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Written by Sister Mary Margaret Funk   

We’ve all been traumatized.  As the months thin the memory we see in a rearview mirror that the 9/11  yanked our insides out.  We need a doctor who is wise, kind and skillful.  Dr. Shahid Athar has taken the trouble to expand his practice as a physician specialized in endocrinology to anoint wounds of our collective soul.

In this collection of his recent writings he provides diagnosis, treatment and reflection on our condition.  A rare gift is some one who can have a current practice of patients and take on the body politic.  Dr. Athar has been at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis for 30 years.  He’s respected for his delicate diagnosis in balancing patient’s chemistry- as in diabetes. The underserved, marginal folks know him for his outreach as a personal physician.  This one to one outreach is accompanied by a huge heart of inclusiveness as a Muslim who can teach by both word and example.

You’ll have to read the text to appreciate his diagnosis, treatment and reflection but I want to give witness that this physician’s view contributes to the keenest observations and deserves our reading, dialogue and openness to shift limitations toward the direction of his expanded heart.  Let me share how Dr. Athar ’s views have changed me:

About diagnosis:

9/ll The West was ignoring the strain of unbalance of power in the Arab world.  The roots of fundamentalism rise when options fail to create ways for humans to live together in harmony under God on our planet.  This happened to be Saudi Muslims; it could have been other marginalized zealots.  The cause for war, terrorism and political despotism needs to be rooted out at its source, i.e. hatred, greed and intolerance for ways people worship God.

A secondary diagnosis about 9/ll is that the cause is that we just don’t care enough for each other on this planet.  Where are our feelings for each other?  He boldly shares what it’s like to be an American Muslim professional.  What’s it like to be Muslim today and where’s the Muslim voice in our polity.   In a poem on “Am I A Terrorist?” he passionately concludes:  “No, we are Muslims and humans just like you, seeking peace and justice and help from God.”  Knowing Dr. Athar there’s a face to every Muslim.

About treatment:

The world needs to understand each other.  Political views and religious sensibilities are conditioned over many years.  We must share our ways of being in the world under God and accept differences and cross over boundaries of assistance.   All of us must reduce suffering.   This can be done by each of us boldly sharing our faith and sharing our hands.   Dr. Athar has a clear, compelling way of sharing his Muslim way of life.  His ready quotes from the Koran and his focused intellect guided by wise sayings of Mohammad and Islamic scholars is neither pedantic nor evangelizing, but helpful and insightful.  He solicits from me, as a Christian, a similar practice:  What’s does the Gospel say to this?  How can we live today and what inspiration can our living faith awaken and sustain us in this time of crisis.  If you are looking for a Muslim view that is balanced, articulate and compelling this book of Dr. Athar will give voice to that aspiration.

His treatment for Muslims is the prescription:  …we need to take charge of our religion as we take charge of our families, our health and our lives.  We should learn Islam for ourselves as a religion of love, peace and tolerance and prove it by our individual actions.  I we want to be counted as Muslim Americans, we must take all the concerns of Americans, whether terrorism, anthrax, drugs, violence or even pollution as our own concerns.  We must show Islam by our actins, not by speeches, videotapes and pamphlets.    He takes it further:  We must denounce all those who use religion for their political gain and denounce political powers that wish to abuse the religion of Islam.  We must reclaim our faith from the terrorist who hijacked it and also from the leadership who apologize for them.”

About reflection:

After 9/11 the discourse ricocheted to the political solutions.  War, invasion of Iraq, rebuilding of Afghanistan and Iraq.  We tend to watch the horses running around the track and place bets on horses that catch our fancy, but fail to take note that there are other horses stepping into the gate to wait for the sound of the gun.  The polls keep score.  Unfortunately, war and peace, sickness, death, poverty and religious intolerance aren’t a sport.  Lives are lost, relationships are permanently fractured, and the whole planet weeps.

With a physician’s keep eye Dr. Athar provides words that anoint the soul with a pervasive hope.  In 1999 I coordinated for Monastic Inter religious Dialogue a Vigil of Peace at St. Charles Catholic Church in Bloomington Indiana. Dr. Athar gave the invocation chant representing the Muslims.  The Dalai Lama gave the Buddhist chant.  We had a Jewish Rabbi.We also had monks and nuns from Christian and Hindu traditions. My nephew, Nick, who was then a senior at Notre Dame said to me after the service, “Who was that man, so in love with God?”  He described the ‘call’ to prayer given by Dr. Athar, the only layman on the program.

It’s a rare gift to be a man of this world as a doctor, a mystic and a political activist.  These words of his deserve our attention, not only if we want to make sense of 9/ll but also be healed of our wounds.  We must act because as he says, “Evil flourishes when few good people do nothing to oppose it”.  We can remove terrorism in our lifetime with much collaboration and God’s grace.  We can heal our wounds of have and have not's with more services on behalf of the poor. We can listen to each other’s stories and have a feel ‘from whence they come’ and be quick not to judge, but to open our hearts to differences and celebrate the human spirit sacredly placed under our care these brief moments of history.