When Waqarun Rashid '09 came to Saint Anselm College, she found she had something in common with the Benedictine monks on campus.
Both express their faith in what they wear.
The monks dress in traditional black monastic habits. Rashid, a practicing Muslim, wears a headscarf and modest clothing.
“We represent our faith physically, but the true representation happens in the way you speak, in how you respect others, in how you act,” Rashid said. “I always felt that I was with other believers because they are so humble, so devout in their faith.”
Rashid, a senior biochemistry major from Salem, N.H., spoke about her experiences at Saint Anselm College’s May 16 commencement. Her talk focused on the struggle to bring social justice to the world – reflecting a value she says Islam and Christianity share.
Rashid is the only Muslim in her class, and one of five at Saint Anselm. As a senior, she was president of the Muslim Student Association, which formed in 2004. This year, the association had 13 members drawing non-Muslim students who wanted to learn more about Islam.
In the classroom her Muslim background became an opportunity to challenge what her peers thought and believed, especially in the two-year humanities program, known as Portaits in Human Greatness, that is mandatory for all students.
“I always felt like I was odd man out,” Rashid said. “There were these students who… raised in Catholic schools. I’ve always been one to be questioning, to try to get them to think more outside of the box.”
Her studies also helped her understand how her faith related to her chosen profession – medicine. During a humanities unit on Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Rashid examined Victorian-era debates about religion and science. She concluded the two are more compatible than not.
“One needs science and religion, she said. “Science needs religion and religion needs science.” Those two things – science and religion – will come together in her career. This fall Rashid will enter the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, N.Y., where she will pursue two degrees: a Doctor of Medicine and a doctorate in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology. Rashid will be a scientist, but it is her faith and what her faith teaches about social justice and caring for others that motivates her to help those who are sick.
Rashid wants to focus on diabetes and obesity-related diseases.
A toy doctor’s kit her parents gave her first stirred her interest in the field, but it was her visit to Pakistan, where her parents were born, that confirmed her interest in being a doctor. In Pakistan, Rashid remembers seeing people suffering from illnesses that could be easily treated back in the United States.
Once she finishes her graduate studies, she wants to return to the southeast Asian country.
“That’s one of my hopes and dreams – is to get back to Pakistan and give back to the people who need help,” she said.
Rashid will miss Saint Anselm College where she said she always felt accepted and at home.
“I never had any hate crimes or anything negative done to me,” she said. “I respected what it meant for them to be Catholic and they respected what it meant for me to be a Muslim.”
This story originally appeared in the May 15, 2009 issue of the Union Leader and is reprinted with permission. An audio recording of Waqarun Rashid's remarks to the Class of 2009 is available below. The text of her speech can be found here.