Jeff King: Welcome back to In the Deep today. We’re going to have a fascinating conversation with Hedieh Mirahmadi, who used to work in counter terror work against [inaudible]. She was a former devout Muslim for 20 years before she came to Christ. So, we’re just going to have a wide range of conversation about Islam, about Christianity, about Afghanistan, the Taliban, and just kind of range all over the place. But Hedieh, thank you so much for being on the show.
Hedieh Mirahmadi: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s such a pleasure.
Jeff King: Hedieh, first of all, thanks so much for being on the show. Let’s just start with, just talk to me about growing up and early life. Tell me about your journey.
Hedieh Mirahmadi: Sure. My parents came from Iran in the mid-’60s to finish medical school. My father finished medical school in the United States, and we relocated to Beverly Hills, California. That’s where I grew up. That’s where I went to school. But my parents came to live the American dream. We were not religious at all, so I was raised entirely secular. I was actually raised as a very patriotic American. My parents were very, very happy to be in the United States. Still are. And so it was a really beautiful experience growing up, until the hostage crisis hit, and the Iranians had took over the U.S. Embassy and taken American hostages. Then there was a bunch of bullying that happened, of course, and the kids were pretty mean to me about it. And it was actually when I was first confronted with having an identity outside of being just an American.
But other than that, there was a lot of debauchery. Growing up in Beverly Hills was a real fast and furious lifestyle. But it was I think eventually what led to the whole part that made me long for a relationship with God.
Jeff King: Yeah. And so, talk about that. So if you’re searching for God, and where do you go? I mean, you’re trying to figure out there’s a God out there somewhere. Where did you-
Hedieh Mirahmadi: Yes.
Jeff King: Where did you search?
Hedieh Mirahmadi: Well, so I was in college by this time, and my parents basically, and mostly my father, said, “You know what? You can look all you want.” And you know, I explored Buddhism and Judaism, but never Christianity. Because in Beverly Hills, I literally had not a single Christian friend growing up, so the only choice was either Judaism or some New Age philosophy or Islam. And so my father told me, “Listen, you’re always going to be identified as a Muslim, so you might as well get used to it, and go where it’s a natural fit.” Even though he wasn’t religious at all.
And it made sense to me at the time. I started to date this young man that was Muslim, and he took me to his mosque, and this group was… Oh, it was so strange for me, because it was very anti-American, it was very anti-Semitic, and I thought to myself, “Well, this is a religion I just want no part of it, because this is not spiritually uplifting at all.” And in that exploration, I met what’s known as the Sufis, which is a mystical branch of Islam.
And they basically said, “Oh, the problem is you first encountered the extremists. There’s this struggle for the soul of Islam happening even here in the United States, and you’ve basically just walked into the middle of it.”
And that concept was not only fascinating to me, it was infuriating that there were these extremist groups that were external to the United States, and they were affecting what was happening to Americans and people that were turning to Islam, like myself. And I started to investigate like where does the extremism come from, what countries is it originating from? And at the time, by this time I had finished law school, so I was already trained as a lawyer. I started to, based on the community I was a part of… I was up north, and interestingly enough, I encounter the mosque where Bin Laden is fundraising for the war in Bosnia.
And the Afghan civil war. And at the time, I end up meeting some FBI agents that were also investigating this in the mid-’90s. There was literally three guys from across America that were interested in terrorism in the mid-’90s.
And we happened to run into each other. That’s when my career started, actually. I started to do consulting for them, and it just took off from there. And of course, 9/11 hit. I had moved to D.C. already by that point, and I’d already built a solid reputation in the field. And so. my kind of, my spiritual relationship in the Sufis actually went tandem with my career, because the Sufis spiritually and politically were fighting the extremists, and that’s what I was doing professionally as a federal contractor.
Jeff King: Yeah, definitely. And I would assume you’re not a deep student of Islam at the time?
Hedieh Mirahmadi: Well, when I first entered I wasn’t, but I have a degree in Islamic jurisprudence at this point.
And when I first started, I did not. And so I just read as much as I can get my hands on, because I couldn’t understand what the doctrinal differences were between the two faiths, between the two sects, and what… It took me a while to figure out that though the seeds of the differences are theological and centuries old, the current manifestation of it is very much a political phenomenon.
Jeff King: Interesting. Okay. Well, so but as a Sufi… Okay, so you were studying widely, and looking at it almost from the outside in, too. But as a Sufi, are you wondering what’s going on with the fundamentalists? Did you just go with the line that, hey, these guys had corrupted Islam, and did your view change over time as you would read the hadiths? Or what was going on there?
Hedieh Mirahmadi: Interesting question. So, when you looked at the two groups, the fundamentals are the Salafists. You know that term, of whether you call them Wahhabis or Salafis? As opposed to the Sufis. It was clear the Salafis were doing something violent and dangerous.
And so, but increasingly what concerned me is that here I am as an American, and I am extremely devout. The Sufis were also very conservative. And I felt like in my attempt to get closer to God, and to increase my religiosity, I didn’t feel any increase in spirituality. In other words, I kept doing and doing and doing, and I didn’t feel I had reached salvation or some intimacy with God where I felt like He was speaking to me, because we had no concept of that.
Jeff King: Yeah. There’s a flaw.
Hedieh Mirahmadi: So, [crosstalk]… Yeah. It just, exactly. I just felt like I was doing and doing all of this law, and I wasn’t achieving anything that I could feel or experience, or that made it worth that I keep going.
And then I thought to myself as my daughter was getting older, when she was younger, it was easier. And as she got older and she wanted to wear certain clothes, and she wanted to go to certain schools, I was like, “Wow. What am I subjecting her to?” And it was increasingly difficult for me to rationalize. And then I get to the FBI. I was at Headquarters. Now I get to the FBI meeting, that I was actually officially in the building and I was developing this national counter terrorism program, and I decided to take my head cover off. And it was literally at that point that the religion unraveled.
Because everybody told me, “You’re going to hang from your hair for an eternity in hellfire, and God would never forgive you.” And I said, “For a piece of fabric?” I mean-
Jeff King: And this is from the Sufis, though?
Hedieh Mirahmadi: This is from the Sufis.
Jeff King: Wow. Interesting.
Hedieh Mirahmadi: Yes. Yeah. So, there is this dogmatism, conservativeism. I mean, they’re not trying to conquer America, but there is this religiosity that is very suffocating. I don’t know. Is the best way to describe it.
Jeff King: Yeah, yeah.
Hedieh Mirahmadi: There’s just no joy in it.
Jeff King: Yeah, it’s law.