The Convert

The Convert

Tania Joya had been married to a jihadist from Texas for ten years, but she was tired of living like a nomad and unnerved by his increasingly extreme ideology. When he dragged their family to war-torn Syria, she knew it was time to get out.

Late on an August night in 2013, Tania Joya found herself stranded with her husband and three young sons in a Turkish city not far from the border with Syria. The hotels were jammed with refugees, and the family had nowhere to go.

Her husband, a convert to Islam, was a Texan, from Plano. Tania, who had been raised outside of London, had been married to him for ten years. They had most recently been living in Egypt but had been forced to flee that country amid the chaos that followed the 2013 ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood–led government. They’d headed for the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, about thirty miles from the Syrian border, where people spoke Arabic and her husband could find work. He was a jihadist—soon to become one of the most senior Westerners in ISIS—who dreamed of helping form a caliphate, an Islamic kingdom to rule the world. She was growing increasingly disenchanted with his quest.

Standing on a dusty street that August night, Tania, who was five months pregnant, was furious. The family had been living like nomads for a decade, and she was sick of it. As Tania argued with her husband, a rundown minibus pulled up, letting people on and off. Her husband talked to the driver, then turned and said, “He knows a place where we can stay.” Tania was hesitant. Would this be safe? But she told herself not to have a public meltdown. They needed a place to sleep. She and the kids were so exhausted they could barely stand. So the family piled onto the bus, squashing into seats with a dozen others. It was an enormous relief just to sit down and close her eyes. She had no idea where they were headed.

As the bus rolled through the predawn darkness, carrying the family south of the city, Tania began to suspect they were headed for Syria. Her husband had been wanting to go there; he’d been talking about it for weeks, but she had vehemently objected. She did not want to take her kids into a war zone. The country had become one of the most dangerous places on earth, with rebel groups, terrorists, and warlords all fighting with the ruthless government. She confronted her husband, who confirmed her suspicions. “It will just be for a few nights,” he said. She was livid, but there was little she could do. They were already approaching the border. She looked out the window and saw graffiti on a wall. Scrawled in broken English, it read, “Welcome in Syria.”

They were already approaching the border. She looked out the window and saw graffiti on a wall, scrawled in broken English. It read, "Welcome in Syria."

As a girl growing up in a suburban town north of London, Tania Joya liked the usual things—riding her bike, hanging posters of fluffy animals on her walls, and dancing around her room to house and garage music—but she felt unwanted, both at home and in her community. Born in 1983, she had been given the name Joya Choudhury, but her family, friends, and teachers called her Tania, a name her mom preferred. She was the fourth daughter of her Bangladeshi-born parents. “The fourth unwanted daughter,” she said, citing the deeply rooted cultural belief that boys are more worthy than girls. “Families have babies after babies, hoping for a boy.” She recalled how people would meet her father and sympathize, saying, “Four daughters, I’m so sorry.” He would shake his head and sigh, “I know, I know.”

Her family never had much money but managed to make a go of it. Her father worked for an airline, while her mother ran a small catering business. The family home was affordable because of its location, right next to a halfway house. The ex-cons weren’t too thrilled about their nonwhite neighbors. “They smashed our windows,” Tania recalled. Assuming the family was Pakistani, they would yell, “Pakis, go home!” Sometimes, they’d use the roof of the family’s car as a toilet.

“I remember being five years old and wanting to run away,” she said. One of her fondest childhood memories was a visit to Bangladesh, where she stayed with wealthy relatives in a white-pillared mansion with a cricket field and a pond. She loved Bangladesh, despite acquiring a mysterious rash while she was there. She felt at home among people who looked like her. “Nobody treated us like we were second class,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why can’t we live here?’ ”

Her family was Muslim, and her relatives encouraged her and her sisters to dress modestly in loose pants and long skirts. “If I snuck out with bare arms, Bengali men would say, ‘Don’t you have any shame?’ ” she said. Tania never felt close to her father; she described him as verbally abusive. “I didn’t respect him as a role model,” she said. In primary school, she had a mix of middle-class and working-class friends but faced slurs from bullies, who called her “darkie” and “Paki.” She refused to back down, talking right back to them.

When Tania was around seven years old, her father was laid off and started working odd jobs, but he couldn’t hold on to any of them, sending the family into debt. At school, Tania wrestled with dyslexia. And she had to have surgery on a bone that was growing oddly, jutting out of her leg. Her mother began taking in foster children to help pay the bills while also trying to raise her own kids, an overwhelming task that left her exhausted and depressed. When they argued, Tania’s mother would yell at her daughter, “I wish I’d never had you!”

Tania at her eldest sister’s wedding in July 2001, wearing traditional Indian party attire.

High school didn’t go much better. Tania began to feel sick and noticed a slight protrusion in her abdomen. “I thought I had cancer,” she said. “People said I was a hypochondriac.” Relatives and doctors dismissed her concerns. She looked up her symptoms in a book, diagnosing herself with a tumor. In the meantime, her health concerns inspired her to turn to religion. She had grown up reading the Quran, per her parents’ wishes, but had not taken religion very seriously. Now she started praying regularly. “I thought I better start praying because God must hate me.”

When her family moved from the town of Harrow to a more affordable place in Barking, a suburb east of London, Tania transferred to a high school there and made a new set of friends. They were devout Muslim girls, and they pressured her to become more devout herself. She began reading the Quran closely, taking it to heart. “I thought I had been living a lie, being ignorant of Islam,” she said. As her devotion grew, she said, “I started wagging my finger at my family, judging them, calling them insincere Muslims.” She became best friends with an Algerian girl who wore a jilbab, or Islamic robe, and her friend encouraged her to wear one too. Tania thought it would prove how pious she had become. Her family felt differently. “When I first brought it up to my parents, they hated it,” she said. “My sisters were angry at me. But no one could tell me why.”

When she was seventeen, she saw news of the 9/11 terror attacks on TV. She went to school and told a friend, “Isn’t it terrible?” Her friend replied, “Is it? Is it so terrible?” Some of her new friends were members of ultra-conservative groups and were supporters of jihadism and political Islam. They saw the attack as retaliation for persecution of Muslims throughout time. “I was intrigued,” Tania said. “At school I was studying social sciences, government, politics. When September eleventh happened, I became aware of political Islam.” She started reading about the history of Islam, skipping school to spend time in the library or bookstores.

She read up on jihad. The term, often associated with terrorism, has different shades of meaning, she noted, including a personal struggle to better oneself and a wider struggle to fight disbelievers and tyranny. “Every Muslim is supposed to have their own little jihad; some go in a violent way, and others just do the self-jihad,” she said. She was drawn to war because she had come to believe there was a war against Muslims. She decided that to reject jihad meant rejecting much of the history of Islam, since the Prophet Muhammad “expanded through war,” she said.

As her devotion grew, she said, ‘I started wagging my finger at my family, judging them, calling them insincere Muslims.’

