West Palm Beach, Fla. - Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Global Network Society, in partnership with non-profit organization Women in the Window, organized on Thursday (Feb. 9) a special evening chapel event that gave students a view into the life of a woman making an impact within her Muslim culture.
This woman, Salima Kateb, was born and raised in the nation of Tunisia in North Africa and comes from a strict Muslim family. She began memorizing the Quran from the age of three, and attended preschool at her mosque. Her uncle was a high standing sheikh, or Muslim leader.
When describing what it's like to be of the Islamic faith, Kateb said, “It’s not even a relationship. You do everything you can but have no guarantee of heaven or that God will be pleased with you.”
At the age of 15, Kateb had a dream that began a journey of her questioning her faith. In this dream, her devout Muslim grandfather gave her a cross. According to Kateb, it is very common among Muslim converts to have a dream where they see God, who changes their direction or convicts them.
After the death of her grandfather, she began to push away from God even further. “I thought, how could God take him away from me?” Kateb said.
Later when studying at university, Kateb met a Christian woman who changed her life forever.
“What messed me up was her genuine love for God even though she didn’t speak much of the language. She had a strange relationship with Him, too intimate, too obvious to deny, something I longed to have,” Kateb said, “She was genuine, kind, and was so careful about her holiness. In my mind she was pagan, and we were the chosen people. But, yet, she had so much love for God, and how people could see God through her actions.”
Meeting this Christian set Salima Kateb on a mission. She felt she could use meeting this woman to bring her back closer to God.
As a Muslim, Kateb said, there are three ways to restore your relationship with God. The first option is jihad, or to kill someone who is not Muslim. The second option is hajj, or to take a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. The third option is to convert someone to Islam. Kateb chose the third.
When Kateb gave this woman a Quran, the woman offered her the New Testament version of the Bible in return.
“This scared me. As a Muslim I am not even supposed to touch it because it is corrupted,” Kateb said.
But Kateb did end up taking the New Testament, and made a deal with God that she would balance reading the Bible by being a good Muslim. She would often spend all night in prayer, and dedicated herself to finding every mistake in the New Testament.
A few months later, when meeting with her Christian friend, she was well prepared with notes to convince her friend of the errors of Christianity. Instead, the opposite happened. In this conversation, she heard God speak to her, found the answers to all of her questions and gave her life to Christ.
But Salima Kateb’s story does not end here; this was only the beginning.
In the Muslim world, converting from Islam to another religion is a death sentence. Her family tried many methods to convince her she made the wrong choice.
“Out of their love and fear for my eternity, they did everything to bring me back. This included beating, locking me in the house, pushing me to quit my studies... All of my friends considered me dead and didn’t talk to me,” Kateb said, “In their mind, it’s an act of love and they think that I’m lost, and that I have brought too much shame to them and to God.”
Her family also burned her books, tried to kick her out several times, sought to disown her and asked her to change her last name. But Kateb stayed, and continued to be in her family’s daily life, hoping to be a testimony to them.
“It has been an honor to taste just a little of God’s suffering,” Kateb said.
Though relationships with her family members have been strained for 15 years, Kateb has seen progress. After the death of her mother, her family recognized the financial and emotional help she had brought over the years, and their attitudes softened. They even attended her wedding, though it was to a Christian and this was seen as shameful.
Kateb has done much more than just be a testimony to her family. She also actively works to help the plight of Muslim women in her nation.
“Women’s value in Islam is very poor. We are seen as less in our minds, in knowledge, and in religion...women don’t have a place. Whatever you do, you can never measure up,” Kateb said.
When asked why women stay in Islam, Kateb said that it is largely due to fear and also not knowing they have any other option.
She has several of her own projects, such as a safehouse for women and helping women to start their own small businesses.
Kateb partners with nonprofit Women in the Window which offers training seminars in trauma, health, leadership, business and spiritual development that women leaders can use to then train other women in impoverished countries.
“Trauma is very common. The statistic is that one third of girls and women in the world have been beaten, raped or sexually abused. The truth is, in Muslim countries it is much higher than that,” Kateb said.
Kateb said though her nation is much more advanced with women’s rights than other Muslim nations, there is a long way to go.
But no matter how long it takes, Salima Kateb will be there to be a voice and source of support for other Muslim women.