By Mark Ellis —
In her unparalleled zeal for Allah, she mourned for dead imams and prayed day and night at her Islamic school. But a failed marriage and a mother dying of multiple sclerosis left her depressed and suicidal. Where could she find a path to the joy and peace she craved?
At an early age, Padina committed herself to Allah. She thought to herself, “If I could do all the things he demanded, he would answer my prayers, give me peace, and someday allow me to enter his paradise.”
At 14, she joined the House of Zeinab, an Islamic school where women study the Koran and learn how to better please Allah.
Her dedication at the school was noticed, and she received the honor of serving in “the sacred place” where twelve imams — the holy men of Islam — were worshiped.
Her schedule at the school was rigorous. Padina prayed every morning from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m, as she sat on the prayer rug next to her bed. At dawn, during good weather, she climbed to the roof and continued her prayers.
Then she attended school the rest of the day. At five o’clock, she prayed the ritualistic prayers that all Muslims pray five times a day.
“If we had no work to do, we continued to pray. Sometimes after a special program, I would be there until midnight, go and sleep for an hour or two before beginning the next day’s prayer session,” she notes.
Grieving for dead prophets
On Tuesdays, they had a special time to grieve for dead prophets. She met with 400 other women ranging in age from five to 90. Their prayers started at 2:00 p.m. and lasted until 9:00 p.m.
“When everyone left, I would get a hand broom and rags to clean the house and do the dishes as my greater service to Allah. Having to bend over so long to sweep the floors has produced back, neck, and shoulder problems to this day,” Padina says.
Outside the school, men joined in the special time to grieve for the dead prophets, by marching through the streets as they beat themselves with chains. Women were not allowed to watch the men’s violent display of zeal.
But inside, the women performed similar rituals. “We women formed circles and began grieving. Women would fall down and tear at their faces. Others would bang their heads on the floor and pull out their hair. On one particular holiday, we would beat our chests so hard that we’d be painfully black and blue.”
Over time, Padina’s spiritual zeal lessened and her mind began to wander. “Although I became sick of the routine, I feared I would be punished if I stopped. Many of the girls got sick and became depressed,” she notes.
Cloistered from the world
Girls at her school were not allowed to listen to music or watch television, with one exception. They could watch one station on a closed-circuit television that displayed Meccaat all hours. “There we could see people circling the Kaaba, the black stone of Mecca, as they sang their grieving funeral songs.”
Padina was not allowed to attend weddings or parties, or to socialize in mixed company.
“To keep us pure, we couldn’t see any foreign movies. When asked why, they said, “Because men wear sleeveless clothing and women wear short skirts. Your eyes will be messed up.”
In her classes, Padina was taught that Imam Zaman, who had mysteriously disappeared, would reappear at the end of time with Jesus. Together they would establish a new kingdom, which gave Padina a small glimmer of hope for the future.
Sometimes when Padina grieved for the dead prophets, she would join 150 other women, put cloths on their heads with the name of a specific imam on it, and put ropes around their waists, linking them together. Then they would march around the outside of their school, putting mud on their heads, crying and hitting themselves. “We thought this would earn Allah’s favor,” she notes.
“My sins were ever before me,” Padina says. Many days she felt terrible about her condition and had nightmares at night about dying. “I knew Allah must be angry at me. I feared dying and being judged.” How could she ever be good enough to get into heaven?
For seven years, the Islamic school dominated Padina’s life. She found that peace eluded her, no matter how hard she tried to please Allah.
She came to believe that if any of her hair stuck out of her scarf, Allah would hang her from her hair in heaven. “We wore stockings on our hands to prevent our hands from being exposed. They told us that we would be hung by our hands in heaven. Heavy black socks covered my legs. If I accidentally revealed my ankles to anyone, Allah would drop me repeatedly into hell to burn my legs.”
With her studies complete at age twenty-one, Padina left the Zeinab House in a state of depression, dominated by her fears of an angry god named Allah.
