Tom always thought of himself as normal, average even. He grew up in the middle-class neighborhood in middle America.
He made good grades in school, had lots of friends, and even was an eagle scout—an achievement not many young men accomplish. But he always had a gnawing feeling that something was missing, that something wasn’t right. Tom says:
“When I was a kid, I sometimes got anxious for no reason. I couldn’t figure out why. It would be while I was playing baseball with friends or just doing homework. Life just seemed to be everything it was ‘supposed to be’, but still there was something in me that knew there was more.”
Tom’s instinct to get more out of life drove him to do well in school, to be kind to his friends, to help those in need. It even pushed him to learn new skills.
When Tom was 15 years old, he decided to read ahead in his history textbook. As Tom says, “reading ahead was something the teacher told us never to do. But I figure if any ‘sin’ was forgivable, it was the sin of learning more”.
Tom’s thirst for knowledge drove him to read into the chapters of his history text that included the Middle East and the religion of Islam. Tom says:
“The belief in one and only one God and creator really spoke to me, in a very deep and meaningful way. It seemed so obvious, but all around me people were Christian and believed that God and man and a ghost could all be one God and creator that somehow created each other and also had different natures.
The perplexities and incompatibilities of this concept with simple math always rubbed me the wrong way. So, I looked forward to discussing these issues I had in my history class once we finally came to read and study these chapters.”
Tom attended history class looking forward to the chance to discuss and maybe even debate the issues, but the teacher skipped the chapters. Tom thought he would come back around to it, as the teacher sometimes did not go in the order of the textbook.
While he waited for an academic discussion, Tom could not contain his curiosity about Islam and started talking to one of his friends in Boy Scouts about the religion that preached pure monotheism.
One of his fellow Scouts responded that his uncle practiced the religion of Islam and he could get him to take Tom to the mosque if he wanted.
Tom jumped at the chance to learn and experience more.
During his visit to the mosque, Tom felt peace like he had never thought possible. And in that first visit, he got the chance to have that discussion he had hoped to have on history class.
Tom recalls that he never felt pressured to do anything. He was impressed that all of his questions were answered in such a way that felt logical and even natural. He took his Shahadah that day and became a Muslim.
But Tom waited and waited to discuss the chapter on Islam in history class. He hoped to get his fellow students’ and especially his history teacher’s take on the topic. Tom says:
“After converting and learning so much about Islam, a religion I had never even heard of before, I wanted to see what my teacher and my classmates thought of this religion. I didn’t want to tell them that I had become a Muslim, but I wanted to see what they thought.
But we got closer and closer to the end of the year I decided to approach Mr. Parker and see when we would cover the chapters. But Mr. Parker said that learning about the Middle East had no place in an American classroom.
After a couple of racial slurs and derogatory comments about Arabs, I lost all respect for my teacher and was glad the year was coming to an end.
This man that I thought was so educated didn’t even know the difference between an Arab and a Muslim. And we had always been taught in school to show all different peoples’ respect and here was a man, an educator, who refused to teach something because of some prejudices he had. He robbed our entire class and those before and after having a better and clearer world view.”
This was Tom’s first taste of rejection. He had not told anyone about his conversion to Islam at this point. But was devastated by his teacher’s reaction. After speaking to his teacher, he feared telling his parents. He learned to pray in secret and hoped that no one would barge into his room during his five daily prayers. Until one day someone did.
“My older sister bust into my room one day while I was praying Asr prayer. She thought I was doing something wrong in my room since I had the door shut. I was finishing up my prayer as she entered. She stood at my door and waited for me to turn around to her. She looked puzzled and asked me what I was doing and saying, if I was a witch or if I was casting an incantation.”
“After that,“ Tom says, “we had a family meeting after my parents found out I had become a Muslim and they basically yelled at me that I couldn’t be a different religion because ‘you are born into a religion and that was it’, they claimed. They didn’t let me even say one thing about Islam.”
After that family meeting, Tom’s mother made him leave his door open and if she or his sister caught him praying, they would try to make him stop or make fun of the words he was saying.
“I love my family. They just didn’t know. They were scared of an unknown and I get that. But they made my life pretty difficult back then. We can joke about it now, but it was painful to us all at the time.”
But Tom’s family didn’t stand in his way long. After a few years of patience with his family’s treatment and dedication to being a good Muslim, his mother and father took their Shahadah.
Tom is now celebrating his 25th anniversary of his conversion to Islam and looks back on those first few days as necessary growing pains. Tom says: “Any change is hard. And sometimes the changes that are for the best for us are the hardest.”
As Tom looks at his devoted wife, 3 beautiful children, and his parents line up to pray, he understands what it was that was causing him anxiety in his youth. Tom realizes now that it was God calling him to the worship of Him alone that was missing from his life, that was making him anxious.