Monday, July 03, 2017

Story of Muslim doctor dealing with prejudice in rural Minn. puts you inside his head and heart

Ayaz Virji and his wife, Mussarrat
(Post photo by Salwan Georges)
When a Muslim became the third doctor in a small Minnesota town, “It felt right,” to him, he told The Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen. "But that feeling began to change after the election of Donald Trump," McCrummen writes, in a story that puts you inside the head and heart of Ayaz Virji, "the first Muslim to ever live in Dawson, a farming town of 1,400," she reports.

When Virji moved with his wife and three children from Harrisburg, Pa., "No one seemed to care that he was Muslim, of Indian descent, born in Kenya and raised in Florida. They just needed a good doctor," McCrummen writes. "He never thought Trump would win, much less in Dawson," which Barack Obama had carried twice. But Trump won the town by 6 percentage points and Lac qui Parle County in a landslide.

Virji was "shocked and angry . . . saying he hoped people realized that they just voted to put his family on a Muslim registry, and how would he be treated around here if he didn’t have M.D. after his name," McCrummen reports. He and his wife thought about leaving, but decided to stay, "and he tried to transform his anger into understanding." Then a patient asked him to talk about Islam at her Lutheran church, and 400 people came. In a county of 7,300. He won a semi-standing ovation.

Virji spoke in Dawson (green dot), Montevideo (B)
and Granite Falls, Minnesota. (Map Quest image)
But a few weeks later, in Montevideo, pop. 5,200, the seat of Chippewa County, pop. 12,500, which also flipped from Obama to Trump, things were different. "They yelled that they were praying for his salvation and called him the Antichrist. Their tone became so hostile that Musarrat, who had brought their 9-year-old daughter, moved to the back of the room, closer to the exit," McCrummen reports. "In the days after, people wrote letters to the local paper saying how embarrassed they were at the doctor’s reception, but Ayaz decided he was done with trying to explain Islam to rural Minnesota. Except that the invitations kept coming."

McCrummen went with Virji to Granite Falls, pop. 2,900, the seat of Yellow Medicine County, pop. 12,500, which voted Republican in 2012 and 2016. She describes in great detail his preparation, thoughts and his presentation, which was angry at times. During the question time, one man said, "I hear a lot of pain from you this evening. . . . I'm sorry." Virji won applause, but as he arrived back in Dawson, "He still felt different, more and more like a stranger in a rural Midwestern town," McCrummen writes. "He didn’t want to feel that way. He hoped in time he wouldn’t. He turned onto Pine Street, and then he was home."

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