Earlier, when Padina was 18, a young man named Navid asked for her hand in marriage and her father agreed. Navid was educated in Europe and Iran, and informed her family that he wished to continue his studies overseas.
Padina and Navid met for the first time at their engagement ceremony, when he officially asked for Padina’s hand in marriage, “I fell in love with him,” Padina says. “Somebody chose me, somebody loves me! she exulted.
Navid returned to his studies in Europe, and Padina stayed at his parents’ house during the engagement.
“I prayed to Allah for Navid’s safety.” There were long periods when she heard nothing from her fiancée. “When Navid didn’t call, I thought I must have done something wrong,” she thought.
Navid finally returned for a year and the couple began to live together. “Since we lived together for two months without being married, my relatives branded me as an immoral woman. However, because our marriage had never been formally completed, he did not need to officially divorce me when he left again.”
After Navid left to continue working on his masters degree, Padina found a job as a medical assistant, working from seven in the morning to seven at night. “At the end of my workday, I would do my prayer beads, say my five prayers and fall into bed, only to do it all over again the next day.”
During this period Padina’s depression deepened.
A Christian friend
Padina became friends with a Christian nurse at the hospital. Her stability and peace impressed Padina. “I noticed that when the nurses gossiped about the other workers, she would not participate. Even when pressured, she refused to participate.”
One day they talked about the Muslim grieving holidays. “How is it that you folks can stand around the nurses’ station and judge other people? You break people’s hearts and then pray for Imam Hussein.”
Not having an answer, Padina asked, “What do you people [Christians] do?”
“We have one God. He has one Son—Jesus Christ. We have only one special day a year. We just wear our regular clothes and we don’t grieve. You guys constantly grieve for a thousand different imams.”
Her answer intrigued Padina; she was curious to learn more about Jesus.
After Padina worked at the hospital for three years, Navid returned. He apologized to Padina and her parents for putting her through so much. “I want to marry her and restore her reputation,” he announced.
Privately, he told Padina, “Everywhere I go I try to find a relationship with a woman, but I’m never happy. I’m probably destined to be with you.”
Two hours later, they signed the legal documents that made them husband and wife. Since Padina believed that her depression stemmed from her failed marriage and ruined reputation, she thought it would disappear once they were married.
Her depression lifted for a time, until Navid suddenly left for Canada. Padina discovered he had also wed a Canadian woman in order to get citizenship papers in Canada.
“He said they’d never consummated the marriage. The woman refused to divorce him; she wanted revenge. When I asked why he couldn’t apply for me to join him, he would tell me that if Canada found out he had another wife, they wouldn’t grant his citizenship.”
“Don’t worry,” Navid consoled, “I’m coming back for you one of these days. I’m working hard to build a big life for us.”
Padina’s husband’s family blamed her for his sudden departure. They told her, “You must be doing something wrong” in your marriage.
Navid came back toIranto visit Padina for a month, but this only brought up a lot of problems and issues between the couple. Even with his frequent absences, he attempted to intensify his control over Padina, which only deepened her depression and inability to sleep.
A light in the darkness
Alone and dejected, one evening Padina watched a televised church service and heard the pastors sing, “Jesus is my light.”
Padina was stunned as she watched the screen. “Everyone looked so happy,” she thought. “Little children jumped up and down, singing and clapping their hands. Even the old people raised their hands in joy. Can this be,” she wondered. Aren’t they supposed to cry?”
Then she watched a baptism service that followed. “I learned baptism meant that all of your sins had been washed away, that you died with Jesus, were raised to a new life, and were completely forgiven. My mind constantly told me how awful I was and how sinful I’d been. Yet, this program said I could be free of all that.” What a wonder!
In her quest to find real joy, she began to watch the program regularly. “The people on this TV show appeared happy, peaceful, even joyous. What is the difference?” she wondered.
When an international number appeared on the screen, Padina made the call and a man on the line shared with her about Jesus.
