I picked up Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America at my library because I don’t know a lot about being Muslim. Or being Muslim in America. I thought the book would help me better understand the Muslim faith and I was not disappointed. I highly recommend this book – it’s interesting, enjoyable, and you will undoubtedly learn something new.
Dr. Ayaz Virji felt called to help with the doctor shortage in rural America, and when an opportunity opened in rural Minnesota, he and his wife, Mussarat, moved their family from the East Coast to Dawson, Minnesota. The year was 2013. As the only doctor in Dawson, Minnesota, he became the medical director for the hospital, nursing home, and clinic. His family quickly adjusted to life in Dawson, a town of about 1,400 people.
I can relate to life in Dawson. I grew up in a Midwestern town of 1,200 people with no stoplights. The town doctor is an important figure in small towns, and it is easy for me to see how initially, Dr. Virji’s adjustment to life in a small town was simple. Small town people rely upon their local doctor, and the religion of their doctor is usually not important.
Dr. Virji is of Indian descent, born in Kenya, and raised in the U.S. He attended Georgetown University where he studied different religions. He said, “Christianity is a religion of love, of kindness, of peace, of justice. I am very proud and happy to have gone to Christian schools. It was my honor to do so.” He ultimately decided to practice the Muslim faith.
The world changed rapidly after the family’s move to Dawson. Local children began making anti-Muslim remarks to the Virji children, and the entire family began feeling unwelcome and disconnected from their new community. At that point, Dr. Virji and his wife had a decision to make – stay and help educate the community about the Muslim faith, or retreat to another place where people would accept and appreciate who they are. They decided to stay.
Dr. Virji, with the help of the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church, created a lecture called Love Thy Neighbor which is a factual but also deeply personal story of what it’s like for the Virji family to be Muslim in America. The lecture begins with “We can’t be scared of each other. We need to join together and build a foundation of love and respect. We don’t have to agree with everything, but let’s know first. I would hope we can do that. Let’s know.”
I have much more to learn, but I do feel as though I know more having read the book. For those of you wanting to know more about the Muslim faith, I highly recommend this book.
Have you read Love Thy Neighbor, and if so, what did you think of the book?
If you had been in Dr. Virji’s shoes, would you have stayed in Dawson and educated the community about the Muslim faith, or would you have moved to a new community where you and your family would feel more welcome and safe?
What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?