She began to feel that wearing a jilbab would “prove my religious devotion,” and she bought one at an Islamic bookstore. “I was trying to prove that I’m not ashamed of who I am. Growing up in Harrow, I had been ashamed of it. People would say, ‘Oh, you’re a Muslim? You’re not allowed to have fun. You’re not allowed to do anything.’ There was a stigma. But when I moved to Barking, it was a more working-class area. People were more religious, and there was a stigma for being too Westernized. If girls wore jeans or makeup, they would get slut-shamed. I got teased for coming across as too Western. They called me a coconut—brown on the outside, white on the inside.” Part of the appeal of the jilbab was that she could “escape from the negative attention,” she said, including harassment from boys, who would grope her in her Western clothes. “I was getting all these mixed messages.”

And so, one morning she wrapped herself in a jilbab and wore it to school, along with a niquab, or veil, covering her face. She showed only her eyes. When Tania arrived, her new friends applauded, but not the administrators. The principal told her to remove the veil. “He called me in and said, ‘You’re not wearing this. Once you get past the school gates, that mask comes off.’ Then he asked, ‘You’re such a beautiful girl—why would you wear this?’ I said my religion is more important than my looks.”

Her parents were alarmed too. “My dad hated it. I was just being yelled at and being told, ‘Why do you have to do this?’ For them, it was going backward, and they didn’t know why I wanted to go backward. For me, it was, ‘Well, I’m trying to share something that I have pride in,’ because I’d never been proud of anything until then. They didn’t get it.” Employers balked as well. When she applied for jobs at local clothing shops, she was told she would need to shed the robe. Strangers on the street jeered, “Go marry bin Laden,” or “Got a bomb under there?”

Tania in the Red Sea.

It’s a familiar path to extremism for European youth. Feeling disenfranchised and alienated, and unable to find their place in Western society, they turn to extremist ideology. As part of a HuffPost video series, Zainab Salbi, a humanitarian activist, recently met with moderate Muslim families in suburban Paris whose sons had joined ISIS. French Muslims told Salbi they feel stereotyped and ostracized, labeled as “bad” by the media. They said that no matter what they do, they feel they are seen as different—conservative, backward, a thief, a terrorist. Salbi said that it’s easy to blame religion for extremism, but it’s not the root of the problem. “It’s a societal issue, and everyone needs to be part of it.”

One attraction of radicalism is that it “promises you a chance to change history,” said Lawrence Wright, an Austin-based journalist who’s written extensively about terrorist groups, including in his most recent book, The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State. “That’s a very powerful beacon for people who feel like their lives are being lived without purpose.” Europe has a particular challenge. “You have large pockets of Muslims, typically in impoverished suburbs, disconnected from the main culture, which causes great problems with education and job opportunity. So they feel alienated and marginalized,” he said. “If you have young people who are second-generation, let’s say Moroccan or Pakistani or Turkish, they don’t feel authentically French or Belgian or British. Oftentimes they’re not treated that way either. And maybe they’ve never been to the country of their parents’ origin. So they’re very adrift. When they ask themselves the question ‘Who am I?’ the answer that they can rely upon is ‘I am a Muslim.’ That takes precedence over the nationality. If you make that declaration about yourself, and you are young and alienated and maybe angry and frustrated, or have few outlets, you go to the mosque and you meet other young people who are just like you. That’s where the process of radicalization often takes place.”

As Tania continued to wear the jilbab and tsk-tsk her family, she became more isolated. At the same time, her stomach was protruding more prominently, and a doctor told her she needed to have an MRI. She simply wanted to escape from it all. And so, in 2003, at nineteen, she went on a Muslim matrimonial site. An American convert to Islam named John zoomed in on her. “He kept pestering me, sending me messages,” she said. “I wanted someone older, someone who had experienced life. He was two weeks younger. He was just a boy to me.” She showed his profile to her relatives and friends. “I didn’t trust my own judgment,” she said. “I didn’t have the confidence to think for myself because I thought that I needed God and religion to think for me.” They thought he was handsome, with his dark hair and eyes. They also liked that he was an upper-middle-class American. He was persistent in his pursuit. “He was courting me, writing poetry to me, telling me everything I wanted to hear,” she said. “He promised travel, a big family, a stable life.”

The Texan was living in Damascus, Syria, at the time, studying Arabic. He had grown up in a politically conservative American family with no background in Islam. Journalist Graeme Wood is one of the few to report extensively on John’s life. According to Wood’s book The Way of the Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State, the family moved often when John was young, eventually landing in Plano. Like Tania, he’d battled childhood health issues, including tumors and fragile bones. In his teens, he rebelled by doing drugs, including pot and acid; when his father punished him for it, he felt angry at both his dad and the government for criminalizing drugs, particularly marijuana, which helped him with depression. He studied at a junior college in Bryan and took a course on world religion, which left him wanting to know more about Islam. He sought information from local Muslims, and the more he learned, the more he -wanted to get involved. Two months after 9/11, he had converted to Islam. “Anti-Muslim sentiment in America was reaching new highs,” Wood writes in his book, “and in central Texas, conversion to Islam would have been a singular act of rebellion.” John had also taken an Arabic name, Yahya al-Bahrumi.

One morning she wrapped herself in a jilbab and wore it to school, along with a niquab, or veil, covering her face. She showed only her eyes.

After about a month of exchanging emails in 2003, Yahya and Tania agreed to meet in London. When she first saw him, at her uncle’s home, he was not exactly what she’d expected. “He was wearing shaggy, tattered clothes. He had a short beard. I thought he looked like a prophet from medieval times,” she recalled. It was a departure from his profile picture, where he looked more polished. The meeting was awkward. “I was so embarrassed I kept giggling,” she said. “I didn’t find him attractive, but I felt pressure to like him. I thought, he’s come all the way from Syria; I felt an obligation.” So she focused on the things she liked about him: his knowledge of Arabic and Islam, and the promise of traveling the world and living in the Middle East, which sounded exciting. Plus they shared a budding curiosity about jihad. She had been protesting the U.S.’s march toward war in Iraq, and when the protests didn’t make a difference, she said, “I felt like I needed to do something more. I began to see jihad as a solution.”

Her parents approved of him, impressed that he’d come from a privileged American family, and they knew that their daughter would do whatever she wanted, regardless. She found herself agreeing to marry him. After all, she said, “He was the most interesting and intelligent person I had ever met. I knew I could love him with time, and I was right.” Three days later, on March 18, they held a secret religious marriage ceremony. But still, fear and uncertainty loomed. “I remember throwing up that day,” she said. “But I thought, ‘How do I go back on this?’ ” At the ceremony, she wore her jilbab. “The imam asked, ‘Are you being forced?’ I thought, I’m forcing myself. I was crying my eyes out. John was patting me on the back, saying, ‘I’ll take care of you.’ It was the first time someone was really nice to me.”

Two months later, they held another ceremony, this one with her family. She recalled her father saying that he now had “one less mouth to feed.” She was not sad to say goodbye either. The newlyweds went to visit her in-laws in Texas. When Tania saw the upscale suburb of Plano for the first time, with its elegant homes and flowering trees, she was wowed. “I thought, this is the life. John said, ‘This is all a deception to deceive your heart away from God.’ ” The couple settled in College Station, where he had converted and still had a circle of friends, and where, living off money from their wedding, they spent their days hanging out, studying and discussing Islam. Yahya became her spiritual guide, and she deeply admired his knowledge. Wealthy Arabs in the community helped fund his studies. She also liked his friends, who were mostly foreign students. “I felt this kindness. It was so alluring,” she said. “They held a wedding party for us at the mosque. I was intrigued by meeting people from all over the world.”

