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Positive Action vs. Negative Reaction: An American Muslim Doctor Reacts

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By Maryam Sultan

The day after my toughest 24-hour call of residency at the hospital so far, I got called a “f—ing terrorist” by a stranger in the parking lot of my local supermarket. As I loaded groceries into my trunk at that moment, there was so much that I wanted to say to the man who claimed to know me after just viewing the back of my head. I most wanted to ask him what he was doing the night prior while I was dealing with minimally-conscious 18-year olds, trying to figure out what to give a 13-year old with a brain injury for sleep that wouldn’t affect his participation in therapy the next day, and working to stabilize my paralyzed patient’s blood pressure long enough for him to complete his life-sustaining hemodialysis session. And then I’d ask the strange man with the not-so-witty comment what part of that qualified as terrorism. But I didn’t say anything. I just continued loading my groceries and didn’t even give him a second glance. Would it have changed his mind had I yelled out that roughly 10% of American physicians are Muslims, according to the American Medical Association? Or that, per the Islamic Medical Association of North America, approximately 20,000 American physicians- who have all had nights like mine described- are Muslim? Probably not. And so, at the peak of my anger, coupled with fatigue and sadness, I chose to remain silent. I remembered 2 verses in one of my favorite chapters of the Qur’an, and was pleased to have the opportunity to act on them. In describing the “slaves of the Most Merciful”, Allah says:

“And when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace.”  Surat al-Furqan: 63

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“And when they pass by ill speech, they pass by it with dignity.”  Surat al-Furqan: 72

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I chose to maintain my dignity and let this one man’s comment float past me. I did not want to be the angry Muslim woman yelling at a man in a parking lot who would pretend to not hear my words and would have gotten a kick out of riling me up. Not only would that be a pointless, if not deleterious, use of my energy, but it would place me in a potentially dangerous situation as well. I understood that expressing my anger would bring no benefit- not to me, not to him, and not to my religion.

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In our da’wah (inviting to/teaching about Islam), we seek to bring positivity to others. When Allah sent Prophet Musa [Alayhis] to Pharoah, the man whose arrogance before God and cruelty to his creation was unparalleled, Allah commanded his prophet to “speak to him with gentle speech; perhaps he may take heed of the reminder or become conscious of God.” Surat TaHa: 44

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With the understanding that our goal in da’wah is to teach and remind others in a way that will instill in them God-consciousness, it becomes clear that responding in anger to those who taunt us is not the ideal mode of achieving this goal. Among such individuals, if words of peace cannot be expressed, a dignified silence is a fine alternative. However, our da’wah should not be in large-part a reactive one. We should not be waiting for our next opportunity to wittily respond to a bigot. Rather, it is important to proactively express Islam in our actions and speech on a regular basis.

On the night preceding the parking lot incident, da’wah for me, despite being the only doctor in a 120-bed hospital, was getting my new patient’s family chairs at 9pm when I realized that they had been standing in their son’s hospital room for the past 2 hours— the father had a bad back and the 8-year old sister just sat on the floor during my exam. It was me taking the time to explain their son’s treatment plan at length using language that they could understand. My da’wah that night was essentially me doing my job well and doing it with kindness. Then, when this patient’s mother from a rural west-Texas town asked me to tell her again how to properly pronounce my last name and expressed regret that I would not be her son’s doctor on Monday, I knew that my da’wah was successful.

While we may whine when the actions of those who appear outwardly Muslim are used to judge the entire Islamic religion, it would behoove us to reframe that thought into a positive one. That those of us who choose to “wear” Islam on a daily basis are constantly portraying our religion is a huge opportunity. It is for good reason that our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) stated that he “was not sent except to perfect good character.” [Musnad Ahmad, 8595] A person’s character is one of the first and most-consistent aspects of the self by which others may gauge him/her. It defines how at-ease others feel around us, as stated in the Qur’an: “And had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would have fled from around you”  Surat Aale-Imran: 159.

