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Part 7 – Mata Hari

26 August 2018

I ended Part 6 in Nairobi, Kenya, with my Arab husband coming at me with a broken coffee table raised above his head, and then by the grace of God retreating without causing me any physical harm. What had I done to place myself in such mortal danger?

This man, despite his major weaknesses was an Islamic scholar who possessed much knowledge about the law and ethereal aspects of the religion I love. When I look back at how he (and others) have translated that knowledge, I understand why this beautiful religion has become despised and feared by so many.

During our brief time together, he passed on to me some knowledge of the prophets and the significance of the elements and the nature of God’s law. Much of his teachings were so beautiful that I began trusting all that he said. I saw myself as the doting scholarly wife, who would travel the world with this worldly man of knowledge and wisdom. He expressed his unhappiness with the Saudi’s alliance with the Western powers and their control of Mecca to the detriment of the Muslims. They had betrayed the Palestinians. I thought he was a man who fought oppression and I wanted to be by his side fighting to free people from injustice and oppression. I saw this as a fulfilment of a worthy life purpose and refused to allow my father or anyone else to rob me of that chance.

I refused to believe that a man with such knowledge and accomplishment could dupe me. His attempts to undo my father’s influence over me, I dismissed as an attempt to wean me off my emotional dependence on my father, to make it easier for me to leave on my worldly adventure. I dismissed the rumours about his criminal activities and molestation of boys as nonsense. He was steadfast in prayer and spent many hours doing special religious devotions. He was highly educated in western and Islamic disciplines. How could such a knowledgeable holy man do such heinous things?

The coffee table incident was a rude shock. I recoiled, and he tried to re-consolidate his control and influence over me. He tried to placate me and although I unconvincingly tried to make him believe that I had ‘gotten over it’, for a short while he knew that he had lost the Svengali effect on me. He started revealing horrific stories about his past. It became apparent to me that this man had not only been a soldier but an assassin. He didn’t seem to be from any known groups of the 90s and I never quite knew who he was affiliated to. For all I know he could have been a lone ranger. He never revealed too much. He very deliberately however, revealed details of how he had killed people. Some of the methods he deployed were so heinous that I dare not repeat them. He made sure I understood what he was capable of. The seminal narration of the historical experience of the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) at the city of Taif, a town east of Mecca bore reference to me. He spoke to the towns-people spreading the message of Islam and was met with stoning from the entire community. Bleeding and dejected, on one of the lowest days of is life he was given the choice to have them destroyed and he nobly remitted that that was not his purpose on this earth, and that even if the people rejected him and his message that day, future generations may adopt the way of God. He even questioned whether he had erred in the way he delivered the message that caused their violent reaction. He chose not to take life in the most difficult circumstances, yet Muslims such as my husband at the time, seemed to favour a hostile, violent and aggressive disposition personally and politically.

In fear of his anger and violence, I nevertheless pretended to be impressed by his murderous political exploits instead of showing him my utter shock and horror. My terror grew rapidly, and I engaged survival mode. I pretended to be enthused by him again, and to have regained my trust and admiration for him. I was truly amazed at the duplicity I was capable of. I am definitely not spy material, yet, when my life depended on it, the Mata Hari in me surfaced out of nowhere. I played every bit the dutiful wife, ready for my worldly mission with my trusted warrior husband, knowing that if at any time he suspected that I was playing him, he could easily have killed me. At one point, I almost slipped up and he became angered by something I said. He jumped up grabbed a towel and started hitting it vigorously against a pillar, all the while cursing me. I would have been the recipient of those blows, but I got the sense that he did not want to hurt me unless it became absolutely necessary. He went on a tirade about the maleficence of women. Almost as if he would destroy us all if he didn’t need us. I knew then that he had a definite plan for me which he had not yet revealed. He was going to use me in some way. He mentioned that he was going to ‘take’ Mecca. Whatever that meant? I realised that he wanted me under his complete control to do his bidding in whatever plot he had set in place. If he lost his influence over me his plans would be thwarted. I had to muster every inch of self-control not to reveal my fear and maintain the façade of unity of purpose. I had no more time to lose I had to get away from him before he left with me to Tunisia, which was his next plan. I pretended to be part of his plans. I even made him believe that I had lost the emotional dependence on my father. That I was ready for war. All the while I thought about finding a way home. He was around me all time and it was difficult for me to plan an escape. Fortuitously, an opportunity presented itself. He needed something from an associate in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of a business deal he was busy with and he needed me to ‘run the errand’. Of course, I pretended to reluctantly agree to the request, all the while hiding my excitement at the chance of escaping ‘Alcatraz’. I packed, leaving the bulk of my clothes in Nairobi, not wanting to raise his suspicions about my true intentions. I was still nervous as I sat in the old black London-styled cab on the way to the airport. I would not feel safe until I was miles away from there. I boarded the plane and still felt nervous. When the plane took off I could feel myself starting to exhale, and when I landed at what was then Jan Smuts International Airport, I wept with relief.

