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Dr. Hawa Abdi – “Heroic, Female, and Muslim”


Bismillah walhamdolillah.

In November, Glamour magazine recognized the significant efforts of Dr. Hawa Abdi to provide a sanctuary and medical care to a great many of her fellow Somalis.

They are Women of the Year because: “They are fearless. Their life’s purpose is to be of service to Somali refugees, and their unwavering fortitude in the face of insurmountable obstacles is a testament to the warrior spirit of women.” —Iman, cosmetics executive, model and 2006 Woman of the Year, born in Somalia.

November 1, 2010
by Eliza Griswold

[Photo caption] A Family Affair: From left: Dr. Amina Mohamed, Dr. Hawa Abdi and Dr. Deqo Mohamed, photographed during a business trip to Geneva, Switzerland, on September 18, 2010.

On a still, hot morning last May, hundreds of Islamist militants invaded the massive displaced-persons camp that Dr. Hawa Abdi runs near Mogadishu, Somalia. They surrounded the 63-year-old ob-gyn’s office, holding her hostage and taking control of the camp. “Women can’t do things like this,” they threatened.

Dr. Abdi, who is equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo, was unfazed. Every day in Somalia brings new violence as bands of rebels rove ungoverned. Today Somalia remains what the U.N. calls one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. On that morning in May, Dr. Abdi challenged her captors: “What have you done for society?” The thugs stayed a week, leaving only after the U.N. and others advocated on her behalf. Dr. Abdi then, of course, got back to work.

Her lifesaving efforts started in 1983, when she opened a one-room clinic on her family farm. As the government collapsed, refugees flocked to her, seeking food and care. Today she runs a camp housing approximately 90,000 people, mostly women and children because, as she says, “the men are dead, fighting, or have left Somalia to find work.” While Dr. Abdi has gotten some help, many charities refuse to enter Somalia. “It’s the most dangerous country,” says Kati Marton, a board member of Human Rights Watch. “Dr. Abdi is just about the only one doing anything.” Her greatest support: two of her daughters, Deqo, 35, and Amina, 30, also doctors, who often work with her. Despite the bleak conditions, Dr. Abdi sees a glimmer of hope. “Women can build stability,” she says. “We can make peace.”

Please be advised that links to external sites may contain ads or content that is objectionable to MM viewers. For that reason, the text of the Glamour article was produced in full. Here is the link to the original article.

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Dr. Abdi has also come to the attention of the New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristoff, who wrote:

What a woman! And what a Muslim! It’s because of people like her that sweeping denunciations of Islam, or the “Muslim hearings” planned in Congress, rile me — and seem profoundly misguided.

It would be best, of course, to hear about the complete story from the perspective of Somalis or Somali Americans who are aware of the details. So please submit these as comments or feel free to write to

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Bismillah walhamdolillah. May Allah accept my repentance and yours. I am an attorney, a stepfather, a husband, a son, and a Muslim. Studying Islam is a means, reflecting what I have learned is a must, and to Allah is the inevitable return. If you would like my help, know that Allah is the source of all aid. If you would like to contact me, try tariqnisarahmed at Gmail, LinkedIn, Twitter, or add me as a friend on Facebook.



  1. Safia Farole

    December 16, 2010 at 9:23 PM

    Dr. Hawa is doing a tremendous job in Somalia. May Allah increase brave women such as herself.

    One thing I don’t like about Nic Kristof’s articles is that he always seems to conflate “Islam” with “Muslims”. Check out his opening paragraphs to see what I mean:

    “What’s the ugliest side of Islam? Maybe it’s the Somali Muslim militias that engage in atrocities like the execution of a 13-year-old girl named Aisha Ibrahim. Three men raped Aisha, and when she reported the crime she was charged with illicit sex, half-buried in the ground before a crowd of 1,000 and then stoned to death.

    That’s the extremist side of Islam that drives Islamophobia in the United States, including Congressional hearings on American Muslims that House Republicans are planning for next year”

    Dear God! Just exchange Islam for Muslims in his quote and Kristof would then have it correct. I’ve seen this too often in his articles – he uses these terms interchangeably. Its not “the ugliest side of Islam” – its “the ugliest side of Muslims”. Som one get ahold of this guy!

