William Smith alum Musawar Ahmad ’08 was featured in the Finger Lakes Times in the “Perspective” column. The article focuses on her family’s strong connection to its Pakistan heritage, noting they are part of a sect of Muslims known as the Ahmadis.
The article explains, “The Ahmadi population in Pakistan has been persecuted, discriminated against and systematically oppressed by the Muslim majority, which regards the Ahmadiyya movement as a heretic sect. Ahmadis are considered non-Muslims by mainstream Muslims across the globe and have been further deprived of religious rights in the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. Many Ahmadis have been killed, including Musawar’s grandfather.”
The feature article goes on to describe how Ahmad “came to fully embrace her heritage and religion” and what it’s been like living in a post 9/11 world.
Ahmad earned a B.A. in English from William Smith College. She was named to dean’s list as a student.
The full article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
Perspective: About face | American embraces Pakistani heritage
Spencer Tulis • February 6, 2014
Musawar Ahmad lives in Waterloo, but her parents were born in Pakistan.
During President Nixon’s administration in the early 1970s, there was a shortage of pharmacists in the United States. A program was put into place whereby the government pumped money into pharmacy school education. Restrictions were loosened allowing pharmacy students and pharmacists from abroad to more easily acquire visas.
Musawar’s father took advantage of that, and after several relocations eventually bought a pharmacy business in Waterloo that he still runs today, 25 years later.
The family maintains a strong connection to its heritage, regularly cooking meals native to their homeland. Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, is spoken often in the home. It wasn’t until Musawar entered kindergarten that she started to learn English through an immersion program.
Her family, including two brothers, is part of a sect of Muslims known as the Ahmadis. The Ahmadi population in Pakistan has been persecuted, discriminated against and systematically oppressed by the Muslim majority, which regards the Ahmadiyya movement as a heretic sect. Ahmadis are considered non-Muslims by mainstream Muslims across the globe and have been further deprived of religious rights in the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. Many Ahmadis have been killed, including Musawar’s grandfather.
She said it is only a coincidence that her last name Ahmad and the sect’s name Ahmadi are so similar.
In America, the family freely practices its faith at a mosque in Rochester.
Musawar, 27, was born in the United States and was an excellent but shy student. As the only Muslim family in the Waterloo Central School District at the time, classmates were often confused about her nationality (was she Puerto Rican, Mexican, etc.?)
She says being somewhat different was, for her, empowering, and it helped her form an identity.
Her name often was butchered by others to the point that many just called her “Moose,” something she was not happy with.
Musawar spent most of her life as a fairly “regular” kid listening to popular music, aware of pop culture and participating in many of the activities everyone else was into.
She went on to get a degree from William Smith College.
It wasn’t until two years ago that she came to fully embrace her heritage and religion.
That’s when she started routinely wearing a hajib, or head scarf, and regularly going to the mosque. Wearing the hajib itself is a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality among Muslim women.
Why the sudden change? There just came a time when she felt the need to make her faith a higher priority and have a closer identity with the Muslim people.
When asked if she is treated differently when she’s wearing a head scarf, she offered up that most are less engaging and forward when initially meeting her. One incident in particular was very unsettling. A year and a half ago she went out to Tops for some grocery items. She was wearing a head scarf. A man seemed in a hurry, so she let him go ahead of her at checkout. She heard him muttering “terrorist, terrorist” then out of nowhere he started shouting, “I spot a terrorist!”
When asked about life for her family after 9/11 in Waterloo, she said there were good people and others not so good. It was definitely “different” for the family for a bit, but not too bad for her personally since she was only 14 and was well integrated in school.
Many Americans are unaware that Pakistan is not an Arab country. In fact, Pakistanis are considered Asians.
Musawar has been to Pakistan four times and loved it. But because of safety issues, political tension, corruption and persecution there, living in America, even after 9/11, is better by far, and it is where she wants to be.
Musawar looks forward to her future life here along with the prospects of marriage. In her case it will be an arranged one. She is open to all races, but he must be an Ahmadi Muslim. The process involves some networking with family, friends and a matchmaker. She has the option of refusing their choice and can wait for the right guy, something lay people are sometimes unaware of regarding the tradition.
One of the things she appreciates most about the Geneva area is its diversity.
Not too long ago you might have read a Letter to the Editor by Musawar published in the Finger Lakes Times. In it, she closes with a thought-provoking message: ” … take a look around you and appreciate the diversity we have in America.”