Tania’s then-husband in Richardson in 2010.

But marital strife came quickly. He expected her to be a subservient wife, a role she had a hard time accepting. “I found him really chauvinistic. He would say, ‘Independent women have attitude problems.’ ” Nevertheless, she said, “I told myself to have patience, to just put up with it. I worshipped him because I thought God had put him in charge of me. I thought I needed to be a good Muslim woman. I was taught in my religion that obedience to those who have authority over you is obedience to God. And men are given authority over women in Islam. So I was at war with myself.” Meanwhile, she was melting in the Texas heat, covering herself with the Islamic robe and veil. “I would say, ‘It’s too hot.’ He would say, ‘Don’t complain. Have fear of God.’ ” Sometimes she looked at herself in the mirror and questioned her choices. “I thought, ‘Why am I hiding myself? Why am I hiding for God?’ I missed the wind in my hair.”

They didn’t stay in Texas for long, leaving to crisscross the globe. First they went to London, where Tania had a seven-and-a-half-pound benign tumor removed from her abdomen. As it turned out, the protrusion and pain that began back in high school had been a tumor all along. When it came out of her tiny frame, she said, “I thought, ‘This is God trying to relieve me of my sins.’ In Islam, there’s a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that when Muslims suffer, their sins are being released like the winds blowing the leaves off a tree.”

After London came Damascus. The Syrian civil war was still years away, but an atmosphere of revolt was beginning to materialize. The couple met other jihadists and dreamed of a caliphate. “John and I were so thirsty for an Islamic state. I was so young and naive, I painted this rosy picture in my mind. I was picturing a utopia.” They were drawn to Syria, she said, because “the prophecies told by Muhammad said that the Messiah, Jesus, was going to return to Damascus with an army of believers, and there would be an apocalyptic showdown.”

Tania playing with her son at the Red Sea in 2012.

Her husband began growing his beard and hair long, wearing tunics and cropped pants. Tania was displeased with the look; she wanted him to look more moderate so he could get a good job. As she recuperated from her surgery, she started to feel lonely and discontent in Damascus. “I wasn’t able to leave home without his permission,” she said. She was also hungry. “John wanted us to live like poor people. He thought living as an ascetic would make him closer to God. The prophet says the poor enter paradise first. It’s kind of like getting programmed. I thought I was getting educated by him. You’re taught that this life is a dream; the next life is the eternal reality.” Neighbors noticed how thin she was and began bringing her food. When she got pregnant, she told her husband she wanted to stop wearing the veil because it was unbearable. He consented, for a time.

They returned to England, where he gave religious lectures online and in person to the pro-caliphate community. The couple legally wed in October of 2004 and moved to Torrance, California, where he had some Syrian friends and hoped to work as a counselor in a mosque, but his extremist views were not in line with those of the mosque. Tania gave birth to their son on her twenty-first birthday. Growing weary of the unsettled lifestyle, she fell into postpartum depression. In addition, her baby had colic, which led to a new frustration: “John was against giving pharmaceutical medicine to the baby. He only wanted alternative medicines. He believed in conspiracy theories that pharmaceutical companies wanted to get everyone addicted.”

Dressed in her robe and veil in California, she heard the usual jabs, with a group of young women saying, “Hey, it’s not Halloween!” She later admitted, “I actually thought that was funny.” The couple moved to Dallas, where he got a job as a data technician at a server company called Rackspace. He visited a jihadist online forum at night and offered tech support to Jihad Unspun, a propaganda site. He also sought ways to use his day job to wage jihad. In April 2006 he was arrested for accessing the passwords of a Rackspace client, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies. Tania said his plan was to hijack the website and post an essay about why America was wrong to go to war with Iraq. He was sentenced to 34 months in federal prison.

Tania in her Plano apartment.

With her husband behind bars, Tania headed to London, where she stayed with family and friends. Tired of living like a nomad, she was considering a divorce. “I told him, ‘I don’t want to live in a home with no furniture. I don’t want to sleep on the floor.’ He begged me to stay.” And so she did. She still believed in him, and in a caliphate. Later she moved to Plano and began to homeschool her son. Her clothing caused anxiety there as well. “The neighbors wouldn’t say hello to me because of the way I was dressed,” she said. One day she came home from the library with her son to find a neighbor and his friends standing outside her door, glaring at her as she approached. She immediately turned around and left.

After that, she told her husband she would not wear the robe and veil but only a head scarf, or hijab. Stuck in prison, he was losing control of her, and he didn’t like it. He ordered her to cover herself in the religious robe when visiting him in prison. “He didn’t want his friends at the jail to see me as a modern Muslim,” she said. On her own in Plano, she got a taste of freedom and began wearing colorful head scarves, form-fitting clothes, three-quarter-length sleeves, “all the stuff I had been wearing under the robes.” She also got a TV and started watching news shows, hearing different viewpoints. She became interested in libertarianism. “When John first went to [prison], I didn’t have the confidence to think I could think without him,” she said. “But now I was seeing different perspectives on life, on human rights, human values. I was still trying to be a good Muslim, still trying to obey him. That’s where the clash began.”

Tania in Cairo, in 2011.

When he was released from prison, the couple moved to Richardson and realized how much they had grown apart. While he had been isolated and immersed in studies of ancient Islamic history in prison, she had been asserting her independence, teaching dance and yoga to Pakistani women. “He was upset,” she said. “I was getting in tune with American culture. He wanted me to dress Islamically. He would say, ‘Oh, look at you. Aren’t you so American?’ ” Her views were shifting too. Publicly, she supported her husband, but privately her devotion to him, and to his cause, was waning. “I wanted to be American,” she said. “I started questioning him, questioning his thinking. The idea of a caliphate was still important to me, but I was a mother now.” Her son became her top priority. She wanted a stable home. Her husband wanted her obedience. “He would tell me, ‘Stop doubting, just obey.’ ” They fought often. “I would argue and say, ‘I don’t want to wear the hijab outside,’ and he would say, ‘Then you can’t go out of the house.’ I was emasculating him. I had to outwardly pretend that I was supporting him, but inside, it was war.”

Yahya had to spend three years on probation. For Tania, this was a blessing, because it meant the family had to stay put. During their time in Richardson, he found work fixing computers and doing IT for an online shoe store. She gave birth to their second son. And her husband took another wife in London, a deeply conservative Salafi woman the couple knew. He married her by phone while Tania fumed. She felt she had to go along with it, as she had nowhere else to go. “I couldn’t go home,” she said. “I had never felt supported by my family.” But she was desperately unhappy. “I wanted to kill myself. I told John I would drive into the lake behind our house. I said, ‘I want to be happy.’ He said, ‘You’re not supposed to be happy in this life. This life is prison. The next life is paradise.’ ”

As soon as his probation was up, he wanted to move again. In October 2011 he took the family to Egypt, where he felt he might escape the attention of the American government. He told his wife he could get a good job there without a felony on his record; he promised a nice home and nannies. She was now pregnant with their third son. It was a historic moment in time: the Arab Spring uprisings had forced out the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt. The region was erupting.

Yahya with one of his sons outside the Citadel of Saladin, in Cairo, in 2011.

