Pamela Barrett (1948 - 2006)
"Liquor brought me to my knees and Allah was there to help me back up."
"I sometimes see this journey as one Allah has chosen for me and which He isn't going to let me out of!"
"For me, embracing Islam has been the single greatest gift ever granted to me. I am still grateful and awestruck by it."
After embracing Islam, Pamela Barrett contacted the Islamic Bulletin in response to one of our newsletter issues. Please see 'Letter to the Editor'. Pamela worked on so many Islamic Projects, not only with the Islamic Bulletin. She was also actively involved in developing a site that provides the 'Truth of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)'. Pamela just loved Islam.
She sent us a proposal to start writing a book about Islam and the Prophet, just about a month before she passed away. She wanted to write it in a different fashion, written in a first person, by an old woman talking to her granddaughter. Pamela started Chapter 1, but died afterwards on 9/14/2006. You can find her book proposal as well as a draft of Chapter 1 at the bottom of this page. May Allah have mercy on her soul. Ameen.
From LA LA Land To Allah's Land
My background was typical California American growing up in the early sixties. My parents raised us five kids as Catholic, but with the divorce of my parents when I was 11, we kind of fell away from the church. In those years, it was very disgraceful to divorce so we felt like outcasts. I never really felt connected to Christianity though, even as a child. It somehow never really made any sense to me and I detected inconsistencies even at an early age. I used to go to communion so I wouldn't have to answer questions during Catechism.
Well, in typical California style we were kind of left to raise ourselves after the divorce. There wasn't much in the way of guidance. Although my mom loved us a lot, she was suddenly the sole caregiver of five children. My dad I only saw about five or six times after that. Left to our own devices, I was pregnant by the time I was 16 and ended up married to the father of my children. Pretty much a "shot-gun wedding" I'm afraid. We stayed married for 16 years and had two children. I had missed out on the "hippie" thing when I had gotten married in 1964 when all that "drop out and drop acid" stuff was happening. To make this short, I ended up leaving after all those years and running away to San Francisco to "find out who I was" and become "liberated"!
What I found was liquor, drugs, sex, rock & roll. I was in such a hurry to "live" that I gave no thought to morality or anything like that...just a completely hedonistic approach to life.
I came to know about Islam through a young man newly arrived in America. He was from a large family and was here alone and feeling quite lost with all the new experiences confronting him. We found a comfort in each other as I was also alone without family or friends for the first time in my life. I began to respect some of the qualities I saw in him. He was very honest and never made excuses for himself. I saw a complete acceptance and confidence in him that I never experienced in anyone before. He would tell me things about the Quran which were interesting to me. He was very low key and didn't ever pressure me in any way. I liked what I saw in him. The fact that he was honest really impressed me. I had never even thought that a person could survive in life in a clean and honest manner. He had me do Shahada the first time we were together even though I didn't have any idea what it was. Sometimes I think that even though I didn't know what I was saying...God did and took it seriously!
As a matter of fact, I was really afraid of Islam because I was afraid that God would make me boring and trapped if I was Muslim. I was so naive about Islam that my perceptions were really skewed. I carried all of the mis-information as many Americans. What I had in the back of my sick mind was some correlation to the nuns I had seen as a child. They seemed to me to be trapped in a prison of morals. I remember always feeling that they were lonely and dull and all they could do was pray. That seemed to me to be an empty life. At that point anything that seemed "fun" was not allowed.
But God truly is great. Somehow, He gave me all the rope I needed to hang myself then ended up being there when I fell. Anyway, therein followed a few more years of "wandering in wilderness".
After my young man and I parted ways, I called the mosque and asked if I could get a copy of the Quran. I just wanted to know more about it. I never intended to "become" Muslim.
Well, when I read the very beginning of the Yusuf Ali edition, the summary actually, I just cried. I was awestruck by the beauty and mercy and grace. It touched me in a way that nothing else ever had. When I read the Fatiha, I knew it was something very special but I was certainly not ready to accept or understand even a fragment of it. The beauty of its verses galvanized me. Many of the fundamental principles I just could not imagine ever agreeing with or understanding. What most impressed me was the forgiveness and mercy. That incredible Graciousness of Allah. I was going to need lots of these blessings with the kind of life I was living and continued to live for several more years. Even though I would read the Quran and gradually began to truly and deeply in my heart believe in it as the words of God, I still wasn't ready to give up my fast and loose lifestyle. I was certainly very much like a baby taking baby steps into an unknown world.
I was recently asked, "How difficult was it to suddenly stop and give up many of the things you had been doing when you became Muslim?" It wasn't difficult because I didn't suddenly give up anything! It took me five years from the time I first started reading the Quran to make the conscious decision to stop eating pork! My family was Italian, so pork was a mainstay of our cuisine. But when I said to myself after five years of reading the Quran that maybe I should give it up because Allah had prescribed it to us as unclean, it was very difficult! It took me about a year of eating it and feeling guilty before it began to make me sick when I ate it. Now, I just look at the salami in the supermarket and say, "Well, it's a small thing Allah asks of us".
