Our dreams are fragile. Our dreams can fade away almost instantly when our beliefs weaken, or our needs are not met. A single child’s dream can change the lives of many people. One such child in India, who used to sell stuff in a local bazaar for his bread in the 1960s, was dreaming of becoming a doctor. All he needed was genuine help, help with pure intention, help with no interest.
Against all odds, he continued to have strong faith and was able to attend medical school. He needed to get financial support to continue his schooling. Thankfully, his friends offered genuine help. After he finished the medical school with outstanding scores he got a residency in the US and became a Pulmonary Critical Care physician. The genuine help with no interest has given its fruits, and he is not only giving genuine help back to his own friends but also to his close and extended family. He has changed the lives of tens, even hundreds, of people.
This was the story told by Dr. Atar Haq at A Continuous Charity (ACC) fundraiser event in Philadelphia. Dr. Haq was sharing his father’s story. It was his father who inspired him to launch ACC. I was very impressed by the story, as it reflected my own life. I found myself thinking that all we need is strong faith and genuine help.
When I was 18, I also made the choice to pursue my dream of studying abroad. Although I faced the obstacle of securing the means to make the trip possible, I was determined to put forth the effort to make my dream a reality. I was fortunate to connect with an agency that supports study-abroad students through scholarships. The agency is a non-profit volunteer organization from the Muslim community in Turkey that believes in the value of education. They gather funds from stakeholders, primarily Turkish, to support students’ education. They offered the genuine help I needed most. Thanks to God, my beliefs persisted, and my needs were met; my dream came true, and I attended a medical school in China.
As I pursued my studies, I began to dream of doing my clinical training in America. For four months after my graduation, I scoured career networking sites for an opportunity. Thankfully, I found a volunteer research position at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. With only $400 to my name, I took a leap of faith chasing my dreams. Performing research while pursuing a residency was not easy, but I continued to believe and eventually found an organization that supports medical students and graduates pursuing residencies. I was truly blessed and grateful while remaining aware that God provides a path to whoever shows effort. I continued conducting my unpaid research while this organization extended its genuine hand.
Although my research kept me busy, I felt lonely praying in the university library and living around Center City in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. I felt a need to connect, to be a part of a community where everybody helps each other with a genuine heart and nothing in return. This need pushed me to reach out to the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Little did I know that this would be my introduction to lifelong friends. It was also my introduction to community work: I served as a medical volunteer for the ICNA Relief SHAMS Clinic, a free clinic that serves poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
The brothers from the MSA also introduced me to A Continuous Charity (ACC), the organization I mentioned in the beginning. ACC supports Muslim students in obtaining interest-free loans to fund their education. They help students who, just like me, have a foundational belief but no means to satisfy their dreams. My best friend, Usman, was heavily involved in their work, and, through my participation in ACC, I learned about the student debt crisis in America, a matter that struck a chord with me. Since the chapter was founded in Pennsylvania three years ago, they have given interest-free loans to 23 students like me who are seeking higher education. This support is important to offset the staggering number of American Muslims forced to either forego higher education or get loans with interest to support their aspirations, which is problematic, for Islam does not allow interest (this is a very detailed topic, so I’d recommend readers to explore what is in the prohibited category and what is not). Even without this Islamic prohibition, one of the biggest problems in America is the student debt crisis. Many organizations work tirelessly to fight this crisis, including the Jewish Free Loan Association, Evalee C. Schwarz Charitable Trust for Education, Annie Seibel Foundation, and Bill Roskob Foundation. I wholeheartedly support the efforts of these organizations. After I was introduced to the ACC PA chapter, I started actively participating in community outreach activities; I heard the story of Dr. Haq’s father at one of these events.
As I continued managing my research, completing my exams, and applying for a medical residency, I could feel my time in Philadelphia running out. Alhamdulillah (all thanks and gratitude belongs to God), I matched at a neurology residency program at the University of Massachusetts, in Worcester. Once again, I looked back and was grateful that God had given me the faith and means to continue following my dreams. Thankful for everyone who supported my education, I promised myself and Allah I would, in turn, support the next generation of students who have dreams but no means. Although I am eager to give back to the organizations that supported me, the ACC PA chapter is also a great medium through which I can give genuine help to students. Traditional government loans charge interest, causing a financial burden that can delay students’ family planning, prolong debt payment plans, and cause stress. In comparison, I never felt stressed about the support I received from these organizations while studying in China and pursuing my career in the United States. When I reflect on what might have happened if I’d had to finance my education through traditional means, I wonder whether I would have continued pursuing this path. I am filled with gratitude in every single part of my body and in all the neurons of my brain. My success and the success of individuals like me will make a stronger community that serves others with genuine heart, hand, and help.