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A Reaction’s Potential


By Maryam Sultan

Since moving to Flushing, NY 8 months ago, I have passed by the John Bowne House countless times. The sign outside of this historical monument reads: “Bowne House: A Shrine to Religious Freedom Since 1662”. In 1656, when the town of Flushing was part of the Dutch colony New Netherland, governor Peter Stuyvesant passed an ordinance prohibiting the practice of religions other than the Dutch Reformed Church. John Bowne defied this ban by allowing a group of Quakers to hold religious services in his home. When he refused to accept guilt for his actions, he was swiftly deported to Holland. Bowne successfully argued his case abroad and Stuyvesant was ordered to permit all faiths to worship freely, establishing the principle of religious freedom in New Netherland. [1]

It is ironic that I live a stone’s throw from this beacon of justice, yet have felt apprehensive leaving my home of late due to my outward manifestation of my religious beliefs—a headscarf and ankle-length skirt. My work as a resident-physician entails that I leave my home in the early morning hours and often return after dark. It is soothing to know that Flushing is bustling at all hours and that a person contemplating a violent act against me would be deterred by the presence of bystanders. But it is troubling to know that I think in such a manner when this well-preserved “shrine to religious freedom” stands 4 blocks away.

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If I were to consider my newfound apprehension solely in the setting of my personal experiences, my fears would be vastly misplaced. Instances of prejudice directed toward me for my religious beliefs have been few and far-between. And when I have endured them, the reaction of those who may be of help has been swift and effective. I recall being openly demeaned as a sophomore in college by a visiting professor during class. When I received a C- for a subsequent assignment on which I had worked diligently, I could fathom no other motivation for the professor’s behavior but prejudice. I still remember the words he used to explain my grade when I approached him 2 days later: “Your work was far below the level of your peers; your grade should actually have been closer to failing; that may have convinced you to drop this class since you clearly don’t belong here.” Reliving that experience, now 7 years old, is still traumatic. But the rest of my memories connected with this incident are fuzzy; positive experiences are always harder to recall than the negative. I recall heading to my advisor’s office in tears and explaining the situation. I recall speaking with the university’s Muslim chaplain and trying to make sense of what had just happened. I recall over half of my classmates offering to speak in my defense when they heard of my grade. I recall digging out my father’s 1980s tape recorder and hauling it to my next class, ready to store evidence. But neither my classmates nor my antiquated cassette tape were needed; within 2 days my assignment grade was changed to an A-. I learned soon after that my situation had been explained to the Dean, who had spoken with my professor. What I remember of the outcome of this incident is my well-deserved A in the class and my dean’s assurance, citing my service activities within and outside the school, that my presence within his college was more valuable to him than one visiting professor’s.

My dean judged me, and I am grateful to him for it. His judgment, based on my academic record and personal activities, taught me that it was safe to showcase my faith, as justice would be served should prejudice arise. I was the student who cited a Qur’anic verse in her medical school application essay as a motivation for my career choice. While a medical student at a historically Jewish institution, our annual Fast-a-Thon, organized by students of various faiths in commemoration of the charity encouraged during the Islamic month of Ramadan, was known to be a main source of funding for our student-run free clinic. I refused to hide my research on end-of-life care of Muslim patients in my residency application, and ended up matching into a top-tier institution in the deep South for the bulk of my training.

My experiences have taught me that I am safe and welcome in this country, that my rights will be upheld, and my judgment will be based on my character and the actions that I bring forth. But recent events have swayed this thinking. When it took the U.S. President over 2 days to condemn the brutal murder of 3 openly Muslim students in their home in North Carolina and begin an investigation into its motive, one starts to question how much such bright souls matter to our country’s fabric. When all the news could talk about for days after the event was a parking dispute, inherently placing some blame on the victims for their own execution, one wonders how much their actions and character factor into their judgment. In my comparatively-insignificant incident of prejudice, the response of those with authority shaped my reaction to such hate into something exceedingly positive. Unfortunately, a tragedy which has affected millions of Muslim-Americans is not being moved along such a trajectory.

I thank the news networks that have since portrayed Deah, Yusor, and Razan as the giving souls filled with potential that they were. I don’t listen to the bigots who, amidst this calamity, have called for more murders of Muslims and have told my community that we do not belong in the USA. I was taught 7 years ago how to judge my own worth and know that it has not dwindled. It is estimated that 10% of US physicians are Muslim [2]. Pursuant of a career path fueled by self-sacrifice, I wonder how we can be thought to not belong in the country whose fellow citizens we selflessly serve. To the zealots who claim so, will we belong here when your heart stops beating and we are the doctors who pump your chest to help bring it back? Or perhaps at a time of tragedy when it is a doctor wearing a headscarf who stabilizes your injured child?