Over the next year, Padina began to pray to Jesus and noticed something remarkable – Jesus answered her prayers!
“He would work on my behalf. Previously, I’d fasted and prayed and never received a blessing, only curses. When I began to pray to Jesus, I would go to my window and say, “Jesus, I really need You. I need this from You.” And it would happen without my doing anything to make it happen.”
Even as she continued to watch the program, she was hampered by her belief that Christians were infidels. In fact, Padina had been taught they were dirty, unclean fanatics.
Shortly after this, Padina received a Bible, which she kept hidden. “Once I began reading the Bible, I couldn’t get enough of it.” She went to her Christian nursing friend with questions about her faith.
Then one day she called the program again. This time they recognized Padina’s voice.
The pastor asked, “Padina, who is Christ to you?”
Padina stammered through her tears, “I see Jesus as someone who is light, the Light of God who has been divided off from God.”
They talked a while, and then he prayed for Padina. “I felt so blessed. From that moment I knew Jesus was far more than an imam or a prophet. Once a week I called and prayed for peace.”
Padina’s mother, a very religious woman and committed to Islam, had multiple sclerosis for several years. The doctors said she would be completely paralyzed soon, her lungs would swell, and she would die. When Padina told her about the TV program, she watched with her daughter. The first time she saw it she exclaimed, “That’s it! That’s what I’ve been looking for.”
Despite the encouragement of the TV programs, her mother’s declining health and Padina’s failed marriage only deepened her depression. Then she learned Navid wanted a divorce.
A downward spiral
“When he said he didn’t want me anymore, I couldn’t speak. I’d invested ten years of my life in him. Nothing could have been worse for my mother to hear. Stress makes MS worse. My parents learned about the divorce and they became upset. They had always backed him. They couldn’t believe that he wanted a divorce. My mother’s health worsened, as did my depression. That’s the night I decided to end it all,” she recalls.
Caught in a downward spiral emotionally, Padina decided she would use pills to take her life. She went to the medicine cabinet and pulled out a bottle of sleeping pills she thought would end her torment.
“I stared at the cluster of sleeping pills in my hand. What else could I do? A failed marriage, rejected by our closed society after my divorce, the terrible shame I had brought on my family, my mother dying of multiple sclerosis. I couldn’t go on any longer. Killing myself seemed like the only escape from my pain. I tossed the pills into my mouth, washed them down with a glass of water, and waited for the peace I so desperately craved.”
Padina had barely swallowed the pills when her mother suddenly rose from her bed. She knew something was wrong.
“Did you take pills?” she cried.
Padina denied the accusation.
“Yes, you did!” She immediately made Padina drink yogurt, which made her throw up.
Padina wasn’t pleased by her mother’s intervention, “Mom, you can make me stop this time and I’ll throw up, but I’ll try again.”
With her mind bent on suicide, Padina stopped watching the Christian TV program. But one night Padina’s sister turned on the program, and turned up the volume so it resonated throughout the house.
Calling a lifeline
The topic was about people who took medication for depression and how to escape it. As they listened, Padina and her mother began to weep. Could this be an answer to her depression? At the end of the program, Padina’s mother called to pray with the pastor on the line. Then she handed the phone to Padina.
“I didn’t want to take the phone. In my mind, I believed no one cared. Can he bring Navid back to me? Can he give my mother good health? Finally, I reached for the phone. With the coldest heart and voice I started talking to him.”
The kindness in the man’s voice broke something inside of her. As she wept. she unloaded everything.
“Your mom told me that you tried to commit suicide. Why would you do that? Don’t you value yourself? Don’t you know how much God loves you? Don’t you know that Jesus wants to save you from all that?”
“No! What can He do for me? Padina asked. “No one can keep me from trying again to kill myself.”
“Okay, so you’re going to kill yourself. There’s nothing I can do about it, but will you do one thing for me first? Put off killing yourself for a few more days so you can get to know the God I know and see what you think. I’ll show you how you can know Jesus personally. You can walk with Him for a few days. See how He treats you and how He is. If Jesus doesn’t do anything for you, for your depression, then you can go kill yourself.”
