Escaping Radical Islam: An interview with “One Godless Woman”

Written By Giordano Baratta, Posted on April 24, 2020

The National Telegraph recently had the opportunity to sit down with Iman, more famously known through her online handle “One Godless Woman.” Having spent much of her youth in Saudi Arabia, Iman, as an ex-Muslim, has since devoted herself to advocating women’s rights in the face of political Islam from her new home in Canada.  

Iman began by telling us about her early personal life and how her life drastically changed upon her move to Saudi Arabia.

“I was born in Westminster, in Central London, and I grew up in the UK. My nanny essentially raised me, so my first language was English. At the age of 9, my father, who had been training as a surgical fellow in the UK, graduated and took the family to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where I remained until I was 26. I had the luxury of travelling every few years—and it was always to the United States or Europe. I think this is what instilled this fascination with the West within me. Of course, this was in addition to the fact that I grew up in England before being pushed into an Islamic dictatorship at a young age. Even though I was still young, I had already experienced freedom, and I knew what it was—I had lived it. I knew that the culture I was placed in wasn’t right. This made me more of a rebel throughout adolescence and adulthood, giving me the drive to educate myself; to advance my education despite my status as a woman.” 

It wasn’t long before Iman experienced culture shock in Saudi Arabia.

“I still remember going out to buy sandwiches or chocolates at the local store as a child in London. It all changed when I moved. You might call Riyadh the strictest part of the country because it’s the epicenter of the Wahhabi stream of Islamic thought. Although I wasn’t put in the full black body-covering garb [niqab] right away, this puritanical culture made it hard for me to make friends. I came to dislike speaking Arabic. Things accelerated when I was around 13, as teachers began enforcing the niqab, covering me from head to toe. I would get anxious, worrying that I wasn’t covered up properly and would be punished accordingly. Our entire existence was based around covering up. Let me put this into perspective: here in the West, when you drop something—someone helps you pick it up. In Saudi, you help someone by terrorizing them by telling them to cover up. That’s the sort of society I grew up in.”

Sadly, Iman described to us how this type of oppression wasn’t constrained to the public sphere, but within her own home as well. Iman delved into the personal horrors she had suffered as a Saudi woman both at home and upon her arrival in Canada:

“I was abused by my family. My dad was a surgeon, as was my brother. My mom was a housewife—but I grew up in a polygamous household, and my father’s other wives were nurses. There was a huge strain on me to enter into the medical field. I originally wanted to enter into dentistry as my first choice, but when my family found out, I was physically beaten because they didn’t support my choice. I had to change my application form to put medicine as my first option, and I was accepted into medical school. During this time, the religious authorities in Riyadh imprisoned me three times. The last time, I was abducted first, then jailed. Back then, I was finishing my night shift at the hospital and waiting for the driver to get me. As you know, women weren’t allowed to drive alone in Saudi Arabia until fairly recently. A friend of mine (who was a man) offered me a lift home. I had to pretend that I was his wife, as women could not travel with men outside their family. Somehow, the religious police cornered us on the road, beat him up, and we were both thrown in jail. Without any evidence whatsoever, I was accused of fornication outside of marriage. In the end, I got three months in prison, was banned from leaving the country for two years, and received 80 lashes. My father disowned me and gave ownership (women are considered property in Saudi Arabia, keeping this in mind) of my person to my brother. To save his reputation, my brother went to a local prince and lied by telling him that I was married—if my “husband” found out that I was to be whipped, he’d divorce me. Thankfully, this worked.”

“Soon after, I was accepted into anesthesiology, with the understanding I was to take a scholarship abroad. I sat the Canadian medical exam, received my scholarship, and was ready with my plane ticket to Canada for my interview—two hospitals had accepted me. All of a sudden, my brother confiscated my paperwork and stopped me. I had to go back to my dad, asking him to take my papers and passport from my brother. This was conditional: I told him to allow me to leave, and I would never contact him again. Since they wanted to disown me anyways, he accepted.”

“Although I came to Canada, my training here was interrupted after I was sexually assaulted by a Saudi doctor who was not only from the same program as I was, but we had worked together at the same hospital back in Riyadh. The doctor in question was particularly religious and was widely admired here in Canada. I was made out to be a liar, as even Canadian physicians refused to believe how such a pious man could have done this to me. I ended up leaving medicine completely. The case went to court, and he never showed up—there’s a warrant for his arrest that’s still outstanding today. He’s back home in Saudi Arabia, making lots of money. Given all this, I’ve received threats from female Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists, who want me to be punished. The same people who were active in the campaign for the right to drive are the same that have called the embassy in Ottawa, asking for my deportation.”

Taken aback by this story, we at The National Telegraph asked Iman what would happen if she theoretically returned to Saudi Arabia today.

“Should I go back to Saudi [Arabia],” Iman said, “I would get detained at the Airport. I would then be immediately jailed, likely tortured, and after the torture, after they have fun—I would get beheaded—because I’m an open ex-Muslim. It’s a death sentence if I do go back. The Canadian government isn’t interested in my story because I don’t fit the narrative for ‘special victimhood status.’ Ex-Muslims need not apply. The ‘victims,’ per the government’s narrative, aren’t even regular Muslims—but Islamists, those hyper-religious fundamentalists. On this note, let me let you in on something. When you see endless amounts of mosques, that’s a sign the country you’re in is Islamist. You don’t need this many. Your Western politicians don’t seem to understand, a mosque is not a house of worship, as anyone who’s lived in the Middle East knows. Historically, mosques were built for what we can contemporarily label as ‘Islamists’—those involved in conquest, jihad, holy war—whatever you want to label it. The mosque was a spot of retreat and surveillance, where members could discuss strategy and hold their weaponry. There’s also a hierarchy of mosques in Islam—the higher it is ranked, the more it is involved in political Islam. By appealing to these types, all I can say is that your leaders have made some bad bedmates.”

The National Telegraph concluded by asking Iman what her goal is as an activist.

“What hurts me more than anything is that a sizable chunk of Canadians sides with the victimhood narrative for Islamists. People like me are vilified. If you say anything against Islam, it’s Islamophobic. I want to change this, Canadians shouldn’t be scared to talk against Islam. You don’t have capital punishment as I did back in Riyadh. I lived through radicalism, I fought tooth and nail, suffering beatings and abuse to come here—and I can let it be for nothing. The most important thing for me is opening up a dialogue, especially if it helps to empower other women who were in a situation similar to mine, or even second-generation Muslim girls born here.”

The One Godless Woman podcast can be accessed from Soundcloud or over YouTube. Regular updates are frequently held over her Facebook page as well. 

Giordano Baratta

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