In Egypt, the family moved around, as usual—Al Rehab, Mersa Matruh, Cairo—while Yahya translated fatwas and continued his studies. He gave online seminars in Arabic and English about preparing for a caliphate, according to Wood’s reporting. By early 2013, protests against President Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate elected a year earlier, were growing violent. In July, he was ousted in a coup. Tania and her family were living in Cairo at the time, and she heard the sounds of helicopters and gunfire in the night.

To add to her anxiety, her husband began talking about wanting to move to Syria, where a civil war had begun. “He felt like he had to go and help Syria. It’s a Muslim’s duty to help your family. I felt for the Syrians. They are wonderful people, but I didn’t want to bring my boys to a war zone. They were children. It wasn’t their fight.” As her brawls with her husband escalated, he became physically abusive, and she wanted out. “It came to a point where I told him, ‘I don’t love you anymore.’ I felt suffocated. I would say, ‘One of us is going to need to die.’ He would say, ‘I could break your neck.’ ” One night, she put a pillow over his head in bed. He woke up and forced her off. “I didn’t really think I’d kill him,” she said. “It was more of a cry for help.”

With the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood–led government, the couple no longer felt safe in Egypt. “There were tanks roaming the streets,” she said. “It was a military state.” In August 2013, they fled to Turkey, flying to Istanbul, then traveling to Gaziantep before making their fateful trip to Syria.

At the Syrian border, armed men stopped the minibus at a checkpoint. Her husband talked his way through, claiming the family was Syrian. They walked into Syria and were immediately confronted by members of a militia group, draped in camouflage and guns, interrogating people just across the border. Yahya told them he knew important people—Islamic scholars in Egypt. They let him pass and even offered the family a ride to the nearby city of Azaz, where they were dropped off at an abandoned house whose windows had been blown out. There was no electricity. “I felt like I was in a horror movie that wasn’t ending,” Tania said.

In Syria, Tania found herself in a decimated land of sullen faces, shattered windows, and ever-present debris. It was a different country from the one she’d lived in a decade earlier. Her husband promised, “We’ll just be here a short time—just two weeks.” She desperately wanted to hold him to that promise, to keep her boys safe. “I felt such pure love for them,” she said.

It quickly became clear how much danger she was in. When she stepped outside with her husband, she faced immediate threats. Militants had come from across the world to engage in jihad. She was wearing just a head scarf, not covering herself fully in a robe and veil. Militants would demand that she cover up. They would say, “Are you asking to be raped?” Yahya would say, “I know. She is a problem.” She was in a precarious position, both on the streets and at home, disobeying and embarrassing her husband by publicly arguing. But she had reached the brink. “I was mouthing off,” she said. Jihad wasn’t about “academia, theory, and dreaming” anymore, she said. “Now it was real.” And she wanted no part of it. Yahya, however, was in his element.

Yahya in Syria, in 2013.

Tania stayed home while he networked with the local Islamist militia. “There were shoot-outs on the streets,” she said. “I would peek out the window, and the fighters would yell, ‘Put your head inside!’ ” Her husband made friends with various militants, who gave him a hand, delivering water for the family and a tank of gas for the stove. Food was hard to come by, and they ate mostly eggs, bread, and shawarma sandwiches—chicken with mayonnaise and pickles. For light, they used candles. She didn’t know it at the time, but her husband was getting involved with the pro-caliphate group that would later come to be known as ISIS.

It was an incredibly dangerous and chaotic time in Syria, says Lawrence Wright. By 2013, the government was violently cracking down on rebels, and the country was fractured. “It wasn’t just one force against the government—there were thousands of different militias. Nor was the Islamist portion of that rebellion unified. Many of them were fighting each other rather than the government. You didn’t know who was your enemy—perhaps everyone. So it was very, very dangerous, and there was no clarity about who was stronger, who was going to win. And in this chaos, people began to be kidnapped, Westerners in particular.”

After a few days, the family went to stay with a woman whose brother was a rebel fighter, thanks to more connections her husband had made. “He was always talking to people,” she said. “He could be very charming.” Her sons, who were eight, five, and one and a half years old, were getting sick. Tania realized the family would not be leaving Syria within two weeks as promised. When her husband got a cellphone that worked in Syria, she called a relative and said she needed to escape. Then she said to call the authorities and report her husband.

One day, after they’d been in Syria about three weeks, he said, “I’m not going back.” Tania was devastated. “I was on my hands and knees, begging him. I was pregnant, just begging him to take us to the airport. He didn’t listen. I told him, ‘F— off.’ He said, ‘No, you f— off.’ I said, ‘Can I? Can I go?’ He said, ‘Yeah, just go.’ ”

Two days later at dawn, Yahya packed the family into the back of a van to take them to the border. There were no seats for them, just sheepskins on the floor. Turns out, departing Syria wasn’t as easy as entering. There was fighting along the border, and different militia groups controlled various areas. The family couldn’t get out where they had come in. The van driver took them as close to the border as the militia would allow and then let them out. He said the family would have to continue the journey on foot—about an hour’s walk to a barbed-wire fence with a hole in it, which they would need to pass through to enter Turkey. With suitcases, a stroller, and kids in tow, she and her husband rushed toward the border, surrounded by olive trees and signs warning of land mines. Tania began feeling contractions from stress and dehydration. Syrian refugees who were making the trek with them gave the family water.

As the group of refugees approached the border, snipers began firing from towers, sending everyone fleeing for their lives. The family dashed to the fence,went through the hole, and ran toward a waiting truck. Yahya had arranged for the driver to bring Tania and the kids to a bus station in Turkey. The driver was a human trafficker smuggling refugees. Yahya paid the man, then turned and ran back toward the border, with bullets still flying past. “He never said goodbye to me or the kids,” she said. “I was in utter shock.”

She didn’t know it at the time, but her husband was getting involved with the pro-caliphate group that would later come to be known as ISIS.

While Tania and the boys climbed into the truck with Syrian refugees, the traffickers began brutally beating a man. “Apparently he had done something to get us shot at,” she said. The truck left him behind.

However, the driver didn’t take Tania and the boys to a bus station as directed, instead dropping everyone off at a random spot by the side of the road. They were near a hill in the countryside, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. “Everyone scattered,” she said. She and the boys stood there alone, crying. Walking up the hill with the kids in the hot, dry air, she called her husband on her cellphone. “I hate you!” she yelled. The connection was bad, but she kept calling and shouting. “See you in hell!”

As they walked, a man on a motorbike approached, but they didn’t speak the same language, and communicating was difficult. He indicated that he would take the boys on the bike, one at a time, to the bus station. Tania was terrified to send her children off with him. He could be trafficking in sexual slavery, or human organs. But she had no other options; she had to trust him. He drove the kids one by one, as promised, and the boys waited for their mom at the station. Then the man drove alongside Tania as she walked with the stroller to the station. As a Muslim woman, “it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to sit with him on the bike,” she said.

At the bus station, she met up with a contact arranged by her husband. He was in the business of helping Syrians and refugees, and he got them to the airport. They flew to Istanbul and checked into a hotel. She was six months pregnant and only 96 pounds. Lying in bed, feverish, Tania had visions of her husband at the hotel door. “I’d call his name, but the mirage would disappear,” she said. “It made me so sad.” Confused and alone, her emotions raced. “He did give me permission to leave—I never would have known how to get out of there without his help,” she said. “Had I stayed, I probably would’ve been sent to court and tried for apostasy.”

