Monthly Archives: June 2010

U-M medical student, Rhodes Scholar highlights importance of education, achieving goals

By Aysha Jamali

Abdulrahman El-Sayed, a self-described ambitious 25-year-old, has a passion for academia that has carried him from his native Michigan across the Atlantic to the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

“To tell you the truth, when I applied I really didn’t think I had a shot. And when I was chosen it was first, I think, a bit of euphoria,” he said.  “It’s one of those things you never really feel like you deserve in any way.”

According to, El-Sayed was one of 32 students from around the nation chosen as a Rhodes Scholar for 2009, by which he is pursuing a doctoral degree in Public Health at the University of Oxford.

The Rhodes Scholarships, initiated in 1902, are the oldest international fellowships. According to the Rhodes Trust Web site, selection committees seek excellence in qualities of mind and person that offer the promise of effective service to the world. The Scholarships have a comprehensive set of criteria where intellectual excellence is required, but not in isolation from other qualities such as being physically and morally capable of leadership.

“I’m very distinct about my goals,” El-Sayed said. “Insofar as one believes that his or her goals mean something bigger than just the paper accomplishment, then he or she should seek to pursue

(Sam Wolson/photographer) El-Sayed said he plans to enter a career of research, teaching and then clinical practice.

those goals and to accomplish them with a certain fervor and passion.”

He is also a medical student at the University of Michigan where he completed his undergraduate schooling, according to the Huffington Post where he is a contributing writer.

“I think I’ve always been ambitious,” he said. “I think that’s just how I am.”

El-Sayed stated this quote by Blaise Pascal: “Nothing is as approved as mediocrity, the majority has established it and it fixes it fangs on whatever gets beyond it either way.”

He said if people want to be average, they should do what everyone else is doing.

“In my mind, if you have goals and you have ideals that you seek to propagate in the world, generally you can’t just go with the flow on anything,” he said. “And so to me, alhamdulillah [praise be to God], I’ve been very directed about the things that I find important and the endeavors to which I’ll give my time.”

But El-Sayed said he doesn’t know that his ambition was always well-targeted in the past. Not always a great student in middle school and high school, he said he thinks it wasn’t until college that he was able to point his ambition toward worthwhile goals.

He said his father, who moved to Michigan from Egypt in 1979, always expected the most from him and encouraged him to do better.

“I never really believed it until I got to college and saw that I could do a lot better and be really good at this,” he said.

El-Sayed also realized something else from college. He described it as a major turning point in his life.

“When I started college, I was not particularly religious and I didn’t want anything to do with the Muslim community,” he said.

But then in the winter of 2004 during his freshman year, El-Sayed said, something clicked.

“All of a sudden I had a really strong re-ignition of my understanding of my relationship with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala [God the glorious and exalted] and my relationship with people,” he said.

He said the culmination of emptiness from not having a relationship with his creator was eye-opening.

“The people that I was hanging out with and the things that I found interesting, at the end of the day, held no real significance to me or to anyone else,” he said. “And that was troubling in a way.”

El-Sayed said when he realized the importance of a relationship with God, he also realized the value of strong relationships with people who saw that importance.

“And since then, in a small way, I do try to maintain that and to be an active presence,” he said.  “I definitely see that maintaining an active voice within the Muslim community among all Muslims is of fundamental importance.”

El-Sayed said one of his favorite activities was working with the Michigan Muslim Youth Council, where he said he enjoyed the opportunity to work with youth in various formative times of their lives.

Perhaps El-Sayed appreciated those formative times because he had experienced his own.

“I took a really formative trip to Egypt between my freshman and sophomore year in college,” he said. “And, I think on purpose, my dad kind of closed the reins on the amount of money that I could use while I was there.”

Living on just 10 to 15 pounds a day, with a half liter bottle of water priced at about 2 pounds, El-Sayed said he became more aware of his privileges in America and his opportunity to address issues of social justice.

“I’ll leave Egypt and go back to my upper middle class American life and many other people won’t. So insofar as education is an opportunity to address that issue for some people, then I better take this thing seriously,” he said.

El-Sayed also emphasized the opportunities that education provides for Muslims in America.

“I think one of the opportunities that we have as Muslims in the U.S. is to pursue education to a degree that is unencumbered and uncompromised in whatever we want to do. I think we really disregard a huge ni’mah [blessing or loan] of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala [God the glorious and exalted] if we don’t take advantage of that to its fullest,” he said.

Although education is important to him, El-Sayed said he tries not to be a bookworm. He served as vice president of the U-M Muslim Students’ Association and president of the Muslim Medical Students’ Association. He was also chosen to be the student speaker at the 2007 U-M commencement.

