Why I Am a Doctor: One Muslim’s Perspective

Image: Healthspablog.org

Hesham Hassaballa is an intensive care unit physician, co-founder and Executive Director of the Bayan H. Hassaballa Charitable Foundation, and serves on the board of directors for the Chicago Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. He is also a freelance writer and author of Noble Brother. This is his response to questions we asked him about his Islamic faith and profession as a physician.

“So, you are going to become a doctor, right?” This question, I am quite certain, has been asked of scores of Muslim children by their parents all across this world. Does Islam, somehow, motivate Muslims to become physicians? Perhaps slightly, especially since the Qur’an says that saving a life is like saving all of humanity. But I think that is more of a “fringe benefit” than a major motivation for Muslims to become physicians.

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Three Ways, One World, Our Choice

On December 25, Tariq Ramadan spoke to thousands of Muslims at the RIS conference in Toronto. Photo: Aqnus Febriyan

This past week, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered in Toronto for the 10th annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Conference. To highlight the conference theme, Control, Chaos or Community: Three Ways, One World, Our Choice, speakers from around the world stressed the importance of self-reflection, community service, and social activism.

I’ve been writing over the past year about Muslim-based organizations and initiatives that are countering extremism, participating in the political process, and serving communities. The annual RIS conference has turned into a central meeting point for this growing movement that was initiated and organized by predominately young Muslims born and raised in North America.

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Will Discrimination Backfire?

Image: Ahmed Rehab

Reem recently wrote about the controversy surrounding Lowe’s, the home improvement superstore that caved to Islamophobic pressure from the Florida Family Association (FFA) and pulled its advertising from the reality television show All-American Muslim.

Earlier this week, Jon Stewart and Asif Mandvi of the Daily Show ridiculed the absurdity of the fear many Americans have surrounding Islam and Muslims. In one segment, Stewart criticized the blatant bigotry of the FFA, a fundamentalist activist group, for lobbying American corporations to pull their advertising from All-American Muslim. But that didn’t stop kayak.com from following the lead of Lowe’s and pulling their ad campaign from the show this past Wednesday, days after the controversy made international news. In fact, according to the FFA, 65 advertisers targeted by mass email complaints have withdrawn funding from the December 11 show.

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Mohammed Ahmed

Ahmed led his team to a Big Ten Title and 2011 NCAA Champsionship Photo: University of Illinois Media Services

Last month, Mohammed Ahmed led the University of Wisconsin-Madison cross country team to its 5th NCAA championship title. The top finisher on his team, and placing 5th overall, the 20-year-old junior ran 10 kilometers in just over 29 minutes; that’s a 4:40 mile! Given Ahmed’s times, I assumed that he had been running since early childhood. Apparently not. I recently got the chance to speak with Ahmed about his love for running, how his faith in Islam informs his attitude about success, and his experiences as a Somalian immigrant growing up in Canada.

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Building Things Together?

This past Saturday, Lowe’s Home Improvement store, which uses the  motto “Let’s Build Something Together,” pulled its advertising from TLC’s new show All-American Muslim after being pressured by the Florida Family Association. A statement put out by Lowe’s laid out their reasoning for this decision:

Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individual and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.

The Florida Family Association asked its members to petition Lowe’s to pull its advertising, which appears to have been successful. Furthermore, the group claims that 65 companies that they targeted have pulled their advertising. Continue reading

Countering Extremism and Highlighting Diversity

MPV President Ani Zonneveld speaks with US Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) at an MPV event.

Exclusion seems to be at the root of many forms of extremism, whether religious, cultural, political, or otherwise. The growing and increasingly influential group Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) hopes to shift extremist attitudes among North American Muslims through their latest initiative, Literary Zikr. Co-founded as a non-profit by Ani Zonneveld in 2007, the group aims to counter Islamic radicalization of North American youth by presenting the work of progressive Muslim scholars in a simple and accessible format.

MPV, law enforcement officials, and academics all agree that Islamic extremists constitute a small percentage of Muslims in North America or anywhere, but MPV and other groups believe that addressing this problem, although small in numbers, is incredibly important and is the primary responsibility of Muslim communities themselves. Zonneveld explains:

We as Muslims should all be working together to counter radicalism… There are many within the [Muslim North American] community that are in denial. You bring up the word ‘radicalism’ and people immediately become defensive. If you’re silent, you’re just as guilty.

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All-American Muslim Revisited

Last night, TLC aired the second episode of All-American Muslim, an 8-part series that follows the lives of five Muslim American families in Dearborn, Michigan. As I wrote in an earlier post, the show aims to dispel the stereotypes that surround Muslims and Islam. As a Muslim American, I had high expectations of the show. I was excited that an entire program would focus on the Muslim American community and would generate more discussion on this minority group. Well, the show certainly created more discussion,  after watching two episodes of All-American Muslim as well as Anderson Cooper’s daytime show about it, I am a bit disappointed by certain aspects of the show. Continue reading

Inside Islam Radio Show: All-American Muslim

Two Muslim-American Women Featured in All-American Muslim

Tune in tomorrow (Wednesday, November 9) to hear the latest Inside Islam radio show. Jean will speak with the producers and Nina Bazzy, a character from the reality TV show, All American-Muslim. This show, which premieres this Sunday on TLC, follows five Muslim families in predominately Arab-American Dearborn, Michigan.

For more information on the show and related content, see Reem’s recent post and other pieces about the use of television to challenge stereotypes of Muslim-Americans. Do you think this program will have a positive impact on the image of Muslim Americans? Or will it simply promote further negative stereotypes? Leave your comments below and we may use them on air.

How to Listen and Participate

  • Leave a post below and the Inside Islam radio team will consider airing your comments and question during the broadcast.
  • Listen live on radio stations in Wisconsin Public Radio listening areas. The show will be broadcast live at 3 p.m. and re-broadcast at 9 p.m. CT.
  • Listen to a live webstream of the show on the Ideas Network.
  • Call 1-877-GLOBE-07 to leave a voice mail for Here on Earth: Radio without Borders anytime.
  • Leave a comment on this page, or send us an email with your thoughts.

Omar Ibn Said: A Muslim American Slave

Among the millions of slaves brought to North America through the transatlantic slave trade, several million were Muslims. Some of these people were literate and left behind manuscripts that attest to their experience of slavery, their continued commitment to Islam, and their ability to negotiate a space to express their identities. In the next Inside Islam radio show on November 7th, Jean will talk with Ala Alryyes, the author of the book  A Muslim American Slave: The Arabic ‘Life’ of Omar Ibn Said. In his work, Alryyes examines Omar Ibn Said‘s autobiography, which he maintains is “the only extant Arabic autobiography written by a slave in the United States.” Continue reading

Muslim and American

On October 12th, Tarek Fatah posted a conversation with Ayaan Hirsi Ali on The Huffington Post. In this conversation, Fatah and Ali, a former Muslim and well-known critic of Islam, discussed many issues, ranging from extremist activity among Muslims to Muslim citizenship in the West. Of these topics, I would like to focus on the place of Muslims in the West, specifically in the United States.

Ali is surprised that Muslims who spend the majority or all of their lives in the United States still adhere to Islam. She expects these Muslims to discard their beliefs in order to be truly American because in her perception there is a clear contradiction between the practice of Islam and being an American. In another context, she argued that Muslims in the United States should all accept Christianity in order to have a place in America. In her conversation with Fatah, she suggested that organizations like the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations had secret agendas because they attempt to portray a positive picture of Islam and fight for Muslims’ civil rights. Continue reading