Seeing how sick she looked, the hotel employees rushed her to the hospital. When she felt better, she traveled with the kids to London, then later to Texas. She said, “I thought the boys would have better opportunities in America.”

Tania Joya tells this story while sitting at a trendy wine bar on a street lined with glittery shops and cafes in Plano, where she now lives. In a sleeveless top, denim skirt, and suede heels, her hair casually tousled, she is a world away from her life in radical jihad. She takes a sip of sparkling white wine, dips a pear slice into a creamy cheese fondue. Couples stroll by on the sidewalk, disappearing into bars and restaurants at dusk. “When I look back, it all feels like a bad dream,” she says.

Her transition to Texas in late 2013 was not easy. Despite being free, and living in a safe home with her in-laws, she felt alone. “I thought, ‘Who am I without John?’ My identity was his identity,” she says. He wrote to her, trying to persuade her to come back to Syria. But she wanted a new life. “I told him, ‘I’m moving on,’ ” she says. She gave birth to their fourth son and legally divorced her husband, shedding his last name. When she learned her former husband had taken another wife, she cut off all ties, she says, noting, “I don’t know if he’s alive.”

And then, she unwound. Free to think on her own, she began working on deradicalizing herself, continuing the thoughts of escaping extremism that had been brewing for years. “I stopped thinking in terms of destiny, that everything is preordained. I thought about how I have control over my own life. I have control over my own body,” she says. “I read about philosophy, existentialism. I thought about American values and freedoms. I thought about how unhappy I had been, trying to be someone I wasn’t, longing to be myself and live the way I wanted to. I thought about how women are pressured to cover themselves, but men aren’t pressured to control themselves. It didn’t make sense. God made me look the way I am, but I had to view it as a sin.”

For Tania, the shift away from extremism began with her children and wanting to keep them safe. Now she is thinking about the future and how she can use her experience to help others. She would like to work in counterterrorism, prevention, and deradicalization. “I want to help people avoid this fate,” she says. “I believe prevention is the most humane way to counter terrorism. I’d like to build a career helping with prevention and deradicalization programs, whether it’s Islamic or white nationalism.” To that end, she is taking online college courses in a range of topics, including counterterrorism, human rights, and global diplomacy. “I feel very driven,” she says. “I lost years of my life in my twenties.”

Wandering through a favorite shop in Plano one recent afternoon, she admires the colorful Turkish lanterns hanging overhead, then lingers over the scented soaps. She likes this place because it reminds her of the home she had in Cairo. As usual, she had to abandon everything when they left. “Every home I decorated, we had to leave,” she says, recalling how her husband would dismiss her desire for a comfortable home, admonishing her, “It’s just possessions.” She chats with the shopkeeper, promising to come back one day to furnish her own place.

Later, at her favorite Indian restaurant in Plano, she sits with an array of spicy dishes spread out before her—chicken tikka masala, lamb with lentils, paneer with peas. “I come here at least once a week,” she says. Then she declares, “I love America. I feel very fortunate.” Riding home through the leafy, pristine streets of the suburb, she points to another favorite place: the hair salon. She jokes that she has years of beauty treatments to catch up on, having covered herself for so long. At her home, an apartment of her own in a modern subdivision awash in fuchsia flowers, she sinks into a beige sofa in the living room. Photos of her four sons hang on the wall, along with a flat-screen TV. A bookshelf is lined with tomes about history and politics, with an Elmo doll on the top shelf. Snapping open a can of fizzy water, she scrolls through her Facebook page, clicking on photos of her former husband and the boys as they grew up. In one, her husband lies on his back, smiling, holding one of his young sons in the air.

Swimming at a health club.

As Tania gradually settled into life in Texas, she craved companionship, so she posted a profile on “It was the first time I’d ever dated,” she says, smiling as she recalls the dating-unfriendly things she wrote in her profile. “I wanted to be honest. So I said I have four kids. I said I’m looking for security. I said my husband had gone off to be the next Osama bin Laden.” Nonetheless, she says she got a whopping 1,300 replies, and the site congratulated her for being one of the top ten most viewed profiles of the month. “I was like an alien when it came to dating,” she says. “I had always thought arranged marriage was good. Why date for more than three months?” She went on a few dates, navigating a new world. “I’d never been exposed to alcohol,” she says. “Men would try to get me drunk.”

When Craig Burma came across her dating profile, he was intrigued. He thought she must have a good story to tell. Handsome and gregarious, with light brown hair and a big smile, he sits at her dining room table on a recent Saturday morning, describing their first date. “She was beautiful, lovely, but I wanted to learn her story,” he says. “I wanted to understand.” When she told him about her past, he says, “I thought it showed her strength. She had faced such adversity.” The two talked for hours that night over tapas at a Spanish restaurant. “She was making me try new things, like shark and octopus.” He was so taken with her, he says, “I would’ve eaten a piece of cardboard.” She was impressed by his curiosity about the world. “I thought he was really smart and interesting,” she says, recalling how he talked about social movements such as Occupy Wall Street. “I’m crazy about smart people,” she says. “There’s nothing sexier than a good conversation.”

“I feel very driven. I lost years of my life in my twenties.”

Now they are engaged to be married. She wears a diamond ring, and the two laugh about her tiny ring finger. Craig, a director at a print and marketing solutions company, says, “I just love her like nobody’s business.” They attend the Unitarian Universalist Church, an inclusive religion that draws people of all faiths. “It’s all about a progressive message,” she says, noting that the church quotes texts from many religions and spiritual figures, including Mother Teresa, Rumi, and Christ. In her spare time, she dances to hip-hop videos to stay fit. Her fiancé has helped her financially as she gets on her feet. “The happiness that I was craving so badly in my first marriage, I found it in Craig,” she says. “I’d never had anyone say, ‘You can do it.’ I’d never had that kind of support from anyone. I’m very fortunate. My kids are healthy, safe, and happy. Their life is good. They’re very privileged to be in America.”

As for Yahya, he’s gone on to become the leading producer of English-language propaganda for ISIS, according to Wood, helping to recruit fighters with his words. Meanwhile, Tania is doing just the opposite, hoping to help keep others from following her ex-husband’s path to radicalism.

On a Friday afternoon in August, Tania’s four sons burst in the door, all smiles and energy. But when they see their mom talking to a reporter, they’re suddenly nervous and shy. They disappear into another room, unsure if reporters can be trusted. The older ones have heard President Trump disparaging the press on TV. Tania sits them down on the sofa and explains what journalists do. She advises them to keep an open mind, to always get the facts before forming an opinion, and to not let others tell them what to think. They listen and agree, nodding. “Don’t become extreme in your thinking,” she says. “Look what it did to your father.”

Abigail Pesta is a New York–based journalist and author who has written for the Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, the New York Times, Marie Claire, Newsweek, and many others.

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  • barbaralee12

    This doesn’t sound good .The immigration law?

