I was nine years old when I decided that I hated God. I hated him because I believed he hated me first.
It was 1979, during the middle of the Iranian Revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini and his religious zealots had recently overthrown the existing government and seized political power. Hundreds of thousands of people had their lives turned upside down in the chaos.
My father was a military officer in the previous regime, and we had grown up on a military base. A couple of weeks into the revolution, I was at school when we were called outside for an unexpected assembly. A soldier read off three names, including mine, and called us to the front. Removing a gun from his holster, he quoted from the Qur‘an and told me he would kill me to deliver a message to supporters of the old regime. Fortunately the school principal intervened, and the soldier relented.
Running for Our Lives
Traumatized, I rushed home to tell my father what had happened. Despite his usual sternness, he took me into his lap and pledged to keep us safe, revealing that plans were underway for an eventual escape.
To me, this felt less like escaping from Iran than escaping from God. We were leaving our home, our family, our wealth, our friends, everything we held dear—all because our country had been victimized by religion gone wrong.
Just days later, our situation grew desperate. Soldiers barged into our home and dragged my father out. One day earlier, revolutionary guards had whisked one of my father’s colleagues off to a public park, where he was brutally tortured, dying seven hours later.
To everyone’s surprise, my father made it home alive, but this only strengthened our resolve to flee. He devised a plan to leverage my mother’s heart issues as a means of escape. We met with a few trusted doctors, offering everything we owned—our home, cars, clothes, money—if they would risk helping us. One day my mother began faking chest pains. She was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors “assessed” her and recommended a trip to Switzerland for open-heart surgery.
From that point forward, we were running for our lives. Miraculously, we made it to the plane and eventually reached Switzerland. We sought out the American embassy to apply for political asylum, but the United States was not allowing Iranians in at the time.
After a while, we traveled to Germany, hoping for a more sympathetic consulate. One day my mother suggested praying to the “God of America” named Jesus. Maybe he would let us into “his” country. Her plan sounds silly in retrospect, but it worked: One week later we were flying to America.