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It is in our best interest to persistently work to improve our manners in an effort to improve our da’wah. Increasing in acts and words of kindness, demonstrating a good work ethic, and smiling often are all rooted in Islam and work wonders in opening closed hearts. The more often that you say “Good morning” with a smile to your Fox News-watching neighbor, the more seriously will she reconsider her favorite news channel’s portrayal of people who look and dress like you. It is upon us to seek out these opportunities and act upon them in a positive manner, rather than negatively reacting to other situations, and I expect that our satisfaction with our da’wah will increase exponentially when we do.

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25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Atif

    October 30, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    Once I saw a man with a long beard and traditional Islamic dress sitting in a bus, while a pregnant lady was standing as there were no seats. I know I shouldn’t judge him wrong but it appeared very rude. If we pray and observe piety, this kind of behavior should not occur. I don’t know if our prayers are wrong or our people need to be taught such stuff. (This is in India BTW)

    • Aly Balagamwala

      October 31, 2015 at 6:14 AM

      If a pregnant lady is standing due to no empty seats then it is not just the person with long beard and traditional Islamic dress who is at fault…. that whole bus needs to reflect on themselves as humans.

      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

      • marwan

        October 31, 2015 at 12:30 PM

        Nice catch. It’s what I thought of as well.

      • Eva

        November 1, 2015 at 7:13 AM

        Point is, we aught to be better as Muslims

    • Atiya

      November 1, 2015 at 11:18 AM

      He might not understand what he prays. This very common here in india. People just learn verses in arabic and do not understand. To avoid that let us teach our children arabic or atleadt the meaning of what we pray. A solid education in the religion might help.

    • OKUNADE TEMILOLA

      November 12, 2015 at 2:27 PM

      Please, do not be too hasty to judge the ‘old man with beard’ because you do not know the state of his health. You can never know by merely looking at him if he has a reason for not standing up for the pregnant lady.

    • Asif

      January 17, 2016 at 2:18 PM

      There is beard in islam but not islam in beard
      He may hav had that beard just to cover his hypocrisy with that

  2. Shahnaz

    October 30, 2015 at 2:04 PM

    Ma shaa Allah Tabarak Allah… You are absolutely amazing sister. May Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala bless you with happiness and success in this life and Hear after Aameen

  3. Mummyjaan

    October 30, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    Well done!

    Live Islam, by kindness and good manners. Good work; keep it up!

  4. Ameen Omar

    October 30, 2015 at 2:55 PM

    The only doctor in a 120 bed hospital! May Allah reward you, that’s exhaustive I can imagine. I really enjoyed reading your reflection on this incident, hopefully that man faces a circumstance or interaction that changes his mind on Muslims. But I’m sorry you had to go through that experience, it must of been terrifying. Though not as grotesque as what you faced, ‘m often finding myself compelled to engage in political discussions with work associates. That’s incredibly difficult to confront being world politics is highly contentious. But being that I’m Muslim and most of the discussions are in regards to our foreign policy in the middle east I somewhat feel obliged to relay an opinion of some sort. SubhannAllah, anytime I try to avoid these issues, they always manage to come up out of thin air almost. Maybe there’s an opportunity for dawah, don’t really know how to interpret the circumstance to be honest, but it’s really biting at me.

    • Anonymiss

      October 31, 2015 at 1:16 PM

      Perhaps some day…he might be in need of a doctors help after he has been in a horrific crash…then find out it was a “F***ing terrorist” as he put it that saved his life, it could even be her! He might not actually thank the doctor, but I’m sure he won’t say “why didn’t you just let me die?” But then again, maybe he will remember what he had said, and even say he’s sorry about it, and show some regret for it. Of course, I sure hope he never ends up in a situation where he needs a doctor to save his life.

  5. Zeena Mukhtar

    October 30, 2015 at 4:36 PM

    Masha Allah, well done duktura…
    There couldn’t have been any better response than your peaceful attitude.