That's how I feel about Ramadan. I asked someone what is the first thing they think of when they realize Ramadan is coming. They said the first thing is, "Oh, Aghhh!", then right after that is, "Oh, Yea!" That's what I think too. That feeling of anxiety, I guess because we know we are facing a challenge and fearful that we might fail. And then we think of that sweet feeling upon breaking fast at the proper time and knowing that you have offered up to Allah one more day in honor of your devotion to Him... because it is a small thing that He asks of us - to fast for one month only - to really try for one month only to follow his path in a very concentrated and focused way. Sometimes when I feel temptation during Ramadan, I say that to myself..."it's a small thing He asks of us" and He grants us so much mercies and forgiveness.
Liquor, promiscuity, stealing, lying, cheating, etc... have slowly departed over the course of these thirteen years. Now when I think back I can't even imagine that the person behaving that way was me. It is so different from who I am today. Liquor brought me to my knees and Allah was there to help me back up. I had disappointed my children and certainly was a poor role model for them. But Mash'Allah, they both have the Holy Quran in their homes today and see the different person I have become because of my most sincere and deep belief in it. My grand daughters believe in Allah and always want to hear "God Stories".
My father has passed on, but my mother is surprisingly tolerant towards my belief in Islam. Although sometimes I think she thinks it is 'just a phase'. My brothers and sisters all are respectful towards my beliefs although they too have many of the misconceptions and stereotypes of many Americans.
One thing I had a great problem with when I finally accepted that I was becoming Muslim was some of the attitudes of the Muslims I met. I would occasionally try to go to the Mosque but was usually disheartened by the questions or instructions I would receive from brothers and sisters there. Usually, the first question is, "Who is your husband?" If I said that I didn't have one, I was viewed with suspicion and usually no one would talk to me after that. I was told that Allah would not accept my prayers because I was wearing nail polish. That can be very discouraging for someone seeking knowledge and contact with Allah and the Islamic community. I was instructed to do some very unusual things which I found odd to say the least. It took me about seven years to differentiate between "cultural customs" and Islamic practices. I know from other converts I have talked with they have had similar experiences. But, there are the sweet memories of praying alongside my sisters during Ramadan or Jumah when I feel so close to Allah that I weep with gratitude for the gift He gave me of the Quran and Islam.
I sometimes see this journey as one Allah has chosen for me and which He isn't going to let me out of! Of course, I have come to be very grateful for His patience and tolerance for my weakness. Allah has never backed out on the promises in the Quran. That's how I see it. If it seems disrespectful to someone else, I apologize, but my faith in Allah is at the deepest core of my being and today guides my life.
I still have many goals which I wish to achieve with my faith. I have come to accept my belief in Islam as a progression, a journey, a seed that was planted and has grown into a strong and living presence in my soul. I am not perfect, but I believe that I am a better Muslim this year than I was last year. I know by the number of things that I have left behind that were not pleasing to Allah. I know with each passing Ramadan because I can look back at my first weak attempts at fasting and realize that I can look forward to this month and that Allah will be there to help me through the weak moments. My children respect me. I honor my mother as Allah asks of us. I have come to accept the difficulties in my life as opportunities for Allah to strengthen me or let me practice patience or tolerance... or to "grow" me in some way.
For me, embracing Islam has been the single greatest gift ever granted to me. I am still grateful and awestruck by it.
Also see Newsletter Issue 14.
Letter to the Editor
Pamela wrote this letter to the Islamic Bulletin Newsletter Editor in 1991.
How very happy I am to have discovered your wonderful edition of the Islamic Bulletin! I am a native born American who was first introduced to Islam and the Koran in 1984. It took me until January of 1989 until I finally embraced Islam in complete submission to God's Will. Since then, I have endeavored to practice the principles of the Koran in theory and in practice.
I must admit that at times it seems a very lonely journey as I have no contact with other Moslems on a regular basis and have only the Koran for guidance. But what a gift and a blessing that has been in my life! I can't imagine my life now without the beauty of the Koran. God has indeed allowed me to see and be blind no longer.
This is why it is such a joy for me to find your new bulletin available for even non-Arabic, Native American people. I don't have any formal training in the practices of Islam and must rely on the word of God as I read it in the blessed Koran. Being a single woman, responsible for my own livelihood, I have found it difficult to incorporate all the strictures into my daily life, but I do the best I can and have hope that God is pleased with my sincerity and efforts.
Your articles in the Islamic Bulletin give me the feeling that I am not alone in my search for God's path and a real help in understanding and learning the Islamic laws and practices.
The prayer time schedule is really great as are the various articles. Even the Kid's Comer is informative for me as I am probably more ignorant than a child born into Islam!
So, I guess the reason for this letter is just a great big THANK YOU! Please keep them coming!!!!
