One of UVU’s strengths is its wide breadth of nationalities, ethnicities and backgrounds in a majorly white LDS community. Some come from the far corners of the country to gain their degree while some are from right around the corner. But there are few who have a similar history as Tito Momen.
As we sit in a library study room, Tito is wearing a North Face jacket and a Levi’s cap. He’s meek, but his words have conviction and passion behind them. I can tell from his calm manner that he is used to the attention of the press, having recently released his autobiography, “My Name Used to Be Muhammad.”
Tito’s story begins in Nigeria. He is born into a fundamentalist Islamic family in 1966 in a village where people follow the religion with strict regulation. The village was radical enough that the boys who Tito grew up with would eventually be followers of Osama bin Laden.
Remembering his upbringing isn’t difficult to recall. The impressions of the culture still ring in his memory, even years afterwards. “They are more extreme and they add things into their traditions or precepts into their own ways and they emphasize on those things,” Tito said. He explains that village women had obligations to stay and keep the house. They are kept from education and work which is not common in other Islamic cultures.
Muhammad was the birth name Tito’s parents gave him. His father had great hopes for Tito. This was apparent by naming him after the Islamic prophet and nicknaming him “the chosen one.” Tito was being groomed to become an ecclesiastical leader of the village. He would wake up before 5 a.m. to study and memorize the Qu’ran by transcribing the book word by word into several notebooks.
His studies moved Tito to Egypt where he attended college. He gained employment as a Disc Jockey, making music and playing in discotechs around Cairo. This led him to a party lifestyle that would have been shunned by Islamic traditions and teachings.
A broken cassette dubber led to Tito’s friend calling an African acquaintance for help fixing it. While talking with him, Tito offered him a cigarette. When he declined, Tito was puzzled. “I looked at him and could see that he cannot be Muslim,” Tito said. Then Tito offered a few choices of alcohol to this man. In return, the man said, “If you’re going [to] drink, drink outside.”
The man explained that his healthy habits were from religion, not only to be healthy. The man showed Tito the section from the LDS scriptures known as the Word of Wisdom. “I thought I would see something like the Ten Commandments. But it was kind of counseling.” The two talked through the night about the church, and Tito asked to attend church with him the next Sunday.
Tito joined the LDS Church, which changed the rest of his life.
In his switch in lifestyle came Tito’s name change. Tito comes from the Italian version of Titus, specifically the Biblical Titus. “I liked his mission when Paul sent him to Crete,” Tito said. The change from an Islamic to a Christian name, landed him 15 years in jail.
While in a Cairo jail, Tito got seriously ill with congested heart failure. He was denied the opportunity of seeing a doctor for his symptoms by the strict attorney general. “My faith carried me through those years,” Tito said. The LDS church helped pay for his medical expenses.
After those hard years, Tito traveled to Ghana for work. He worked with other churches to open orphanages and to help the needy with essentials. When visiting an LDS district office, Tito was called to meet with the Ghana mission president. “He said, ‘We want to start a foundation here and we want you to join us.’” The foundation was the Forever Young Foundation. He worked with six others to expand humanitarian efforts in Ghana and throughout West Africa.
While at the Ghana LDS Temple, one of the workers suggested that he write a book about his experiences. After four years of working on it, his assistant contacted Jeff Benedict, sports and non-fiction writer, to make it ready for an American audience. Benedict visited Ghana for six days, accumulating 40 hours of interviews in the Mission President’s apartment.
Finalizing Tito’s auto-biography brought him to Utah and Virginia. He talked with Sheri Dew, President of Deseret Book, for agreement to publish under that company.
“Before I came [to Utah] they talked to President Holland and told him about me and he said that I should come,” Tito said. As of now, Tito is interested in Integrated Studies combining Peace and Justice counseling and Social Studies.
When asked what he does for fun now that his book is released, Tito said, “Nothing! I go to school, come home, sometimes go to movies.”
With a courageous past, Tito looks ahead to bettering himself and others around him.