El-Sayed said he also loves lacrosse, a game that he has been playing for almost 15 years. He described it as one of his passions and was even starting defenseman on U-M’s lacrosse team.

He said his other passions include politics and social science, medicine and traveling. He said he also loves epidemiology.

“It’s kind of my favorite thing to do. I just find it an incredible way to rather objectively categorize disparities and inequalities in existence in a very poignant and precise way,” he said.

El-Sayed categorized three things that he thinks are important for achieving goals: purifying intentions, seeking to rectify one’s relationship with God and prioritizing what’s important, such as family.

“And from there, work hard … Nothing worth accomplishing is easy,” he said. “Also, don’t ever let success get to your head.”

In regards to his biggest achievements, El-Sayed said he doesn’t know that he’s achieved anything yet.

“To be quite honest, I think to me the biggest achievements are the ones that are interpersonal, when you’ve done something for somebody,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve accomplished this in any way.”

About his future plans, El-Sayed said he still has a lot of education to go.

“Then after that, insha’Allah [God willing], I’m interested in going into a career of academics – ideally mostly research and teaching – and then clinical practice. We’ll see what the future holds.”


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Annual MIST competition held first time at WSU

By Aysha Jamali

The Muslim Inter-Scholastic Tournament, or MIST, was held Saturday, May 22 at Wayne State University for its annual Detroit regional tournament.

(Aysha Jamali/CAIR-MI) Tesneem Alkiek, a junior at Carman-Ainsworth High School, explains her Digital Art/Photography submission to the judges.

MIST is a program of regional competitions and workshops for local high school groups who then have the potential to move on to national tournaments.

The tournament, organized in part by WSU’s Muslims Students’ Association, consisted of a series of competitions lasting from 9 a.m. to 9:15 p.m.

“This is a very central location for the Muslim community,” Mansoor Siddiqui, a WSU senior and MSA president, said about WSU being chosen for MIST. “We thought it would be a good mix of our location and involvement from volunteers from MSA.”

The students, representing various Muslim organizations, milled around WSU’s Student Center as they waited for competitions to begin.

Competitions included math, poetry, fashion design, art, Islamic knowledge and community service.

Vernoica Choe, a senior from Grand Blanc High School, was participating in four competitions.

“It’s different for me, because I’m not Muslim and I’m not Arabic,” she said. “Personally, I think it’s a really good learning experience for me, and it’s fun.”

Each year, MIST chooses a theme, which focuses the competitions on one topic. This year’s theme was “Lantern of Modesty: Reflecting the Light from Within” and focused on the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that the innate character of Islam is modesty.

The digital art and photography competition featured different interpretations of the theme. One contestant used a verse from the chapter of the Quran titled Light, another incorporated anti-discrimination and yet another photographed a woman wearing hijab.

“I think this seems to have catered to a lot of different types of people,” said Fatima Noorulla, a WSU junior and MSA da’wah coordinator, “and those people have found something.”

Many of the students were participating in multiple competitions.

“I’m a part of the MSA and there’s a lot of stuff that I felt I could do a good job in so that’s why I entered,” said Abdulla Tarabishy, a freshman from International Academy who competed in digital art and business venture.

MIST’s mission is to bring high school students together on a regional and national level to develop leadership, promote communication, and inspire creativity while gaining a deeper understanding of Islam and Muslims, according to its Web site.

“Not everyone is good at learning just through listening or reading,” said Shazia Siddiqi, a WSU graduate student and founder of MIST. “That might not be the best method of learning for them. This is just a different way of learning.”

Siddiqi said she came up with the idea in 2001 when she was a freshman at the University of Houston. She said she always enjoyed competitions and felt there needed to be similar competitions to provide students the opportunity to learn about Islam.

“High school is like the microcosm of the society, and that’s the one place where you will find every type of Muslim,” she said.

According to her, it can be the last chance for people to get exposure to Islam. She said competitions like MIST can attract students to participate in MSA and learn more about Islam in a fun environment.

“It’s a way to get people’s foot in the door,” Siddiqi said.

Students were certainly having fun during Quiz Bowl, one of the most anticipated and intense competitions of the day.

“It was really heated,” said Awss Saied, a WSU sophomore and MSA treasurer. “And it was really fun to watch.”

The Quiz Bowl round between Plymouth-Canton Educational Park and Grand Blanc High School was witnessed by an audience of around 50 people in a muggy and cramped room. Excited chattering hummed in the background as the judges explained the rules.

(Aysha Jamali/CAIR-MI) Plymouth-Canton Educational Park (far table) and Grand Blanc High School (near table) battle in the third round of Quiz Bowl.

