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In the throes of a passionate romance, many a woman has found herself abandoning common sense and rushing down the aisle toward matrimony.

All too often, such whirlwind marriages end badly. But when the woman is a Christian and the man she marries is Muslim, the consequences of a hasty union may be far more severe than vicious child custody battles and endless squabbling over how to divide up the couple's assets in the divorce settlement.

That is the message of W.L. Cati, the author of the 2001 book Married to Muhammed, a chilling account of her 15-year marriage to a Syrian-born Muslim.

Cati, whose real name is Katrina, will be at the Strawberry Lake Christian Retreat in rural Ogema for its annual Women's Conference, July 29-Aug. 5.

And during her stay, she will be sharing her personal experience with Islam, or as she calls it, "some of the exciting adventures I've had."

The irony of that statement became apparent as she discussed the details of her marriage and subsequent conversion to Islam: "terrifying adventures" might be more accurate.

"I converted totally to Islam," she said in a telephone interview from her home on Tuesday afternoon. "I actually converted in Damascus, Syria, at the Umayyad Mosque, the oldest mosque in Damascus, during the month of Ramadan (a religious observance during which all Musilms around the world spend 30 days fasting from sun-up to sundown, with no food or water)."

In so doing, Katrina became a documented Muslim -- which meant that when she decided to return to Christianity more than 15 years later, her life became forfeit.

"There's no retracting it," she said. "Leaving Islam is a big problem, because it means the death penalty. If I went to Syria now, I probably wouldn't live, because they would have permission, according to Islamic law, to kill me."

And that's just one of the darker aspects of Islam that Katrina's Muslim groom failed to tell his Christian bride before the wedding.

Another was that according to the Islamic religion, a woman can't get into heaven unless her husband speaks for her -- thus she doesn't want to anger him by questioning his fidelity, etc., because she might risk never ascending to heaven.

And according to Islamic law, the wife of a Muslim man has no worldly possessions -- rather, everything she has belongs to her husband's mother.

"The more deeply I became involved (in Islam), the more I felt like a slave to Allah," Katrina said.

Both her husband and her mother-in-law were abusive, physically and verbally.

"My situation was horrendous," she said.

Yet no matter how badly she was abused, Islamic law offered her no recourse or respite from the violence.

Instead, Katrina found in both the Quran (the Islamic holy book) and the writings of the prophet Muhammed that "my heaven would be to watch my husband devour 72 virgins -- that's not really a heaven I wanted to go to."

She also learned, through a book given to her by her mother-in-law, that the prophet Muhammed had married a six-year-old girl when he was 53 years old. Though he didn't consummate the marriage until three years later, the prepubescent bride would never have children of her own.

"That shook me to my core," she said. "This is not what they tell the general public (about Islam). You don't find these things out until you're very much involved in the religion."

One day, shortly after her conversion, her husband told her that he and his three brothers had all married Christian, American women.

Why? "Because if we cannot take this country by force, we'll take it through marriage," he told her.

Eventually, Katrina found a way to escape, along with the four children she had given birth to during her marriage (she has since adopted three more).

"It (my escape) was through the grace of God," she said. "There were a lot of people praying for me."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454