  • Leon Tranos

    This biographical sketch of Tanya was beautifully written…It introduced us to courageous young woman and mother of four sons whose Destiny it was to live within and experience the horrors prevailing within the Middle East maelstrom…this area has been the site if some of humanity’s most evil and brutal acts of savagery ever wrought upon mankind by the vicious jihadist terrorists…in some strange way, I feel sad for Yahya…although there is little doubt of his absolute dedication to his belief in Jihadism, he is a man who has forsaken and abandoned so many so many in his life in pursuit of his misguided and very selfish cause of establishing a global Caliphate…this will never happen nor should it…the Jihadi vision of world domination and subservience to a distorted biblical prophecy is doomed to fail simply because it is a false narrative perpetrated upon the Muslim world by extreme hate filled zealots…our creative God or Allah as he is referred to in the Islamic world, is a God of infinite Love but also a God to be feared by those who reject his majestic and holy plan for the salvation of the world’s peoples…i feel sorry that Yianni will never get to experience his four beautiful sons as they grow and thrive under the watchful eyes of a loving and wise mother…he will never witness the joys of experiencing the boundless love of his mother and father and all his siblings and extended family..and he will never live to be witness to lives transformed by the love of Christ…so much lost for such ignoble goals….sad

    • William

      She needs to be locked up.

    • ukhslukfhsd

      You feel sympathy for her terrorist osama bin laden ex husband…?
      I hope dogs are ravaging on his bones as we speak. Hope the syrian army or the kurds cleaned that area out well and squashed those cockroaches proper.

  • mark wilkins

    Tania has a very touching story. Praying she finds peace in the Prince of Peace.

    • Fried Hog

      Yes. Jesus is the Answer.

      • mark wilkins

        For sure.

        • Brian Matuliewich

          I often ask myself why Muslims believe this “islam” nonsense

          • Danusha Diane Goska

            “He who changes his Islamic religion, kill him.”

            You don’t hear from the Muslims who stopped believing for the above reason.

      • Yvette Owens

        Stop lying.

        • wes hull

          Jesus is the only one who can free you from your sin and make you new again. He said “I am the Way, the truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me”. Not much of a prophet is he was lying…but He is Good and does not lie.

          • fqqgovtcontrol

            Rubbish. Organized religions are inherently evil.

          • Andy Doerksen

            Let’s unpack that. Is it “religion” (by your definition) you deem evil? Or is it organization in and of itself? Let’s say you joined a fitness club. Should it be organized or DISorganized?

            If God is real, do you expect He would be organized or DISorganized? Coherent or INcoherent? The universe is organized; laws of physics and chemistry are organized; math is most obviously organized. All these things come from a Higher Mind. Don’t you expect that that Mind would likewise, then, be organized?

            And if that Person opted to reveal Himself to any of His creatures, and He had particular standards for right and wrong, for truth and falsehood – doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that His followers would likewise be organized? That they would follow particular standards? That they would have a means of discerning between good and evil, and that they would be devoted?

            Well, that’s “organized religion.” What rational basis do you have for labeling that “inherently evil”?

            But even more fundamentally, where do you get your moral compass by which you determine what is “evil” and what isn’t?

            I don’t believe you’ve thought this through.

        • horseradish

          Fool. You’re the liar

      • Randolph Brandis

        No. Prophet Jesus is not the answer.

        • wes hull

          You mean , Jesus, the Son of God, Saviour of the World. He is our only hope.

      • fqqgovtcontrol

        Not the only answer

        • Andy Doerksen

          Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

    • Jeff

      Won’t find him in the UUA, at least, not if you listen to the heresies they spew. But, God works in mysterious ways, so maybe in spite of thee UUA, she will find the Truth.

  • Missionary Watch

    Spare the “PoP” and Christ nonsense please. This confused young lady has yet to embrace the pagan tritheism, She seems to be a Unitarian Universalist which means she is still a monotheist. She is responsible for all the bad choices in her life, not a shrinking violet as this puff piece suggests. And her poor life choices continue in her abandonment of basic modesty and now the alcohol habit. Is gambling on the horizon? There will also be problems with the new man because she rebels against all authority figures starting with her father – that this puff writer of course paints in a dastardly way. Her global egotrip should come to an end and she should return to U.K. instead of being some wine soaked desperate housewife in Texas.

    • Klaus

      This is a very nasty response and that guy should seriously consider checking into a psychiatric institution. How can somebody be so full of hate when he reads about the incredible plight of a courageous young woman? I pray that she will be happy for the rest of her life. She deserves it.

      • Missionary Watch

        The nasty responses were those cheerleading her into worshipping a man as God, therefore committing major blasphemous idolatry. She is a Unitarian, albeit a very confused one. Interview with biblical scholar about how Jesus was turned into a god by his followers to compete with Roman emperor cult:

        Texas Monthly should interview Bart Ehrman instead of throwng chum in the water for idolators.

        I pray that she fulfills her obligations to her family, her children, and her Creator – hobnobbing and boozing in Texas doesn’t quite fit in. Deep down she knows it, guarantee.

        • sgtbilko

          I pray that my personal Savior, the Bloodthirsty Cicada Goddess, devours your soul at a gulp instead of chewing it thoughtfully over the millennia. That way you shall know sweet oblivion quickly, instead of having to earn it through ages of screaming agony.

          For ChChChChCHCHCHCHChchchch is a merciful Goddess, even to impudent heathen like you, and wishes her acolytes to emulate her ways.

        • dragonviewer

          Where did it say she was now an alcoholic? “Sipping some wine” doesn’t necessarily mean she is doing that 24hrs a day 365 days a year.

          • Missionary Watch

            Where did I say she was an “alcoholic”? That term is a floating signifier anyway, everyone has their own *convenient* definition of what alcoholism is. Rationalization is key in a society where alcohol is clearly so destructive to society yet central to culture.

          • dragonviewer

            “..abandonment of basic modesty and now the alcohol habit.”

          • boibio boi

            “Rationalization is key in a society where alcohol is clearly so destructive to society yet central to culture.” beautifully put and summarized, wow.

        • horseradish

          Go live in Syria

      • William

        Courageous? You mean like she was pretty courageous in supporting a terrorist group? I’d agree with that.

        Lock her up.

        • P S

          William is >90% a Russian fake news troll. Ignore him.

    • Skip

      Get a lobotomy, it will improve your life!

    • C’ute’Thulu

      You must be a real hoot in person!

    • Jeff Carlton

      Actually Unitarian Universalism has no God doctrine. Pagans, monotheists and atheists worship together in our sanctuaries. Though our roots go back centuries in the Unitarian (rejecting the trinity) and the Universalist (all souls ultimately saved) Christian religions, when they joined in 1961 (the youth groups several years prior) the decision was made to welcome people of all, or no specific faiths. We are a non-creedal religion that espouses a living tradition and centers on drawing wisdom from many sources – none considered infallible, and upholding these 7 guiding Principles:

      1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
      2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
      3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our
      4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
      5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our
      congregations and in society at large;
      6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
      7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

      Our congregations are loving communities dedicated to supporting one-another and social reforms to help bend the arc of the universe toward justice.

      • horseradish

        What a disgusting cult

  • Cale Miller

    Nice puff piece on a terrorist. Pathetic.

    • jimmyj

      There’s a chance here to learn something from this story. Read and learn. Good for Texas Monthly for running this enlightening tale.

    • Just Cruisin’

      She turned against ISIS, who would kill her as an apostate if they ever caught her (especially going to a church).

