This blog went live in April, 2017 — I have yet to explain the blog tagline (“An alt-brown look at medicine, money, faith, and family”), or provide a blog “origin story.” It’s probably taken this long because as in many other things, I take awhile to get to the point. I tend to ramble and meander before getting to the punch line.
First — I need to mention a friend, Yasmin Hakim. Without her this site would look like Craigslist. She’s a fashion blogger and a graphic designer, and she also knows a great deal about web design. She created this site’s logo from scratch, helped refine my tagline, and helped build the website (she’s also helped fix and enhance a few things since going live). If you need help with a website (from the basics if you are a beginner blogger like me or if you want help with aesthetics or content) you can find her at BanglesAndBungalows.com, or you can email her at Yasmin@BanglesAndBungalows.com. She didn’t ask for or pay for this mention — but she certainly deserves it.
Where it (partly) began
I was born and raised and have spent a good deal of my life in a conservative, Midwest state. For many people, I’ve been their only Muslim friend — their only regular exposure to someone practicing Islam. In elementary school the only other Muslims were my older brother and a family friend. In high school, there were more of us scattered throughout the grades — Ramadan wasn’t a foreign concept — but college and med school were similar to elementary school.
I went to college and medical school in a college town a couple hundred miles from my hometown. The university, though filled with wonderful people (including the wonderful woman who is now my wife) and with many phenomenal educational programs, is not renown for its diversity. As such, meeting a religious minority was an uncommon occurrence.
In terms of social interaction, medical school was similar to high school. My medical school class was smaller than my high school class, and the first two years were filled with small group classes with only 8 students, in addition to the “large” lectures with less than 100 people. I again was the only Muslim (in the entire school as far as I know).
Does this story have a point?
I think so.
At the beginning of medical school, I made friends with an intelligent and inquisitive classmate. This friendship was his first exposure to this odd religion that traced its roots back to Christ and earlier. The Prophet that spread these teachings said the tenets were based on the religions that came before it, but many have rejected its validity. This Prophet was mocked and attacked and driven from his home. This religion has a sacred text that builds off of prior sacred texts, but that has not legitimized it in the eyes of many.
This religion is scorned by many — it apparently allows a man to have multiple wives. Dancing is prohibited (must make the multiple weddings a bore). Woman are marginalized and subservient to men.
This well read individual knew the basic concepts of the religion as mentioned above, but nothing deeper or nuanced. This friendship was his first exposure to a real-life, living, breathing person who actually believed or practiced some of this stuff. There just weren’t many of them where he was from.
So he and I spent a lot of time talking — not much about religion, but studying, talking about life, making jokes, etc. It wasn’t so much an opportunity to bust religious myths as it was a way to put a face to the stereotypes, and through time, blowing up the stereotypes. Given the sporadic negative attention in the media and lack of any personal connection to the religion, it was somewhat easy to make the religion, and its followers, the butt of jokes (or objects of derision).
However the friendship helped dispel much of that — to this day, he and I have occasional but well-thought out Facebook conversations. We align on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but we have a great deal in common, including a great deal of respect for each other and our respective backgrounds and perspectives.
Flipping the script…
Yes, in medical school, the shoe was on the other foot. This “friend” from medical school is me, and that was the tale of me making my first Mormon friend.
Islam and Mormonism have some shared traits. Being oft-maligned and dealing with misperceptions may be the strongest similarities. Persecuted prophets and associated culture or religious tenets that draw scorn are also shared traits.
In reality, I became friends with two Mormon classmates. My knowledge of Mormonism was limited to the basic “facts” I learned in school, and was colored by whatever distorted news popped up in the media. I’ve been The Muslim Friend for many people — these two were My Mormon Friends. Prior to this I didn’t know a single Mormon (or if I did, I didn’t know — those shorts are hard to see).
These two friends were/are wonderful people. They are also completely different.
- C.S. — the friend from my story; sarcastic with a wicked and wonderful sense of humor; already married with kids, he had a great sense of balance between medicine and everything else that I still haven’t achieved; very conservative, but also very insightful and level-headed about other religions (including Islam); very focused — wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon, and is now an orthopedic surgeon. At last check he had roughly 13,351 kids of his own, and had purchased a tractor-trailer to move his family somewhere in the Northwest.