Pamela J. Barrett
Thank you for your letter, it was very moving. You should realize that God is the best companion of all. Once you have found God, you have found peace. It is only then do you realize that your hardships and patience in this life will be rewarded. A person can have all the money in the world and still not find peace and tranquility. As The Almighty says in the Qur'an: "Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction." (Qur'an 13:28)
Today, many Muslims in general lack the qualities of the believers which God has described in the Qur'an. The Muslims who follow the teachings of the Qur'an and the ways of the Prophet are the kind of people one should associate with. The Prophet (s.a.w.) has assured us that these types of people will always exist in every generation until the day of judgment.
Also see Newsletter Issue 3.
Chapter 1 (Draft)
As mentioned above, Pamela passed away before she could complete chapter 1 of her book. Still, we want to share with you the draft of chapter 1 because her works is so beautiful and unique that one can truly enjoy this chapter as it is.
You can also see her book proposal here.
The soft desert breeze wafted in through the open tent folds, gently caressing the long once splendid hair on the graying head of the sleeping old woman. She looked peaceful in her repose, the lines on her face an indication of the incredible life she had lived. Stirring slightly, she softly whispered, "Amer'? Amer ? Quickly, the girl came to her side, and bending her ear to the dry lips, gently murmured, 'What do you need, grandmother?'"
The women's eyes fluttered open, slightly surprised by the soft voice of the girl. "Oh my sweet, I thought I was somewhere else." Bring me some tea, and come sit with me for a while and let me enjoy your pretty face. The journey has tired me out, but we must be ready for tomorrow." The young lithe girl with her brilliant blue eyes and soft brown hair peeking out from the edge of her headscarf occupied herself with the fire for the tea. How she loved this woman, and how much more time would she be able to spend with her? Surely, it would be soon now that she would be gone from her. She was becoming so frail, this once strong proud woman. It was hard for Anisa to even imagine her life without Grandmother by her side. Anisa was to start her own life and marry Mutee when they returned to Sharjah, but that was still many days and a long journey ahead of them. Would her grandmother make it over the difficult terrain to once more reach their beautiful home by the sea? Anisa had feared even accompanying her on this journey, but it was a pledge she had made long ago. She had been only ten when grandmother asked her to take her once more to Hajj before she died. Anisa had readily agreed with the spirit of a ten year old full of life and with the prospect of an adventure in her future. She hadn't realized the toll that another seven years would take on her grandmother. She was in fact, her great-grandmother but had raised Anisa since she was a baby after her mother and father had died. By her reckoning, grandmother must be close to 90 now. She had lived her life during a time of great changes in the world. Perhaps if she wasn't too tired she would tell Anisa more of the stories she loved so well.
Anisa busied herself preparing a light meal of bread dipped in oil and vinegar, a small dish of legumes, and some dried figs they had brought from home to go with the tea. She would surprise grandmother with a sprig of the mint she had carried with her to make her tea special. She loved giving her these little treats. Later she would go out to the market stalls and find more provisions for their stay in Mecca. She would have to find Hassen to escort her. He was probably finished seeing to the animals by now and getting some rest himself from the heat of the day. After all, he must be in his mid 60's himself by now, and the journey from Sharjah had been a long one. Old faithful Hassan, what would he do once grandmother was gone?
The food and drink ready now, she slipped quietly over to where her grandmother lay resting. Her eyes, still the exotic green and gold that bespoke of the beauty of her youth, looked up as Anisa sat beside her. Raising herself on the pillows, she sipped at her tea, pleasantly surprised at the lovely taste of mint. "You are so dear to me Anisa". This minted tea will refresh me. Have you hidden it from me ever since we left home?"
"Yes, grandmother, I wanted to save it for the beginning of our hajj as a special treat for you. And now we're here, and tomorrow we shall begin. How do you feel?"
"I am well, Alhamdullilah." Allah has blessed us on this journey, this pledge fulfilled."
Anisa, seeing her grandmother somewhat revived from the food and drink and looking forward to tomorrow's devotions, asked her the question she had been asking these many years. "Grandmother, tell me a story. Tell me about the time before."
"Oh my sweet, don't you ever tire of an old woman's ramblings?" "No, grandmother, I love to hear of it. Please, if you are not too weary." "Alright, my dear, where do you want me to start this time?" "Right at the beginning, Grandmother, in the time of ignorance, before the Great One came."
The old woman slipped back onto the pillows closing her still lovely but faded eyes. She was quiet so long that Anisa thought that perhaps she had drifted off to sleep again, when suddenly in a soft voice she said, "It was a time of many changes for us all. " The trade routes were prospering , many tribes were becoming powerful, and the Sassasian's were easy rulers….
The Time Before Sharjah 560 CE
The golden haired child rushed around looking for her sandals. Mother had made her rise early so they could get to the market stalls in time to get the best fish coming from the dhows. "Hurry, child, your father is bringing a special guest tonight and I want to be sure we have a splendid meal for him." Just then her older sister, Zahzoo rushed in, golden hair flying and in her usual exuberant way, hollered for us all to hurry as the boats were pulling in.