      We should be encouraging people to turn from terrorism and taking their help in preventing potential terrorists from enlisting with ISIS. That’s how we win.

      I think you disparage her because you think white Americans are better than Muslims. That sort of treatment is what led her to turn toward Islamist extremism in the first place. Her actions now are helping to prevent terrorism, while your actions are helping to spread it, whether you admit it or not.

      • jggtn

        That assumes she turned to ISIS, which nothing in the article supports. Sounds to me like she succumed to peer pressure and the culture of her birth until, like a lot of misguided youth, she learned it was okay to think for herself, broke out of her conditioning, and evolved.

    • OhioBrian

      Reformed. Open your eyes and you might learn something about some of the problems we face and the extremism that’s pouring fuel on the fire.

    • VAFarmer

      Stupid comment from an idiot.

    • kuddels

      Nope. I hate islam more than you, because I know more about it than you. But still, we need to help and accept those who turn away from that death cult.

  • IvanaVodka

    I sincerely hope Tania has reformed herself; however, based upon interviews she has granted to other media, I am not so sure her reformation is entirely authentic. At the very least, I hope she is under government surveillance.

    • jimmyj

      Read more closely. Other media outlets simply speculate about her. This is the first interview she has given on her entire life story.

      • IvanaVodka

        jimmyj— Why are you so invested in this woman? I find it quite peculiar that nearly all of your Disqus comments pertain to Joya/Tania. And thanks (not really), but there’s no need to “read more closely” when all the facts are laid bare.

        • jggtn

          Because she’s heroic. Unlike the trolls here who post ignorant remarks on matters they ill understand, or as PS suggested, are simply Putin and Daesh ass lickers.

          The facts are laid bare. Try reading them @IvanaVodka.

    • Just Cruisin’

      She probably is under surveillance, which is not a bad idea, just to ensure that she is sincere and consistent with her change of heart.

      Nonetheless, it is far better to welcome defectors with open arms, like we did in the Cold War, when people would risk their lives to flee Communist countries and come to Western Europe or the United States. Defectors helped us to win, because they could tell true stories about the wrong actions of our enemies.

      Rejection keeps defectors from coming forward, and can be used by ISIS recruiters to further radicalize potential terrorists. We need to fight smarter. We need to fight to win, and not be brainless or give our enemy propaganda to help with their efforts.

  • lancelotlamar1

    She appears to be a striking and strong woman, and I wish her and her children all the best after all their harrowing ordeals. (If she hadn’t been so beautiful, would Texas Monthly have told her story? I wonder.)

    The suburban consumerism and liberal religion to which she has now been converted are no doubt better for her and her family than the acetic and fanatical Islam she converted to before. (“Plano Unitarians” seems somewhat oxymoronic; they must be an interesting group.) But I wonder if they will be ultimately satisfying to her, or to anyone.

    [Also, while the article is engaging, it is so annoying to have these liberal journalists always find a way to bash Trump, even if he has nothing to do with anything related to the story. Bush/Cheney and Obama/Clinton were the ones responsible for a lot of the chaos and craziness of the Middle Eastern world she had to endure and escape. I am not a Trump supporter either, but good grief, give it a rest. All your pieties and biases are only causing people to distrust you more.]

    • siglavy auerga

      Just like Bush and Cheney were responsible for events that took place in about 629 AD, right?

    • Janey

      There is no Trump bashing here. The reporter simply states the facts of what happened. Get a grip.

      • wakeup234

        They disappear into another room, unsure if reporters can be trusted. The older ones have heard President Trump disparaging the press on TV.
        Why even put this in here ? Nothing in article stated how the ‘boys’ felt on anything else – even their father !

      • horseradish

        Yes there is president Trump bashing. You are lying the press is propaganda

    • William

      Lock her up now.

      • Nellikai

        How many emails did she delete? (LOL)

        • William

          The world will never know.

          In modern politics, there are two kinds of laws: Clinton laws and laws for everyone else.

          • P S

            Willam is >90% probability a Russian troll spreading misinformation. Ignore his blatant comments.

          • Jeff Carlton

            Yup, 1020 comments and a locked down profile.

          • jggtn

            Wow! The Russian troll @William (aka @disqus_GHP3TIkdba) finally makes some sense. Must have misread his script.

  • Amy

    How does she support herself? Are her former in-laws paying her way, or does she work?

    • theh4qq

      Why does that even matter? How is that relevant to anything mentioned in the article?

      • Amy

        Because the article contrasts the deprivation of her former life with her current life, which includes a fashionable wardrobe, frequent salon visits, dining out, and shopping. Her financial turnaround is (an unexplained) part of the story.

        • jimmyj

          The story explains her financial situation at the end. Read the story.

          • Britney Scarborough

            Yeah. She’s boning some rich guy.

          • jggtn

            What an insensitive remark. Like you didn’t; or wouldn’t if you had the chance? Don’t be a hypocrite.

          • Britney Scarborough

            Nope. Sure wouldn’t. I’m not shallow in the least bit.

        • Zayed Muhammad

          I am very suspicious of this one.
          Anyone, specially an adult from a place like Plano, TX who travels to Syria at the height of ISIS activity, sorry I smell a lot of bad things here. Reminds me of the BLEXIT MAGA Scam

    • allrollingwolf

      Her new fiance is rich, she’s hot, what do you think, lol.

  • SloppyJoe

    I don’t trust her. And why is someone who joined IS not indicted on terror charges? She should be in jail.

    • theh4qq

      When did she join ISIS? Did you even read the entire article? Can you cite the words in the article that says she joined ISIS? Or even shared their ideology?

    • jimmyj

      She didn’t join ISIS. Read the story.

    • Just Cruisin’

      She went involuntarily with a husband who had the right of command over her in the environment they were in. As soon as he gave her permission to leave, she left and returned here to praise America and American values, and to fight against extremism which leads to radicalization and the creation of new terrorists.

      She is helping in the war on terror, and good for her. I like the fact that she is on our side, because who has better credibility than someone who has seen firsthand the lies that are behind the promises of radical Islamism? Her words and her story are a weapon to help us win, and God bless her efforts.

  • Kathy Dillard

    As a mom with 3 grown children, I think she did exactly what I would’ve done. Protect and then rescue, my children.

  • CowboyGreg

    toss her in Gitmo, kids too!

    • Just Cruisin’

      Right. Because America stands for imprisoning innocent children. What is wrong with you?

  • 187 Iron Rain Infidel

    You’re either with us or against us. Once a terrorist, always a terrorist.

    • jggtn

      . . . he said to no one in particular while no one listened.

      • 187 Iron Rain Infidel

        A couple people listened jiggy……let me guess…. you were an English major who is a middle school teacher now……? And you live in Austin….. and you support gender neutral restrooms.

        • jggtn

          I’m sorry you ran out of Playdough. Let me find your binky, some coloring books, and a blanky for you to cry in.

          • 187 Iron Rain Infidel

            The only reason I ran out of playdough is because you always ate it. I’m sorry your uncles molested you when you were growing up. Living in a closet with a ball gag must have been really uncomfortable.

          • jggtn


            Nice try, sissy boi. Try not to get your panties in a wad or are you as incable of keeping your remarks on topic as you are impotent?.

