Shoa Zilch is a former Muslim woman who was raised in a Muslim home and given to her former husband through an arranged marriage. She suffered years of abuse through the religion of peace, Islam, and its adherants in the Muslim community. While she is free of the chains of Islam, she still has to endure abuse from her former husband through her relationship with her six children, some who live with her, and some who have chosen their father’s life, Islam.
My name is Shoa Zilch, and I was born in Calcutta India to strict Muslim parents. We moved to Venezuela when I was just a baby, where I grew up. I graduated from high school, and then moved to the United States with a scholarship to rice University.
My parents, however, had other plans. They had arranged for me to marry immediately. My husband was a 30-year-old fundamentalist Shiite Muslim from Pakistan. The day after we were married he bought me a black burka. It is a complete head to toe covering that Muslim women wear.
He forbade me to wear any other color in public. There were many other rules I had to get accustomed to as well. I was not allowed to shake hands with any men, look at them in the eyes, or make any eye contact. I wasn’t allowed to have any women friends either. Two days after we were married my husband’s brother introduced us to his boss and I, being polite, shook hands with him. My husband got furious in front of everyone and told me that I was unclean and made me wash my hands immediately. For the next 17 years, I was continuously indoctrinated on how to be a good Muslim wife, mother, and woman. I was repeatedly told if I failed any of these instructions:
- My blood line was inferior
- I was less qualified
- I was getting old
- I was a whore/slut
- I was being led astray by wicked American/Zionist schemes.
- He would have to find a new wife…. I was not even 20 years old.
I tried to live up to his standards and Islam standards I was forced to live under. If I didn’t do well I would get scolded, ridiculed, or even beaten. I learned quickly, however. After ten years or so, I started questioning my belief in the god I worshipped. While my husband celebrated 9-11, I quietly mourned. I questioned why. If Islam is the true peace-loving religion, would there be no evidence. Muslims love to claim they are victims of oppression, victims of the schemes from USA, China, Israel, Russia; you name it. However, the culture is one of jealousy and shame, as one missionary friend put it: “Of exalting oneself by putting the other one down.”
There are many writings in Islam that exhort peace and complete submission to God. Any Muslim will tell you that the true contextual meaning of Jihad is the inner struggle a human faces to be submissive to the will of god. Yet, there is no evidence of this so called truth when you look at Muslim societies. Not only do they fight against any anti-Islamic ideology, they fight-to the death amongst themselves.
So here I was in 2006 questioning god. The Muslim god is angry and vindictive. There is nothing a Muslim can do to be certain he has earned his pleasure. Muslim children spend hours learning proper hand washing techniques so that they can pray. They are taught the proper way to kneel and correct pronunciation of a language that many do not understand’ just in the hopes that their prayers will be accepted. I did not agree with that concept. It was very difficult for me to admit I did not agree. It was scary because I was taking a chance on being an apostate, which carried the penalty of death.
As I started to question my beliefs, I got bolder, and I refused to do many Islamic things such as praying five times or wearing black all the time. My husband would lock me out of the house or would take it out on the children. My daughter would get the worst of it. One night I woke up to him beating her just because he thought she was talking to her male cousin. He would often insult me in front of the kids, and then have a meeting with the older boys and tell them why he thought I was a bad woman. My oldest son at that time was only 13. I was not allowed to discipline my sons or give them any chores because men did not do any housework, and he did not want them getting used to taking instructions from a woman.
One night my oldest son went to see his Hispanic girlfriend. My husband found out and was very angry. He said it was my fault because I was slack as a Muslim mother. He told me to show him where she lived so he would make sure that the “whores family would understand.” When I refused, he threatened me with a gun. All the other children were watching from upstairs. I was sure I had hidden the bullets, so I wasn’t too afraid.
Then he went to the kitchen and got a knife. Everything happened so fast. I was afraid for the children so I told him I would take him to the girl’s house, but I would need to drop off all the children at my parents’ house. I told him I’d be back soon. I dropped the children off at my parents who lived a few blocks away and rushed home. I was afraid that my son would be getting home before I did, and he had no knowledge of what was happening.
I could see my son trying to sneak in when I arrived at home. I asked him to get my shoes because I had left the house without them. He tried to sneak in, but my husband caught him and severely beat him. Instead of calling the police, I called his brother to come and help. I ran into the house to save my son. His brother came and grabbed him while I left with my son. That was on August 22, 2007.
I thought I could stay at my parents’ home until I could get a place to live. The next day my parents said it would be better if I made other arrangements because they didn’t want anyone to think they were supporting my decision to leave my husband. They were afraid of what the Muslim community would think.
I lived at the women’s shelter for two months. By then I had lost all of my friends. Their husbands had forbidden them to talk to me because I was a bad influence for their families.
Eventually, I got an apartment and continued working. I got my Islamic divorce which is very difficult for women to get. Community members harassed me. Others would offer to help on the condition that I would go back to my husband. I was constantly followed and threatened. My husband would tell my children that I was plotting against him. No one in the Muslim community came forward to encourage or offer spiritual help.
When a woman gets married in Islam, her husband has to offer her a bride price called mahr, or gift. It can be a million dollars, a trip to mecca for pilgrimage, a Quran, or a bag of nuts … whatever is agreed upon. The original idea behind this is that a woman is provided for in the event of a divorce. The only stipulation is that if it is the woman who requests the divorce- she forfeits the mahr. In any case, it is very difficult for the woman to get a divorce. She must show the husband’s inability to perform or some other cruelty. Since wife beatings are an acceptable for of discipline physical abuse does not usually qualify.