“Pastor, my life is so messed up, how can God possibly undo all the bad stuff?” she asked.
“Put it to the test and you’ll see,” he replied. As he prayed for Padina, she could hear in his voice that he was crying and that his heart was filled with compassion. By the end of the prayer, Padina was sobbing.
“I cried and prayed and repented of my sins,” she says.
When all of Padina’s questions were answered and she felt safe, she finally surrendered her heart to Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
“I had a faith in Christ that could not be moved. I finally knew Jesus Christ had saved me. I could risk being happy. My mother came to the same decision for herself. We started attending church and our peace began to flow. So did the miracles,” she recalls.
Padina’s mother stopped taking cortisone shots for her MS and got out of bed. Jesus healed her mother’s multiple sclerosis!
The doctors were amazed and asked, “Where did the MS go?” Seeing her mother healed brought Padina’s father to Jesus. Then her sister came to know Jesus and they began to watch the TV programs as a family.
Padina stopped taking pills for insomnia and depression. Suddenly she could sleep at night. “I am happy all the time,” she exclaims. “Nothing bothers me. I am filled with joy.”
“We have new friends who love us and we love them. Everyone saw my mom’s healing and they say I am so different too. Because of my family’s testimony, many family and friends are coming to Christ.”
Shortly after this, Padina’s divorce from Navid became final. She continued to carry bitterness and unforgiveness toward her former husband. When Padina discussed her anger with her pastor, he said, “If you don’t forgive him, you will not have the closeness with God that you want.”
Padina continued to struggle with forgiving Navid. Finally she reached a point when she was able to pray a prayer of forgiveness. “It touched my heart so deeply that I got on the Internet and wrote to Navid, ‘I ask your forgiveness for all the ugly and hateful things I said and felt.’”
Shortly after Padina forgave Navid, she attended a seminar in her house church about knowing God. Strangely, whenever they studied the concept of knowing God face-to-face she passed out.
A group picked her up and carried her into another room and started praying for her. Suddenly she heard a voice say, “Get up!”
At first she thought she was hearing things, but the voice spoke again. “Get up!”
Without opening her eyes, Padina’s body raised up off the bed, but not in the manner one would normally sit up and push oneself to their feet.
“It was like someone picked up my shoulders and I just stood straight up,” she recalls. “My pastor, my church leader, and another person who had helped bring me into the room got scared,” when they observed this seemingly supernatural occurrence.
“What happened?” she wondered.
Again the voice spoke. “Get up!”
“As I stood to my feet in obedience, my head hung limp on my chest. Then I saw Jesus. He stood in the room with me. I saw His robes and His feet. Suddenly, I knew I’d been delivered from my hatred. He did it Himself. The unrest from my problems, my depression, my failed marriage, melted away. Joy filled my life. Before long I’d almost forgotten there had ever been a Navid.”
After these remarkable events, Padina has become a leader in the house church movement in Iran. She has formed many conclusions about her journey out of spiritual bondage.
“Islam is a religion of depression and pills. It turns people into walking zombies,” Padina says.
“I would so love to speak to the girls attending the higher levels of the Islamic schools. I could sit right there and show them that I have what they want. I know the scriptures of the Koran. I’ve done all the things they do. I’ve prayed all the prayers they pray. I did it all, but found no peace from Allah or from Islam.
“I would tell them to test Jesus, to see what He will do in their lives. I would love to tell all the people of Iran about the beautiful Jesus I have seen. I know how tired and depressed they are and they have the same problems as I had. I know how hopeless they feel.
“I want to give my whole life to Christ. I want to surrender everything to Him. I no longer worry about who will do what to me. God has replaced my nightmares with a vision for myself and for other people.”
Padina’s story is told in Voice of the Martyr’s book, “IRAN: Desperate for God,” available at www.VOMBooks.com.
If you want to know God personally, go here