By Mark Ellis —
As a child she was taught to believe the Jews were monsters that wanted to kill Arab children. By God’s grace, she overcame a culture of hatred and found a new reason for hope after she settled in the United States.
“I grew up in a culture of jihad and martyrdom,” says Nonie Darwish, the founder of Former Muslims United. Although born in Cairo, she spent her childhood in the Gaza Strip because her father, Colonel Mustafa Hafez, headed Egypt’s military intelligence there. (Egypt controlled Gaza until 1967.)
Her life changed dramatically at only eight-years-old when her father was killed by an explosive device planted in a book by a double-agent working for Israeli intelligence.
After her father’s assassination, her mother moved the family back to Cairo. She lived there during a turbulent period, which included the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. “In school, we recited poetry wishing ourselves to be martyrs in the jihad against Israel,” she recalls.
In the mosque, messages were filled with the call to jihad. She heard curses at the end of every service against infidels, Jews, and non-Muslims. “I bought all the propaganda like everybody else,” she notes. “I really believed it as a child.”
Her mother sent her to a Catholic school run by British nuns, because many of the elite in Egypt considered this a superior option for their children’s education. After that, she attended the America University in Cairo. “I was lucky to get a western education,” Darwish says. “It was a liberating experience.”
As a young woman she wondered about her lack of feeling toward Islam. “I didn’t like Islam, but I thought something was wrong with me,” she says. She began to wonder, Why don’t I want to pray like devout Muslims? Am I an atheist?
Move to the United States
In 1978 Darwish moved to the U.S. She still considered herself a Muslim and went to visit a mosque. She was disconcerted when the imam said, “We’re here to Islamize America” and “wear your hijab with pride.” Since Darwish never wore the hijab in Egypt, she wondered why she would begin to wear it in America. After she attended the mosque twice, she never returned.
For the first 17 years she lived in the U.S., she lived without any religious feeling or expression. At the suggestion of a friend, she visited a Unitarian church in Los Angeles. Darwish thought it was “very political,” with a lot of complaining about America. In that sense, “it was not very different from Islam,” she found. If this is church in America, I don’t want to go, Darwish decided.
She followed her mother’s example, and placed her children in a Christian school. “I wanted them to have a good education like I had in Egypt,” she says.
One day her son came to her and said, “Why don’t you come to church? I want you to go to heaven.” Based on her previous experience in church, she declined.
But later she happened to watch a Christian television program and was very touched by the message. “Why are you crying?” her daughter asked.
She shook her head, unable to speak. “Mom, this is Dudley. He teaches Bible at our school.”
Church visit changes her life
The following Sunday she went to Shepherd of the Hills Church in Los Angeles with her children. “I couldn’t stop crying,” she says. “Tears covered my face all the time.”
The first thing she noticed was that there was no cursing against the “enemies” of Christianity. “His message was so different from anything I heard before,” she says. “Every word was revolutionary to me, beginning with ‘We are all sinners.’
“In Islam, non-Muslims are viewed as the sinners. She had understood her obligation under Islam to “make the sinners like us, by force if necessary.”
Darwish was also amazed when Pastor Dudley Rutherford said, “We are the children of God.” The most basic, fundamental concepts – the ones Christians take for granted – she found groundbreaking.
As she sat in the pews and heard a message startling to her ears, a spirit of humility overcame her. At the same time, saving faith in Jesus Christ captured her heart and she was born again. “My life was never the same,” she says. Her husband and three children also came to the Lord.
In the summer of 2001 she visited Egypt with her daughters for the first time in 20 years. She was shocked to discover the level of hatred and propaganda against Israel and the U.S. was even worse than when she left.
In a respected newspaper, she read a preposterous front-page story about Israel placing Viagra in Egyptian markets to sterilize Egyptian men. She also read a story about America donating poisoned food to other countries as part of humanitarian relief efforts. When they rode in a taxi through the streets of Cairo, the driver cursed Christians.
“Mom, what is this?” her daughter asked later. On their flight home on September 10th, her daughter said, “I am so grateful to be raised in the U.S. If you had told me these stories I would never have believed it.”
The morning after they returned from Egypt, the 9/11 attacks hit New York and Washington. “The head of the 19 terrorists, Mohamed Atta, was from an educated class in Cairo,” she soon discovered.
Overcome with emotion by the dramatic events, she called relatives and friends in Egypt. “How dare you say Arabs did this,” one told her on the phone. “Don’t you know the Jews are behind this?” another said. None of them were sympathetic to the United States.
“I hung up the phone and wept,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t belong to my culture anymore. It was a very lonely feeling.”
One result of her conversion to Christ and the 9/11 attacks is that God completely changed her heart toward the Jews. Now she sees them as victims of Islam.
Darwish sat down at the computer and wrote an article, “Why I support Israel.” Her article led to invitations to speak, and the formation of her own organization, “Arabs for Israel.” She launched it to “give voice to people in the Middle East who don’t want to be hateful to the Jews.”
Later, she started “Former Muslims United,” which attempts to overcome some of the fears of Muslim converts to Christianity.
“A lot of people contact me from the Middle East,” she notes. “Now they are Christians but they have to hide their Bibles. It’s very difficult, but I try to help.”
“I can’t dwell in fear or I would do nothing. I am trying to wake up America and protect the Judeo-Christian culture.”
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