in general? Was there a moment, or multiple moments, where you almost failed in escaping and were almost caught?
Well this is a long story, but I will summarize. My mother lived with us, and one day while he was out, she started profusely bleeding through her nose and coughing up blood simultaneously. I called 911 and I rode the ambulance with her to the hospital. That was the first time, in my entire marriage, that I was out of the house without him by my side.
Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, I was contacted by a CSIS agent. CSIS are like the Canadian CIA. They had been waiting for an opportunity to speak to me, and they finally got a chance. They told me everything. I told my mom hoping she would help me to get away from him, but my mom was not surprised. She already knew. I realized that the only way to get away from him was to divide and conquer... as long as him and my mom were united in keeping me and my daughter imprisoned, I would never be free.
So, I told my mom of how he would tell me that he wanted to move away from her. She was so offended and angry that she moved out. I lived with him and our baby for a while and it was actually much easier than living with my mom, as he would go out all the time, so it was just my baby and I. I wanted to leave, but I didn't have the courage or a plan. I became complacent.
And that's when I found out I was pregnant again. I was devastated.
Being a single mom to one baby was hard enough, how would I survive with two? I was SO angry at myself for not leaving when I had the chance. I felt like with a second baby I was doomed. I would just accept my fate. I felt like I had been struggling for air for so long, and in that moment, I gave up. I decided to just stop fighting and let the darkness overtake me.
But then I found out the baby didn't have a heartbeat (likely due to all my severe beatings and my husband kicking me down the stairs, etc). I went to the clinic to have a D&C, a procedure that required me to go under general anesthetic. I was allowed to go stay with my mom for a few days so she could help with my daughter as I recovered. I recognized that this was a rare opportunity, and I was not about to miss my chance again. I was overcome with a great sense of relief that was overshadowed by an even greater sense of guilt that I was feeling relief. But I had to save the child that I had. I had to push through all my guilt and fear and get her out.
When my mom went to work the next morning (she was the Head of the Islamic Studies Department at the Islamic school that I attended growing up), I found a lawyer in the phone book and I went to her, covered in black from head to toe with a baby in my hand, asking for three things: 1) A restraining order, 2) A divorce, and 3) Full custody of my baby. I had to be quick before my mom got home. She [my lawyer] would not be able to call me (this was before cell phones) or mail me anything. I would have to contact her when I could. She was my savior. She did all of the above and I never received a bill.
I got back to my mom's house undetected and then I was a sitting duck as I waited for my husband to get served. Once he did, his reaction was predictable. Luckily in my mom's building there was no way to get in unless you were buzzed in. Residents were filling the lobby, not wanting to leave as this [would allow] the screaming madman to get in. I called 911, as did many others. He was informed that there was a restraining order and he was not allowed near the building again or he would be arrested. I never left that apartment because I was too afraid he'd be lurking around a corner, ready to fulfill all the violent things he had promised to do to me when he was yelling up to my mom's apartment.
A while later CSIS contacted me again with a picture of him behind bars in Egypt, and asked me to verify that it was him. It was. I was very relieved. And that's when I finally applied for student loans and decided to start living my life. My next hurdle was getting away from my mom, as a girl living on her own was completely unacceptable. A girl goes from her father's house to her husband's. There are no other choices. That's another long story though, so I will leave that whole saga for you to read when my book comes out.
4. What you went through growing up, frankly, was hell. But what surprised me is that this all happened while you were living in North America (where specifically will not be disclosed). My question is, how did all of this go unnoticed? Are there actions Western governments can take to do a better job at noticing when young girls are being victimized just as you were?
Well, it wasn't entirely unnoticed. There was a point where social services were involved. I begged Child Protection Services to put me in foster care. I told them everything. I showed them the bruises. It went all the way to court as he [my mother's husband] was being accused of child abuse, but then the judge let him go. The judge sent me back into the abuser's home after I had ratted him out. How that judge can look at himself in the mirror is a mystery. Corporal punishment is not illegal in Canada. (I do not mind sharing that this was in Canada. I don't mind exposing the law here for what it did to me, and how it needs to change.)