    May Allah increase us all in patience

  6. Iftikhar Ahmad

    October 30, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    “Hijab is also a constitutional right and allergy to it is a breach of Allah-given fundamental human right.” By the way,there is no such thing as “Allah-given fundamental human right”. Nobody was born wearing a suit and tie, iro and buba and definitely none born wearing the Hijab either! As to the “fundamental human right” you alluded to, can I refer you to a study of the Magna Carta?

    Now, after the Muslims women are involving more and more in the society, those people are trying to get them back to the ghettos by banning them from wearing the Hijab/Burqa…And the other one who were saying that: Men are imposing the Hijab/burqa to those women and are covering that by saying: it’s her choice. This argument is simply ridicules, it seems that she doesn’t want to hear that someone wear it because of their spiritual journey, she definitely wants them to be oppressed. And the French guy who were saying: We are banning it because of the dignity of the woman and gender equality ==> Since when the equality is used to restrict the liberty of free choices. Those people need to be reminded that this law is totally opposed to the universal human rights.
    IA

  7. Imama

    October 31, 2015 at 12:33 AM

    JazakAllah khairun kathirun for such beautiful reminders from Quran and sunnah;)
    May Allah preserve your Emaan and increase it too:)

  8. Muhammad iftekhar

    October 31, 2015 at 3:21 AM

    assalam alaykum
    excellent article. Manners speaks louder than words in Dawat

  9. Hira Amin

    October 31, 2015 at 6:43 AM

    Subhanallah – such a beautiful article :) May Allah increase you in your patience and make your doctor duties easy for you. Ameen

  10. Meyran Omar

    October 31, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    What a good reminder. Excellent article! May Allah bless and protect you always.

  11. Fitri Nurina

    October 31, 2015 at 9:42 PM

    What a great reminder!!!!

  12. sahra

    November 1, 2015 at 1:15 AM

    Salaamu alaikum Ukhti
    MaashaAllah, so lovely to read your article and it makes me proud. Allahu ya’izzak. And may Allah protect you in your daily life. JazakaAllah khair for reminding us the ayaats from the Quran, because it’s a great guide for us.

    • muntasir shaaban saleh al farsy

      November 7, 2015 at 11:21 PM

      not necessarily a muslim would let a lady or elderly or the disabled or the weak…

      open a door ..or let him/her sit …or carry his/her luggage …or …i can go on and on…

      strange and embarrassing enough , i often observe the opposite religion / belief would

      voluntarily offer the require d service…go back to the ” al qasas ‘ chapter of the holy quran…

      ”…when prophet moses -alayhi ssalaam …raised and brought up in a palace by the arrogant dictator

      offered help to the helpless girls waiting to fetch water for their old-aged father….ironic , that very same

      man was none other but jew in blood and egyptian by birth…”

  13. Saqib Qureshi

    November 8, 2015 at 3:29 PM

    Its fruitful discussion I have learnt alot by reading all of your comments in this Islamic topic.
    Please remember me in your prayers.
    God bless you all !

  14. Amelia

    November 10, 2015 at 12:40 AM

    Thank you for this article. As a convert to Islam who has and has not worn the hijab – and is in the process of trying to wear it again Inshaallah – your writings are a good reminder to always strive to react peacefully to ignorance and arrogance. Thank you.

  15. Fred

    November 20, 2015 at 5:00 AM

    It is unfair and horrible being blamed for things you haven’t done. I especially feel sorry for women who are so conspicuous with their clothing, particularly covering their hair. Irish people were blamed for IRA bombings in the 1970s and 1980s. Now it is OK to be Irish again. So don’t lose hope.

  16. Pingback: Positive Action vs. Negative Reaction: An American Muslim Doctor Reacts – Azad Palestine's Blog

  17. Ahmad

    July 6, 2017 at 3:17 AM

    Alhamdulilah ukhti.

    The best way for muslims to live here in the west is to take example of the makkan muslims. To look at the ayat like the ones that you quoted and try our best to be patient and repel evil with good like Allah mentioned inis Sirah fussilat.

    But its do much easier said than done.

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