As the Sept. 11 attacks tainted Islam as a religion of extremists, Tucsonan Leslie Travaglione said, she kept thinking of Muslims who didn't fit the description.
Could Islam harbor terrorists? What was this religion really all about? Travaglione kept asking herself.
Her mind kept wandering back to the Muslim nurse in Mesa who had watched over her after a car accident years earlier, soon after she moved to Arizona from the Hudson Valley in New York. "She sat by my bedside, and she read to me," Travaglione recalled. "She was so kind; she kept my spirits up all the time."
Seeking answers about Islam, Travaglione immersed herself in the study of the religion, which pulled her in like a magnet. A year ago, she became a Muslim.
"I discovered that Islam is a tolerant, very kind religion," she said.
Until she converted to Islam, Travaglione said, her life had been punctuated by family conflict, depression and alcoholism. Now Islam fills her life.
"Islam gives me a reason to live," said Travaglione, as she prepared to observe Islam's holy month of Ramadan. Like other Muslims, she will begin a daily fast today that lasts from dawn to dusk.
The monthlong observance, which highlights prayer, reflection and charity, gives Travaglione a chance for contemplation and renewal, she said. "It's also a communal experience because we break fast with other Muslims, and we get to meet other people."