I am an example of how the USA can uplift its minorities with a sense of belonging and thereby benefit from our potential. With my religion as a driving force behind my good actions, I believe there is much that I can give to my country and its citizens. It is said that John Bowne’s Quaker home served as a part of the Underground Railroad and helped many slaves to freedom. Those who shared his faith are known to have played an instrumental role in abolishing slavery. Imagine an America where Governor Stuyvesant’s ordinance against religious freedom was upheld, an America without a Quaker legacy. We cannot know the potential lost when a group of people is subdued and made to feel that its contribution is unwanted. Rather, we know that the possible input of a million people fueled by a spirit of giving to a country that upheld their rights and encouraged their advancement is infinite.



Works Cited

[1] “The Bowne Family Biographies.” Bowne House. Web. 14 Feb. 2015. <>.

[2] Karim, Talib. “Muslim Doctors Abundant, But Muslim Hospitals Non-Existent PDF.” The Muslim Link 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. < Doctors Abundant, But Muslim Hospitals Non-Existent&Itemid=17>.

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  1. John Howard

    March 27, 2015 at 6:04 AM

    Where was your comment or other muslim’s comments when a muslim convert beheaded a non muslim’s woman’s head where they both worked. The 2 policemen in New york when again a muslim man shot and murdered them? The man who murdered those 3 is now in jail and will be tried in a court of justice. When a group of copts were murdered by their fellow countrymen in Egypt most were let off with only some being convicted of lesser crimes. Why is it a heinous crime for these three and not for your fellow Americans or those Egyptian copts?

    • Fitri

      March 27, 2015 at 11:37 AM

      The truth is, all of those that you mentioned are tragedies. However, the author is talking about one aspect of a very wide issue. This can easily be an article about race, where people talk about the treatment of the killing of blacks (sorry not sure if this is considered a derogatory term as I’m not from the US) , and the same response will be given: what about the killing of whites, etc. Unfortunately the author probably feels the need to write this article because of the bad rep that Muslims get as ‘terrorists’, just as blacks are labeled ‘gangsters’ or criminals. If the author was to mention ALL the killings that happen in the world, this would become a book, an article is too short to talk about all of them.

      So please don’t assume that because the author is not referring to those killings that they are considered any less important than the ones that did get mentioned.

    • Saif Katana

      March 28, 2015 at 7:38 PM

      (1) We should help those near to us first. The impact will be greatest and they need us the most. Thus the focus of the author on her own community and country first is correct.

      (2) Loving one person does not necessitate hating another.
      Showing concern for one community does not necessitate apathy towards another.

      (3) Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do.
      Don’t overemphasize what others do. Focus on what you do to others.
      The title “A Reaction’s Potential” of the article hints at this, and the article clearly shows this.
      The key is not the crimes some individuals commit, but how we as individuals, communities and countries choose to respond to them.
      The author has chosen the right focus.

      (4) And also has chosen the positive way to respond to it, which is the best way.
      For positive deeds counter negative deeds.
      “In my comparatively-insignificant incident of prejudice, the response of those with authority shaped my reaction to such hate into something exceedingly positive.”
      The article isn’t about bashing individuals or groups, but showing us the good examples that are real and the effect they can have and do have on many people.
      It also shows us that while there are many bad leaders, including presidents, there are also many good leaders in your own communities.
      And it should encourage us that no good deed or good encouragement goes unrewarded. You don’t need a lot of authority, to change a life and impact your community.

  2. Est

    March 29, 2015 at 12:36 AM

    I really do not understand the mentality behind this article. Do Muslims believe that non-Muslim white Americans are never given unjust grades? Why are we to believe that the grade given was unjust anyway? Because the author says so? A person who runs crying to their imam and dean in order to get a grade changed does not have the integrity and fortitude to be a medical doctor. By the way, there are an estimated 20,000 Muslim doctors in the USA out of 1 million total. That’s about 2%, which aligns reasonably to the percentage of Muslims in the US. Please explain where you came up with the idea that 10% of physicians are Muslim.

  3. Est

    March 29, 2015 at 12:41 AM

    Oh, sorry, I just saw the link to the article that claims 10% of doctors are Muslim by claiming that the African-American and Asian doctors in America must be predominantly Muslim. Obviously. What else could they be? Are you aware that a huge percentage of Asians here in the US are of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese and other Asian heritages which are quite unlikely to be Muslim? Did you know that most African Americans are Christians? I am baffled that any rational person would read that article and not see the flawed and ignorant suppositions in it.

