I was born and raised in the United States in a very small town in a very small state in the Northeast of the country, in New Hampshire.
It’s not diverse at all, it’s a very small white Christian town.
One store, no street lights, tiny.
Growing up in the USA
I remember from a very young age, 5 or 6 years old, I started walking to the local church by myself.
The people at that church really took me under their wing and they taught me about God.
My family was quite poor, and oftentimes my mom would send us to the church to eat, because the church would cook food for the poor. Church was always part of my life.
Living in a small town with minimal parental supervision, hitting puberty was a trying time for me. Life was boring as a teenager and I made poor choices.
At the age of 15 I became pregnant. Unmarried and pregnant.
By the time I was 19, I had two daughters.
Blessed with Daughters
God blessed me with these beautiful girls. I had been going down a bad path and my daughters needed me. So I stepped up and I tried my best to do right by them.
I was a single mom. I worked really hard; sometimes two or three jobs at a time. I wanted to raise my daughters differently than I had been raised.
And although I worked hard, most of the time we didn’t have extra money for anything other than the basics. It was tough.
Conservative Politics: I Knew “Everything” About Islam
After 9/11, I became quite conservative politically. I spent much time watching FOX news and listening to talk radio. I thought I knew everything about Islam!
In reality I had never met a Muslim in my life but somehow by listening to the news I thought I knew everything.
Anybody who wanted to defend Islam to me, I would immediately raise my voice. I acted as if I knew everything, and I was so sure of myself, I really thought I knew better than them.
But now, years later, I realize I didn’t know anything.
I wasn’t very nice. I was ignorant.
What I assumed was a Muslim was an Arab. The only image and opinion I had was what Fox News said and showed me.
Twenty Years Later
Fast forward twenty years, still a staunch Republican voter.
Both my daughters had just graduated from high school, and unlike Muslim countries where your daughters live with you until they get married, my daughters moved out as soon as they graduated.
Like many American kids, they were eager to have independence outside of their parents’ rules. By the time they were 18 or 19, they had found jobs and moved into their own apartments.
And there I was in this big house and everything I had worked for and everything I had known was gone.
All I’ve known as an adult was to work hard, come home, make dinner, help with homework, with lots of noise and then poof… it was an empty, quiet house.
This was a very dark time for me.
I struggled knowing who Tammy was as a person and not just as a mom.
I fell into a deep depression.
Off to Florida
I ended up losing my job due to my depressive state and I decided that’s it, I need to make changes in my life.
I sold all that I owned, my house, my car… everything and bought a train ticket to go live with a friend over 1000 miles away in Florida. I thought this was a good move but actually it was the total opposite.
We have an American idiom that says “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire”. This is what I had just done. It was a very bad move for me.
The problem was I had spent all my money and found myself stranded in Florida with no family or support system.
While down there I did learn about computers and the internet. And this is where I discovered chat rooms.
Christians and Muslims Chat?
Looking to fill a spiritual void and needing direction, I spent time in Christian chat rooms hoping to find guidance.
I then found an interesting chat room, “Christian, Muslim Chat”.
The second person I chatted with in this room was a Muslim. And although I was arrogant and angry, he listened.
This person, after listening to the hardship I was facing, offered me help. He didn’t know me. He knew I couldn’t pay him back right away but he sent me money to go back to my family.
You have to understand. I didn’t deserve this kindness. I had spewed some mean things about Islam and here was this person that extended a hand I so-desperately needed.
This action changed the course of my life.
My Heart Turned
When I got back to New Hampshire, I felt lighter, my heart turned.
I began watching videos about Islam, convert stories especially. I realized I was wrong about what I thought about Islam and Muslims.
A month later, after talking to my new friend and explaining to him that I was learning about Islam, he invited me to come visit Egypt, where he was from.
Off to Egypt
After some hesitation due to their ongoing revolution and my uncertainty of the whole ‘Middle East’ thing, I agreed.
I got my passport and away I went.
Egypt was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was in awe.
The morning after I arrived was when I first heard the adhan. I cried.
And then I saw people pray in the streets, in the stores, with other people, wherever they were, they prayed. I cried.
They weren’t shy about their love for God. I wanted that. I wanted that in my life.
My hunger for knowledge about Islam increased tenfold. I read and watched all I could.
I Needed Structure
I needed structure in my life. I never had structure, Islam gave me that with the 5 daily prayers.
I needed rules. Rules like no alcohol and no relationships with men before marriage.
You see, alcohol was a constant in my life and not once did it bring me anything good. And having relationships with men before marriage never brought me happiness, actually it left me lonely and feeling not-good enough.
One week after arriving in Egypt, I said my shahadah.
I needed to be a Muslim.
Two Important Lessons
The lesson that I learned most from as I reflect on my journey to Islam was that even in the darkest of places, darkest of moments that I didn’t think I would come out of, Allah never left my side.
The person that I am now, I would have never guessed five years ago that I would be here.
Five years ago, I thought that I knew everything. I was so wrong.
So don’t give up.
Hold on to hope, hold on to Allah, because seriously He is amazing, and He will pull you out of it.
You’re just going through something to learn something.
But the other lesson I learned that is equally as important is to give kindness, even to people that are mean to you.
Give kindness because it turns hearts.
If somebody hadn’t extended a hand to me in my darkest time, who knows where I would be.
But somebody did something nice for me and it changed my whole perspective.
Give kindness wherever you can. When you see somebody having a hard day, give kindness.
The kindness you give could change somebody’s life.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)