I became Muslim more than 20 years ago. I was raised in a family of Baptist ministers, and after my parents divorced my mother placed us in Catholic schools. This caused me to have an interest in religion and particularly how religions impact people and the world that we live in and share.
For years after becoming Muslim, I worked with immigrant Muslim families on the East Coast, helping with things like the public school system, public assistance and getting health care for their children. I was amazed at how prejudiced the people in our country are and how unkind the case workers and others were to the immigrants simply because they were not Christian and white, and because many of them were poor. I didn't know then how the images that I saw, and the insults and conversations that I witnessed would affect me.
Perhaps the most moving experience I had was when I visited an Egyptian mother who had a little girl that was only weeks old. I went to her home just to check on her and the baby and found the mother just sitting looking at ceiling and her baby lying in the crib covered with water filled boils. I didn't speak much Arabic so i just called a taxi and took the baby to the nearest hospital. I will never forget how I was treated until I raised my voice in the emergency room and said at the top of my voice "I am an American, and I am ashamed of what is happening here. I am ashamed of the way the people are being treated here, and I am going to call the mayor and my Congressman in the morning and let them knw what is going on here!"
The baby was diagnosed with scalded skin syndrome which is basically a staph infection that she was infected with in that same hospital's nursery. After examining the baby, they told me to take the baby home with a prescription for an antibiotic. I told the attending physician that before leaving, I was going to call my own pediatrician, who was very well known and who practiced in a very affluent area, and ask him to come and examine the child. I called him, and he asked to speak with the attending physician. After about five minutes, the nurses were taking the baby from my arms, and cleaning her up. She was given a spinal tap that revealed that the baby was septic, meaning that her blood had been infected and not only her skin. The baby was admitted to the hospital and my family's pediatrician was her private doctor until she was released two weeks later.
After that incident, and several similar situations, I founded the National Association of Muslim American Women (NAMAW). We began as a self help Muslim woman's organization that was mostly Muslim women raising money to help other, mostly single and divorced Muslim women to pay rent, purchase food and keep their lights on. That was in 1989. Now we are a UN accredited NGO, that is also a political action committee. Our goal is to bring the political voices of Muslim American women into the mainstream political dialogue in the US, where we can use our unique perspectives and experiences to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
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