  4. Wael Abdelgawad

    March 30, 2015 at 6:52 PM

    Thanks for the article, sister Maryam. I think you should continue to allow your own personal experiences to determine your attitude toward American and Americans. Do not allow a few incidents of violence among a population of millions – brutal though they may be – to instill fear in you. One of the problems with the news media in our society is that they focus on incidents of violence above all (“if it bleeds, it leads”). This gives us a skewed perspective of how dangerous society really is. It makes it seem like every act of violence is happening to us.

    May Allah bless you for your dedication on the path of service.

    It’s sad to see all these mean-spirited Muslim-haters commenting here.

  5. Est

    April 1, 2015 at 1:58 AM

    Wael, who are the haters here? Half of this article is about the author receiving a C- on an assignment. I once did an essential internship in which my supervisor was a person of a different race than me. I bore the brunt of her mean-spirited sarcasm for three months. I was publicly and repeatedly criticized for mistakes I did not make. She did not follow the agreed-upon conditions for my internship. As the weeks wore on, I was put under such stress that I lost weight. I was given an evaluation that could have damaged my career, although, fortunately, I have gone on to be successful.

    Do Muslims understand that these things happen to regular mainstream Americans all the time? Muslims are making a terrible mistake by claiming special victimhood status. They are putting themselves above the rest of Americans who must manage without CAIR to back them every time something goes wrong. Some supervisors, bosses, teachers and public officials are jerks. You will have one or more of them as a teacher or boss in your lifetime. Welcome to the real world. Successful ethnic groups in America do not play the discrimination card.

    • Another Maryam

      April 2, 2015 at 11:23 PM

      Happened to me too during an internship, & didn’t play any card. Get off your high horse, Est.
      Some people will stand up for themselves, others will take it and hopefully move on to be successful in other areas. As for the writer of this article, she’s gone on to go great things, so kudos to her. Going on to be a MD takes more integrity and fortitude than you can imagine; countless classes, studying, assignments, & exams where you have to prove yourself many times over.

  6. Ahmed

    April 2, 2015 at 11:43 AM

    Your article made me think of all the positive experiences I’ve had with regards to prejudice, however minor they are in comparison to Deah, Yusor, and Razan. In general, people are good and assume good of others. Those filled with hate are far fewer, and unfortunately, they seem to be getting louder as time goes on.

    I like how there are people, like I read in the comments, who tell minority groups to “suck it up, and deal with the prejudice.” Their argument is: some other people are treated worse, so stop complaining. As if the bar is set by the group treated the worst.
    We should stand up for ourselves, and stand up for those for whom no one stands up for.

    • Est

      April 4, 2015 at 1:34 AM

      On what basis are you sure that the author’s C- grade was the result of prejudice? Think of this article as a college essay. What grade would you give it?

      Take the sentence in paragraph 4 that begins “While a medical student at a historically Jewish institution, our annual Fast-a-Thon…” This sentence has deep grammatical flaws which make it very difficult to understand. A Fast-a-Thon is an event, not a student. Although I can’t be sure of what she really meant, her grammatical error here was likely a dangling modifier. See the error explained here:

      There is another sentence in the same paragraph that begins “I refused to hide my research on end-of-life care of Muslim patients in my residency application, and ended up…” I have no idea how the clauses of this sentence logically relate to each other. Is she saying her research on end-of-life care of Muslims should have jeopardized her application? Why? Isn’t this exactly the kind of research medical students are supposed to do?

      Finally, anyone who links to the source for her second footnote and reads the article there can see that Talib Karim has made some absurd assumptions in calculating the percentage of Muslim doctors in the USA. It was sloppy to use his article as a source.

      So, can I believe that she gave her visiting professor an assignment with some grammatical errors, incomprehensible sentences and poorly vetted sources? Actually, I can. And maybe since he was a visitor, he did not realize that she was supposed to get special breaks when he did the grading. Do I believe that the college might have bumped up her grade up when she began to accuse them of prejudice? Once she got the Muslim chaplain involved, I can easily believe that they might have. Why else would they have to use her extracurricular service activities to justify the A grade she was given? This whole situation was grossly unfair to students who could not cry prejudice to change the grades they got.

      • nur

        August 13, 2015 at 6:07 PM

        Learn to grow up! and know that everyone is not like you! some people will always stand up and should!

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