  • Janey

    It was brave of her to tell this story. There are important lessons here.

  • Barry Obama

    Taqiyya, Texas Monthly and naive Christians lap it up

  • William

    Lock her up.

    • P S

      William is >90% a fake news Russian troll. Just ignore his garbage.

  • RuthAnn J

    There is so much hate here in the comments.

  • Raj

    We should be encouraging people to turn from terrorism and taking their help in preventing potential terrorists from enlisting with ISIS. That’s how we win.
    I think you disparage her because you think white Americans are better than Muslims. That sort of treatment is what led her to turn toward Islamist extremism in the first place. Her actions now are helping to prevent terrorism, while your actions are helping to spread it, whether you admit it or not.

  • orang jawa

    women is like rib bones.. they are curved, and we (the men) need to straighten it. if we did nothing it will always be curved; yet if we apply too much effort they will break.

    Tania is reaching her breaking point, which is sad. And she has my deep sympathy..

    I am saying this being a broken home children, and now living in my “radical” country (just like the story above) with my foreign wife, herself comes from a much more developed country, and I know how difficult it is to maintain perseverance and holding the pure Islamic values while staying relevant to today’s world…

    Bringing my kids to daily mandatory prayers in Mosque and reciting Quran, and having an English-themed casual home with my beautiful wife wearing stylish casual hijab, playing Mishary Rashid Quran recitation and occasionally put Bon Jovi’s 10 minutes Dry County in the middle of playlist on my old but good Altec Lansing ADA 890, is apparently not difficult at all.

    wish Tania (and all of us) the best in finding the purpose of life and thereafter. make full use of our life, be beneficial to the nature and mankind.. wish you all the best.

    • Haggie

      Extreme misogyny is its own form of terrorism. I feel sorry for your wife and children.

  • Rob_Drury

    Make no mistake; “extremism” isn’t the problem. Islam is.

    • jggtn

      Actually, no. Extremism is the problem. Islam in its unperverted form is no more problematic than Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other well organised religion.

      When extremists pervert a religion to conform to their narrow, insidious agendas, its the extremists and their extremism who are the problem.

      • Rob_Drury

        So absolutely incorrect. What this article has describes is “unperverted” islam. If the God of the Quran says to kill all infidels, then that is fundamental; it is, per that scripture, the normal expected activity. The old bumper sticker slogan illustrates it best: “An extreme muslim want to cut your head off. A moderate muslim wants an extreme muslim to cut your head off.” The muslim who doesn’t want your head cut off might as well be an infidel him or her self.

        • jggtn

          I’ll buy your argument if you can site the passages in the Quran where it mandates the slaying of all non-muslims in any actual context. I assure you, it doesn’t.

          That radical islamists pervert the word and context of the Quran is no different than wacked out Christians perverting bible verses to justify any number of atrocities, historical and current.

          Parroting simple memes is the reflection of a simple, unsophisticated, and distracted mind.

    • Magpie

      Extremism is exactly the problem! Maybe you haven’t noticed but the Daesh/ISIS Jihadists kill thousands more Muslims than any other religion. These Jihadists claim that the vast majority of Muslims who reject their vile ideology are not Muslims but apostates and therefore deserving of death. Check out the neo-nazi christians marching at Charlottsville, the Aryan Church, the Hindu extremists currently murdering Muslims and Hindus who disagree, in India and the extremist Buddhist monks in Myanmar burning Muslim families alive. I’ve lived in Muslim countries and the vast majority of Muslims are more moral, more kind, more tolerant and more hospitable than most Americans I’ve met.

    • Just Cruisin’

      No, extremism is the problem. Muslims who are not radicalized are not committing crimes against the innocent. And white supremacists who are radicalized are running over innocent human beings with vehicles (e.g. Chalottesville), just like their counterparts in ISIS do.

      The only difference is who they think is better than the rest of humanity.

      • Rob_Drury

        Islam does not consider this even slightly radical. This is basic, mainstream islam. Anything less is non-adherance to the basic tenets of their faith.

  • ddavel544

    She is selling her “story” to Fund the Jihadist Terrorist Movement! Hope she dies SOON!

    • jggtn

      Who cares if she sells her story? This is America where profit not only thrives but is encouraged.

      Nice try on the Jihadist funding jag, but its empty, unsupported, and ineffective. Did you actually read the article or do you prefer to wallow in your own ignorance?

      • ddavel544

        Screw you, you Muslim Terrorist!

        • jggtn

          Derka derka mohammad jihad! Derka derka!!

  • Haggie

    Religion: The home of the weak-minded, mentally ill, or sociopathic.

    Religious extremism: All the above, but more so.

    • Rob_Drury

      I totally agree. All should dismiss religion altogether and follow Christ.

  • Lanny R Carlson

    Who are these heartless idiots posting on here? It’s this kind of brainless stupidity and arrogant ignorance (“I’m stupid and proud of it”) that feeds the tadicalism they SAY the oppose! To use their logic, lock them up. Once stupid, always stupid!u

    • 187 Iron Rain Infidel

      Hey Lanny. Don’t you have some ear and nose hairs to trim?
      Tadicalism? Are you making up words Lanny?

      • jggtn

        I don’t think Lanny is required to respond to cucks, Tony. Who made you spelling princess, Princess?

  • Stuart M.

    What a story! I hope America can find it in itself to welcome her and let her prosper.

  • Terry Jones

    Good story and should be shared.
    Wish her the very best and most of all – love and peace.

  • Frank

    A tough young woman God really took care of her in her life of confusion…

  • Kevy Moranski

    The only good Muslim is a truly converted, or dead one.

    • horseradish


  • MB

    I guess a positive assessment would be ‘out of the fire, into the frying pan’ . A female Horatio Alger in an age of rampant anxiety.

  • Gavin Neville

    A truly awe-inspiring journey of human spirit and endeavour and a remarkably brave woman. If her story tells you anything it should be that religion is a truly awful ‘man-made’ abomination that has been used to control and manipulate other human beings. Its about time human beings started thinking for themselves, use their brains to ask the critical questions that all religions avoid answering and take control of their own destinies. A brief look at some of the other comments below however show little sign of human beings using their own critical thinking.

  • john smith

    mother teresa was trash. any hitchens fan would know better.

    • Retributer

      Yo mamma was named Teresa?

  • Dan W Taliaferro

    This woman has a truly inspirational story, and it is heartening to see she placed the welfare of her children above her misguided, homicidal husband and her former faith. I wish great success for her and I hope she is able to reach others lost to radical Islam.

  • Pamela Leigh

    Good grief. Amazing many of the comments on this story. Sounds like the Texas I remember (and left). I DO remember, but it’s still shocking to be reminded.

  • rozzi8

    To me, it appears she traded one man supporting her for another man supporting her. She’s been back from her ordeal over six years yet there is no mention of obtaining a degree or certificate that can lead to employment nor any mention of her holding a job. And throughout this story, she blames others for her decisions and choices. In addition, she’s attracted to Craig due to his ideology but does not demonstrate any true understanding of it, just as she was attracted to John due to his ideology. I don’t think she’s really changed all that much.

  • Andy Doerksen

    A moving story, to be sure. Sadly, instead of discovering the True God in and through Jesus Christ – Tania gravitated toward another false religion.