I did request a divorce on the grounds of mental instability and physical abuse. I had to sit through “counseling” sessions in which the meeting consisted of the Imam, myself, husband and two other male witnesses. Our issues were discussed. At no time did the Imam address me or even look at me. After listening to what I had to say, he addressed my husband. His solution was-“why don’t you marry another woman and let her be!” He said it right in front of me.
I lost it! I stood up and glared at the Imam and told my husband, “The next time you call me to the Imam’s office make sure you have the divorce papers drawn up.”
Well, I could see my honesty was not going to work. So I did what any woman would do when backed into a corner. I told my husband that if he would grant me a divorce and show me in the next few months that he was earnestly willing to change, I would come back to him and resume our marriage. Under sharia law, it is permissible for a husband and wife to nullify their divorce contract within three months.
He agreed. He gave me my divorce and then kept asking me when he would be allowed to move in! I had beat him at his own game.
One night I was on the phone with him, and he was getting aggressive and belligerent about moving back. I was usually very soft spoken and timid. I had never raised my voice or opinion to him, but something inside of me broke that day. I let him have it. I told him how I felt, from the night we got married, to the night I left him. What little I thought of him, what a disgraceful father, son, husband, and the person he was.
The man that had continuously degraded, insulted and humiliated me for 17 years was reduced to pathetic sobbing and begging me to come back to him. It had been almost a year since I had left him, but it was that night that he first realized I was serious about leaving him.
He threatened me about filing for child support through the state. He told me that if I ever filed for it, he would leave the country. I believed him. It took seven long years for me to realize it was a bluff and to get it filed!
He stalked me and had people follow me to see if I was behaving. He called me and text me countless times saying: “Today is the day you die.” He would call my daughter and tell her, “I will cut her up in pieces and throw her in the river.” He called us American sluts.
Sadly, I had become so accustom to those threats and language I didn’t even register it as abuse. I never pressed charges. Many nights I would have friends camp outside my house to make sure I was safe.
Islam is a culture of shame and guilt. We can sum it up this way. From childhood we are taught:
- We are accountable for the consequences of behavior that affects our parents, brother, sister, extended family, tribe etc., in this world and the next
- When women are up for marriage, their lineage is examined for 7-10 generations. They carry the shame of the mistakes of their family. Indian tradition says the only way to get out of the household she is married into, is in a coffin.
- The woman’s identity is hidden behind her parents and her brothers, then behind her husband, father-in-law, brothers-in-law and sons. She is kept safe-honored within the walls of her house not to be seen or heard, where she will then breed a new generation with the same values. What horrified me was I was at one point I had started believing that this was the correct way to live!
- If a woman tries to think differently, she is condemned even by other women, her grown children, her peers, and her best friends. She is left ostracized, often at the mercy of parents that don’t want her. If she has an education, she might find a job. However, if she is in a Muslim country, she cannot take her kids with her. Mosque will not help her. Imams will not help her. Chances are her choices will be homelessness or return to her husband.
I have often asked myself — so why me. I had an education. I grew up in Venezuela, and traveled the world. Why on earth did I agree to an arranged marriage? Why did I have so many children? Why did I stay so long? Why did I never press charges? AII those questions and no answers.
When you are raised in a world where marriages are arranged, the idea is not strange and unacceptable, even though there may be people telling you that you have a choice. When life with your parents is as horrible as most teenagers think, and mine was quite so, a marriage seemed to be my only way out.
Most Indian parents treat their girls as property they will have to give up some day. I was often told “This is not your home. When you get married…that will be your home. You can do as you wish there.”
After I got married my mother in law told me one day. “This is not your house. This is your husband’s house, and these are his children. Your job is to take care of him and his belongings.” That put an end to my fantasy of ever having my own home.
It is heresy to question these traditions. It is considered sin against your husband (who in Muslim tradition is the earthly godhead) according to Mohammedan Hadith (saying), sin against your family, and most importantly sin against god. Sin against and angry and vindictive god who requires much sacrifice for forgiveness. A woman is then buried under self-negation and sacrifice, after sacrifice, in the hopes of achieving the ultimate goal: heaven, for herself and her parents and children. There is little room for petty, selfish dreams, such as self-respect and consideration, personal achievement, or even safety.
Such thoughts, and thoughts as love between a couple and a happy marriage are an evil western ideology just waiting for a chance to insinuate itself into a Muslim household. Such thoughts turn women into whores…
After the third time, my husband threw me out of the house. I made up my mind that there would not be a fourth. Thus began a year and a half of mourning for me. I knew it would happen again, and I knew I wouldn’t starve. And that it would mean the loss of my family, my parents and my friends. But I had broken through that fictitious image of a perfect Islam and there was no going back.
A MESSAGE FROM DR. SHARON SCHUETZ: I had no idea when I met Shoa Zilch that she had experienced so many years of abuse at the hands of the false religion of Islam, and her former husband. She lives here in Trinity, TX, where she runs an amazing bakery, The Red Barn, and is now a believer in Jesus Christ. She and her husband, Jason, are active in their church with her three children that still live at home. I count it an honor to be friends with this amazing couple.
It is her firm belief that women don’t have to be prisoners to this evil, false system that has enslaved millions of women throughout the world.