Contestants, eager to be the first to answer a question, slammed their palms on the tables in front of them. Each team argued for their right to answer, and cheers and chants sounded when each point was earned.

The scholarships for first, second and third place winners were provided by Fawakih Institute for their summer programs The Divine Names and Prophetic Eloquence. First place winners received full tuition to both programs, second place received a $400 scholarship to any program and third place received a $300 scholarship to any program.

Information on the winners can be found at

By the end of the day, the organizers from MSA were already looking to next year’s tournament and had ideas for improvement, such as more volunteers and better publicizing.

“It’s something I want to keep at Wayne State, for sure,” Siddiqui said. “I think next year if we did it again we would just be more used to it and more ready for what’s going to happen.”

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East West Link internship provides opportunities

By Aysha Jamali

The East West Link, a weekly community English and Urdu newspaper with roots from 1997, runs an internship program led by Bureau Chief Masood Farooqi.

Farooqi, a long-time Canton resident and former Ford engineer, said he started the paper to continue the legacy of his grandfather, who was a major journalist all his life.

“So after my separation from Ford, I seriously worked on it for the last few years, built a lab before and started the program,” he said.

(Asif Rohela/East West Link) Masood Farooqi introduces guest speaker Nadeem Siddiqi before he speaks to the interns in the East West Link lab.

In 2009 the “formal” internship began with the publishing of the first article in June, according to Farooqi.

He said about 22 students have gone through the program, and there are about 13 students currently interning from cities such as Canton, Novi, Troy and Brownstown.

Farooqi runs the program from his home in Canton where he has set up work stations for the interns to use weekly.

“We meet every Saturday morning and there we just brainstorm,” said Sabira Khan, a history and political science major at the University of Michigan. “We figure out what is happening in town, like the local events at CAIR and the Muslim organizations like ISPU. We attend their banquets and their events and cover those events.”

Khan, editor and program coordinator for the East West Link since January, said she leads the meetings where the interns also research global issues, come up with pieces of interest and assign stories.

“It’s definitely improving my writing skills, and I don’t always have to write about what they tell me,” said Areeba Raza, an East West Link intern since November and senior at Canton High School.

She said she can present her own story ideas to the editors at the weekly meetings and pursue them if they’re approved.

Taking field trips and learning from guest speakers is also a part of the internship. Khan said interns met local politicians at the Michigan Democratic Party Caucus, such as Gary Peters and Rick Snider, and also regularly meet representatives from local organizations, such as the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding Executive Director Shireen Zaman.

“I’ve always been involved with smaller magazines and high school newspapers,” Khan said. “But at the college level, getting involved in a major newspaper … I was way too reserved to handle that.”

Khan said the internship has helped her gain confidence and pursue her interests in journalism.

Ammaar Husain, also an East West Link intern and senior at Salem High school, said he has been interning since the beginning of the year and has written about eight or nine articles.

“I’m just participating for the fun of it,” he said.

Farooqi hands over a lot of the newspaper’s responsibility to the interns, according to Khan.

“He usually just hovers around and comes and goes,” she said. “We’re usually left to our own devices.”

The seven to 10 interns who regularly attend meetings are responsible for getting stories and submitting them to Khan by Sunday. She then edits, formats and sends them to Farooqi to be printed.

Although not many of the interns are interested in pursuing journalism as a career, Khan said, it does provide an avenue for their different interests.

“Most [interns] usually have science backgrounds but are also interested in public policy,” she said.

Nadeem Siddiqi, a Canton resident and Muslim American Society-Youth Detroit worker who was invited to speak to the interns, said he thinks the internship would be beneficial regardless of what profession the interns pursued.

“The main theme [of the talk] was the importance of communication and the fact that it is something that we use in all aspects of our lives and every single thing that we do,” Siddiqi said.

He said he emphasized to the interns the need for them to maintain a purpose and relevance to their writing.

“I think that it’s a good place for them to learn, and I would hope more and more people would go through this process and learn from it,” he said.

Farooqi said the biggest challenge for the internship is securing financial support.

“At this point, I am fully financing this,” he said. “It’s quite a bit of an investment I have done.”

Farooqi said the East West Link used the Urdu Times as a vehicle, but separated the internship from it to stay non-profit. He said he’s presenting the internship program to various organizations in an effort to gain their support.

“I would say because of the cause we are working for, the Muslim cause, our media community should work together,” he said.

Interns rotate in and out of the program and three new students have recently joined, according to Raza. She and Husain both said they would recommend the program to others.

“You get to meet new people and you get to improve your writing skills, too,” Raza said. “And make new friends.”

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