- M.B. — he looked like a model (I think he was a model); he was very athletic — he competed in ballroom dance and ultimate frisbee; he was so nice it hurt — he made people ice cream cakes on their birthday. He was very intelligent — I’m fairly sure he studied, but I’m not sure when he had the time. He became a family medicine doc, and is probably still going around doing everything for everyone.
So that’s partly what this blog is about. Having an opportunity to share stories, interact with people I/we otherwise would not interact with, and at times, use that opportunity to dispel myths or identify common bonds. It’s about learning and educating, and to an extent, about whatever random stuff pops into my head.
So why alt-brown?
I coined that phrase (trademark pending) during the November 2016 election as a sarcastic/funny response to the phrase that had become popularized during the election cycle.
“Alt-right” was a popular phrase during the election cycle, but it launched back into the mainstream consciousness after recent events in Charlottesville.
Not surprisingly, a march organized by hate groups, countered by people who refused to give in to the hate, led to tension and fights. Unfortunately, it also led to a violent attack on the counter-protestors by a human piece of excrement, and it cost a young woman her life. The day before this post went online, another piece of excrement carried out a similar attack in Barcelona. Both are acts of hate and terrorism, and neither should be tolerated or justified.
So again — why Alt-brown?
Well — we have Neo-nazi’s and white supremacists (the “alt-right”) demanding their country back. Their existence and the phrase “alt-right” displays a fundamental misunderstanding of this country — both its past, even with all its black marks, and its future. I like to consider myself an example of their inability to comprehend the best parts of this country.
I’m a second-generation Pakistani-American — my parents moved to the U.S. in the 1970’s. I was born and raised here. I’m also Muslim.
To the Neo-nazi’s, I am a foreigner. I don’t belong here — they don’t think this is my country. My skin color is wrong. My religion is wrong. My name is wrong.
When I visit Pakistan (and I’m admittedly overdue for another visit), I’m also a foreigner. My clothing is wrong. My mannerisms are wrong. My accent is wrong (also, my Urdu is awful).
So what’s a Pakistani-American to do? Do I really not belong anywhere?
My parents, who have been here for over 40 years, are probably more Pakistani than American. They came here and started a business and enmeshed themselves in the community. They’ve worked hard and sacrificed to raise children, and ensured that their kids had a strong educational and moral foundation. Their children are grown and married and independent — all three kids became doctors, and all are giving back to the community. My parents could have retired, but they choose to continue to work. People like them are not just essential to the lifeblood of this country — they are the country. They are the American dream, and are more American than any Neo-Nazi.
My in-laws, whose ancestry dates back here several generations (and includes some Native-American ancestry), look nothing like me or my parents. They are part of the fabric of their town. They’ve worked hard and sacrificed while raising children. They’ve instilled the desire for education, strong family values, and a great moral compass in their children. They both did just retire, so they could spend more time together, more time traveling, and more time with family. My father-in-law calls his hometown “The Heart of America.” Just like every town in America, it has its flaws, but I’ve met many wonderful people from that town and in that town.
My wife chose to marry the guy who didn’t look similar, whose name is hard to pronounce, and who follows a different religion. Together we have three children — who unfortunately for the “alt-right” — are destined to take over the world. They’re inquisitive, precocious, and even at a young age, demonstrate an understanding of what it’s like to straddle different worlds and move between them.
Rogue One is giddy with anticipation with each visit to his grandparents in the Heart of America. He loves to fish and wander in the woods looking for deer tracks, but he also tells me he can’t wait until he’s old enough to travel for Hajj. He reads Captain Underpants and the Quran in the same evening. He spans religions and cultures without even thinking about it.
He and his brothers, the literal offspring of a marriage between cultures and religions, represent what is best about America, even though it is what the “alt-right” decries as an abomination.
So ultimately this blog is about all these things — not just the buzzwords from the tagline, but all the things that help connect us. It’s even an opportunity for me to make a little bit of money — after all, that’s part of the American Dream too, right?
If you like what you read here, sign up for email notifications of new posts and eventually a newsletter (coming in September, 2017, with a goal of 3-4x/year with highlights of the blog and good content from The Interwebs that relate to blog content). I will never sell your email address (unless someone makes a REALLY good offer). Just enter your email address in the spot on this page down below, or click here to go to the Subscribe page.