Despite the relief of not coming home in a body bag, my terror did not abate. I lived in mortal fear looking over my shoulder all the time, expecting him to be there. I couldn’t shake it. When he called me, I told him I couldn’t return and that I was leaving him. He tried to coax me, telling obvious lies and even threatening me. This time my mind was crystal clear. This was not the first time I was bailing on a marriage but this time there was no amicable talk and separation. This time I literally ran away in fear and was holding my ground on the phone thousands of kilometres away. The first time I chose someone who had no religious inclination. The second time I chose someone who had an extreme warped conviction with a deep criminal proclivity. How could my choices be getting worse? He was of the breed that helped to catapult Muslims into the abyss of infamy, derision and global rejection. These tyrannous villains played into the hands of the modern world order who cast all Muslims as ‘terrorists’, the modern replacement for the red terror of communisms that they used as a bogey man during the cold war. I was married to one who contributed to harming Muslims the world over.

I thought I was getting superior religious teaching, a noble purpose, respectability and adventure. I seem to have only coined the latter. I thought I was seeking God but revealed the paucity of my intentions when I lived in the aftermath of my naiveté and unfortunate choices. The respectability I sought was not from the people in my community. I never quite respected the societal norms and values, particularly when it came to women, divorce, racial ‘impurity’ and other such social vices, that still sometimes plague us today. No, I had rejected their rules of engagement when I was but a child and forfeited their endorsement by sailing against the wind at every turn. It was a respectability I sought for myself and which I often reflected in the need for my father’s approval. I felt if my father was ok with me the world was ok. I even rejected that notion momentarily. Although he encouraged me to marry the Arab man initially, when he saw the danger and tried to warn me, I no longer wanted his approval. I rejected him when I thought I had someone better to follow. I sought a nobleness of purpose and ironically debased myself and my soul. My search for the divine would have to take a different turn.

My father, family and my closest friends nursed me back to a state of ‘normalcy’. Although my father didn’t admit it, I think he felt responsible for encouraging me to marry the man in the first place. As wise as he was, he had erred. I always convinced myself that my father had a higher purpose for me with the Arab. That he intended me to learn some valuable lessons, as with my first marriage. He spent an unholy amount on my first wedding. When I had separated from my first husband, I met an uncle of mine who nearly fell off his chair when I told him I was on the verge of divorce. “I don’t believe it!” He cried. “Marnie told me that this marriage wouldn’t last.” I listened, surprised but not shocked, having been privy to this uncanny ability of my father over the years. My uncle continued, “I asked him why he was letting you go through with it then, and he said that you needed to learn something from the experience. Your father said, ‘if I told her it wouldn’t stop her, so she needs the process to complete itself’”. My uncle, still in a state of disbelief, said he doubted what my father told him at the time, and seemed to ponder that it had come to pass.
As much as I wanted to believe that like with my first marriage, my dad had a big plan, and this was a process of higher learning, (as it would make my part in this saga more palatable), I knew that this was not the case. He thought it would work out well but by the time he saw the danger I was in, it was too late. I was already taken in by the false dream of saving the world with an anti-hero. My steadfast belief in God had to sustain me through the terror I felt for a long time after. I couldn’t blame Him or any person for my predicament and had to contemplate how I had spun myself into this quagmire of fear, deception and danger.

If I had a rumbling distrust of men before, it had become infinitely worse then. I was caught between the innate need for companionship and the mistrust of the male species. My existence on this planet was devout of true meaning. My soul yearned to meet its purpose and the yearning continued to burn in my belly. I had many long years of traversing in my quest for meaning. I seemed to have a misplaced need to follow a man to greatness. I needed to find my own greatness. My innate power. Then maybe I would find my true path to God. I didn’t suspect that I would have to experience the loss of the greatest man in my life before this became possible.

More next time God-willing

With much love, Radia 💚