Rural Health Meets Religious Pluralism

Three years ago, Ayaz Virji, MD (C’96, M’00), moved with his family to Dawson, a small town in western Minnesota, to pursue his interest in practicing rural health. A Muslim of South Asian heritage, Ayaz was born in Kenya and grew up in Florida. According to a July 1 story about him in The Washington Post, despite their differences, the family was warmly received by the community and Ayaz became one of just three practicing physicians in the town. After the 2016 presidential election, he was shocked to learn that his community voted predominantly for a candidate who espoused anti-Muslim rhetoric. He and his wife gave serious consideration to moving out of the country. Instead, he chose to speak about Islam to his community, and began a modest lecture tour in the region that drew hundreds to libraries and community centers, where audience members could ask questions, and learn about what it means to be Muslim. From the Post article:

He introduced himself as a doctor who had studied comparative religion at Georgetown with professors who were “the epitome of intellect and scholarship.” He said that what he learned was that if you want to understand Islam, or anything, “you have to be sincere” and “you have to use your brain.”

He looked around at the crowd. “Because it’s easy to demonize. You know, ‘Everybody else is crazy and I’m just right,’ ” he said sharply. “And what kind of society does that create? That’s what ISIS does. That’s what these zealots do. Do we want to be like that? As Americans, don’t we want to be better than that? We better be better than that.”