Nahid K. grew up in Iran, where 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Her parents, however, were not very religious.
When she was 25, Nahid converted from Muslim to Catholicism, something that is very rare, especially because the Islamic law condemns conversion.
According to Dr. Konden Smith, a lecturer of religious studies at the University of Arizona, the biggest challenge associated when an individual converts is finding a new identity within that religious community.
“Each religious community has different identities. There are different political and social implications that come with changing religions that affect the individual converting and the social challenges that impact a family,” Smith said.
Smith said that religions are not just ethically focused but also politically focused and when someone changes religions, they are changing communities.
Religious conversion is a personal and family issue, but at times can be a politically issue. Nahid’s story turned into a political issue.
At the age of five Nahid, who is a middle child, felt like her parents paid more attention to her siblings. Wanting attention, Nahid turned to religion and God.
According to Dan Cox, Research Director of PRRI, “the reasons Americans leave their childhood religion are varied, but a lack of belief in teaching of religion was the most commonly cited reason for disaffiliation.”
Nahid said she had a lot of questions about Islam that her parents were not able to answer. This did not stop her from forming her own relationship with God.
“Most Americans who have left a religious tradition do not identify a particular negative experience or incident as the catalyst. Relatively few Americans who are now unaffiliated report their last experience in a church or house of worship was negative” Cox said.
According to the World Atlas, the most followed religion is Christianity with 2.22 billion followers. Islam is the second most followed belief with 1.605 billion followers.
While living in Iran, Nahid, who was around the age of 11, remembers being kidnapped in her neighborhood while on a walk.
Nahid said she remembered hearing a very distinct voice telling her to stop walking. She ignored the voice and a man came up from behind her, covered her mouth, and started pulling her toward his car.
Nahid thought of God, and said, “for the sake of my parents, I can’t die.” A few seconds later, the man lifted his hands and she screamed for help. The man threw her against the wall and drove away.
Nahid recalls clearly hearing Gods voice telling her to remember this day and remember the feeling she had.
Years later during the revolution in Iran in the 1970s, Nahid and her family moved to the United States and relocated to Utah.
Throughout her teenage years, Nahid went to Mormon events with her friends. Her family moved to California and Nahid found herself attending church with her Baptist and Christian friends.
When she attended a Catholic church with a friend that the calm feeling she felt in the near kidnapping came back to her.
“With conviction, I know Jesus is real, he is looking to help us all, we just have to allow him to,” Nahid said.
When Nahid converted from Muslim to Catholicism, her parents felt betrayed, like Nahid had betrayed their ancestors.
“My family didn’t disown me, but there wasn’t a lot of support.”
Smith said that “ah ha” religious conversion moments occur when someone reads something that reignites with them personally. “It could be a spiritual message that they believe and that religion is there to keep resonating with you.”
In Iran it is a crime to convert from the Islamic faith,.
When Nahid visited Iran in 2005 to attend a Catholic pilgrimage with a friend that the law caught up to her.
When they arrived at St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iran, Nahid and her friend where asked for identification to prove they were not Muslims.
Moments later a guard told Nahid that her name did not look Christian, it looked Muslim. Nahid showed him her baptismal papers. It was then that the guard told her she just handed him her execution papers.
“I knew they were going to kill me.”
The guard was an official for the Islamic government. Because of the law, Nahid sensed she wouldn’t be able to leave Iran and return to Arizona.
Nahid asked the guard if she could attend mass the following morning before they took her away. The guard agreed.
That night, Nahid did not sleep.
“Many super natural miracles happened that night, I could write a book,” Nahid said.
At one point, Nahid said the guard asked her why she wasn’t afraid. She told him, “you couldn’t kill me if it wasn’t Gods will.”
Mass the next day lasted three hours. After the ceremony, Nahid went on top of a hill to pray. It was the first-time fear came over her—the same fear she felt was a child.
“It was a beautiful day, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Then out of nowhere the blue sky turned into a dark sky. The light turned into darkness. Hail, lightening, and wind all hit at once and I knew a typhoon was coming,” Nahid said.
Nahid stumbled down the hill. Suddenly, someone grabbed her arm. She looked up and realized it was the friend. “Nahid, our driver is here. Let’s go.”
Once they reached the bottom of the hill safely in the car, Nahid turned around and saw that the entire road was washed away. Everyone at the Cathedral would be stuck there in mud for the next three days. They were the only two that escaped.
“At any time, I could have pleaded and said I would convert back, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.”
Ashlee Fenn is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.