    It just gets under my skin every time he writes about Islam and women’s rights, and he smear Islam like this. He does a fabulous job covering women who would other wise go unrecognized, but I’d like to live to see the day when he stops pinning things on Islam. I should try emailing him, but I doubt op-ed columnists respond to readers.

    • Tariq Ahmed

      December 16, 2010 at 9:57 PM

      I agree, quoting Kristoff leaves a bad taste in the mouth, so you’ll notice I was very selective. Still, I do not read Glamour so but for his very attention-grabbing (and on some levels condescending) headline, I would have missed this story completely.

      Because of his demonstrated bias, I hesitate to subscribe to his description of the events in Dr. Hawa Abidi’s story. You sound like you have followed this story somewhat: how accurate is what he wrote?

      • Safia Farole

        December 16, 2010 at 11:54 PM

        Taiq, I read about Dr. Hawa a couple of months ago and I shared with my mom who she is and it happens that my mom was aware of her work back in the good ‘ole days in Somalia. She was an ob-gyn that many Somali women went to, and thats how my mom came to know her. Kristof’s description of her work sounds fair – I’m not sure of its exact acccuracy because as I mentioned, her story is quite new to me too. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she is helping Somalis that way – after the war broke out in Somalia, many Somali women rose up in those days to clean up the mess. Ask any Somali female elder and they’ll tell you about the courage of Somali women to undertake the task of mending their broken society back together. So Hawa’s story is not an anomaly – more like something that could be expected of Somali women.

        But I’ve been reading Kristof for the past 3 years, and I notice how he repeats this conflating of Islam with Muslims frequently. You would expect him to be able to discern between the sources of Islam and Muslim action (given the numerous Muslim countries he’s visited). I hope he comes to realize this one day.

        • lily prince

          December 17, 2010 at 10:07 PM

          I think Nicholas Kristof just might reply to you if you wrote him. And I think he would appreciate it that you point out his error. He’s not a light weight. Also, in his article, he commented that it was the extremists in religion who cause the problems.

        • Tariq Ahmed

          December 17, 2010 at 11:52 PM

          Jazak Allah khayr for your elaboration. I think I may be more cynical than you and Lily: I think Kristoff is an experienced writer who is fully aware of what he is conveying. Why else start off a piece about Dr. Hawa Abdi with such a dramatic and chilling example that has nothing to do with her?

  2. lily prince

    December 18, 2010 at 11:26 PM

    What do you think it is that he is conveying? Enlighten me.

    • Tariq Ahmed

      December 19, 2010 at 12:23 AM

      Don’t get me wrong — Kristoff does not seem like those people in America who hate all Muslims and hate anything about Islam. You can see plenty of those people attacking Kristoff if you do a Google search like this one (search terms are kristoff and islam if the link does not work).

      And you can run a similar search on the NYTimes web site where you will also pull comments by readers.

      Mr. Kristoff likes certain Muslims, and he seems to encourage other Americans to like them, too. But to oversimplify the issue, it’s not just that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims in Mr. Kristoff’s world, but good Islam and bad Islam, too. “If the Islamic world is going to enjoy a revival, if fundamentalists are to be tamed, if women are to be employed more productively, then moderate interpretations of the Koran will have to gain ascendancy.” — Kristoff. What’s Kristoff’s idea of the right direction for Islam? Look to the same link: “One important school of Koranic scholarship, Mutazilism, held 1,000 years ago that the Koran need not be interpreted literally…”

      That group typifies what is wrong with what he would call the “good side” of Islam. If anything, Kristoff’s good Islam would be Muslims reinterpreting their holy scriptures as liberally as do Jews and Christians. Yet orthodox adherence to the Prophet Muhammad’s understanding of Islam, the understanding embodied by his actual students and companions even as they faced situations that had never been confronted directly by the Prophet (Allahumma salli wa sallim alaa Nabiyyana Muhammad) — that orthodoxy not only protects most Muslims from Mutazilism and similar deviations, but it also saves us from those people who reinterpret Islam as a warped license to kill their enemies, the so-called jihadists.

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