Since it is not technically illegal to hit your children, the judge deemed that this was simply a cultural issue. Some people from other cultures hit their children more severely than others, and it is not his place to punish this man for torturing a child since that would be judging his cultural norms. I told them of how I was hung upside down in the garage as the bottoms of my feet were whipped. I told them of how I had been enduring physical torture and molestation since I was six years old, and they told me that it was my abuser's "cultural freedom".
5. A common critique by certain third wave feminists, and certain white feminists in particular*, is that white men (full disclosure: I am one) use the issue of Muslim oppression of women to distract from their own oppression of Western women, and also to promote "Islamophobia". What are your thoughts on that? [*I say "certain third wave feminists" and "certain white feminists" because, to my knowledge, not all of them make this claim.]
That is beyond garbage. I don't even understand the path of the mental gymnastics [in order] to get to that conclusion. I do not care who is noticing— a man or a woman. I don't care what colour their skin is. I am just grateful that someone gives a shit. What these women are doing is essentially enabling the abuse.
You have women screaming rape, and some man is going to help her, but he is blocked by a feminist saying "Hey now, you're just going to help her because blah blah blah bullshit" While she is doing that, the woman is continuing to get raped behind her! She is standing in the way and allowing the abuse to continue, and essentially is helping the attacker with her short-sighted, misguided, narcissistic sense of moral authority. If these "feminists" do not want to help oppressed Muslim women, fine, don't. But please get the fuck out of the way of those that do.
6. If I may venture into the personal, how did the abusive marriage in your past— and your escape from that marriage— impact your relationships thereafter? What is your advice to Muslim and Ex-Muslim women who have also escaped abusive marriages, as far as love and relationships are concerned? What psychological obstacles exist in the aftermath of fleeing a terrifying relationship, that a Muslim or Ex-Muslim woman would have to overcome in her new life?
This is a big question. There is a lot to overcome. I interact with a lot of ex-Muslims, men and women, and we all share psychological trauma. My life was pretty bad, but even for those that came from more moderate homes, religious teachings are child abuse.
Threatening a child with detailed accounts of how they are being watched, and if they misstep, their flesh will be burned off their bones and reappear and burn again for eternity... that shit is no joke. Kids take that literally. It causes anxiety, panic attacks, night terrors... obvious, expected results.
I can say with confidence that the men that have been with me have really loved me! I don't see how else they could have dealt with the severe trust issues, the intense insistence to flee at the slightest sign of trouble... I had a lot to overcome. I have been married ten years now, and just recently as my husband and I were fighting over something, he raised his voice and I instantly cowered and covered my head with my arms. It has been many years since a man has touched me in a violent way, but my body remembers. My bones and muscles grew by being nurtured with with water tainted with abuse. No matter how many hours of therapy and how many books I read or how many classes I take, I cant change that.
However, I want to end on a positive note. I want your Muslim and ex-Muslim readers to know that no matter how scary it seems, no matter how impossible, trust me when I tell you it will all be worth it. I had no idea what happiness felt like. I had never experienced it prior to leaving Islam. I vividly remember the day I noticed that I had this strange feeling... and I recognized that it must be happiness. No more constant fear. No more anger. No more self-hate. No more fighting. No more harboring hate for others just because you were told to.
Islam ensnares every single moment of your life. Everything is dictated from the moment you wake: how to eat, how you go to the bathroom, how you put on shoes. It is a dark shadow over your mind at all times, but it is familiar. Freedom is not something you're accustomed to; the thought of it is daunting. But once you get through the hurdle and come out the other side, you will be so regretful that you didn't save your own life sooner. The freedom of being able to just be yourself. To do what makes you happy and to do what you want to do, not what you are told to do... there is no price too high to pay for that. And there is no strife that will not be entirely worth it.
Thanks for asking me to share my story Race. I appreciate you using your platform to get my voice out. I really hope it impacts at least one person's life.
Yasmine currently runs a website called Confessions of an Ex-Muslim and has recently completed a book (yet to be released) titled "Confessions of an Ex-Muslim: From Al Qaeda to Atheism".