As human beings, we too often rely on stereotypes. More often than not, these stereotypes are inaccurate and inspire nasty –isms, like racism, sexism or xenophobia.
As Americans, we have a history as a melting pot. We are a land of democracy where ideas are allowed to flourish, and where new ideas, in turn, help us flourish.
At points in our history, though, we haven’t been the most welcoming melting pot. We’ve allowed those –isms to dominate and have failed to acknowledge the contributions that all make to our society regardless of where they’re from, what they look like or which god they do (or don’t) believe in.
Unfortunately, we may be living one of those times. Diversity, which has strengthened us during periods in which we were not busy fighting it, seems to be on the defensive rather than being encouraged. At certain junctures, it’s under all-out attack.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a minute to highlight some women who are making America great by making meaningful contributions to our society. Some were born and raised here. Some immigrated. They also happen to practice Islam, and without them, our sciences, art and culture would not be where they are today.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States today. Hina Chaudhry, MD is working to address it in innovative ways.
In general, there are two instances when the heart needs to regenerate cells in order to repair itself: after the onset of heart disease or after a heart attack. The problem is that the human heart regenerates extremely slowly.
Chaudhry has identified a gene which could potentially help it do so at a much faster rate. Injecting this gene into the hearts of several mammals, including mice, rats and pigs, has proven wildly successful in trials. It induces cell mitosis, which is the essential part of regeneration.
Rehman has contributed to her NYC community in numerous ways. She, along with her friends, initiated a community for Muslims on Staten Island which eventually led to the building of a mosque. It served to remove the isolation some Muslims felt in a geographical area where there was previously no official community based around the cultural norms of their religion.
She hasn’t only served the Muslim community; she’s served her community at large. When her grandson was diagnosed with autism, she quit her career as a hospital administrator to support other families going through the same thing. She established the first chapter of the National Autism Association in the area. Today it serves all five boroughs of NYC. The organization is volunteer-driven, and helps individuals with autism reach their full potential through empowerment and education.
Aishah Shahida Simmons
Simmons is an award-winning artist who operates in the realms of words and filmography. Her honors include awards from the San Diego Women’s Film Festival and the India International Women’s Film Festival. She has served as a professor at a litany of universities, written books and edited numerous publications.
The thing that makes Simmons’ contributions great isn’t simply the quality of her work; it’s the subject matter she tackles with her talents. Her primary focus is ending both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ sexual violence when it is perpetrated against anyone—children or adults.
Her biggest claim to fame is NO! The Rape Documentary, which continues to be used as an authoritative piece of educational material even in its tenth year. Currently, she is working on #LoveWITHAccountability—an initiative that empowers Black survivors of child sexual abuse to share their stories and ideas on how to eliminate the same abuse they’ve experienced.
Christian-American culture unconsciously accepts that there are many versions of the Bible. That book has been translated into and out of so many languages so many times that it’s inevitable that there are going to be variants. On top of that, languages have homonyms and heteronyms, leading to further variation in interpretation.
The Catholic Bible, the King James Version, the NIV.
Because this concept is so engrained and generally accepted without contemplation, the culture doesn’t always ponder the fact that there may be more than one version of other religious texts.
But it should.
Because there are.
Laleh Bakhtiar was the first American woman to translate the Quran, and her translation noted some poignantly different interpretations. Most notably, she interpreted the passage that commonly is quoted as allowing a husband to beat his wife as a punishment to instead say he should go away, cool off and then come back to address the situation.
Her interpretation, called The Sublime Quran, has been used to fight domestic violence cases in court and has also been adopted by the Prince of Jordan.
Anousheh Ansari is an engineer, a serial entrepreneur and a private researcher who just happened to do her work in outer space.
In 2006, Ansari became the first female private space explorer, and the first person of Iranian descent to ever leave orbit. Since then, she’s started a tech business and become an inspirational speaker encouraging people to follow their dreams.
Her family also originated the first XPRIZE, which gave $10 million dollars to a team of engineers who could design and build a reliable and reusable spacecraft—that was privately financed.
The team that won was not only successful, but got their technology licensed. The company that was born from the competition is today known as Virgin Galactic—a major competitor in commercial space travel.
Muslim Women Make America Great
It doesn’t matter where your family came from or what you believe in; you can make positive change in this world. When we look at others, we need to remember that they, too, have this same capacity, and, in many instances, are exercising it.
To forget this important truth would be to deny ourselves innovations, social support systems and positive cultural changes.
The next time you see someone who looks different than you, believes differently than you or has a different life perspective, remember that they, too, make America great.