Nick Kristof features an amazing woman in his NYT column today: Hawa Abdi, the 63-year-old Somali doctor and lawyer who has confronted armed hard-line militias running rampant in the near-anarchy of Somalia’s disintegration – and, backed by the outrage of the vast Muslim majority worldwide, forced the extremists to back down.
Dr Abdi and her daughter were the two doctors I wanted so much more of in my recent review of Eliza Griswold’s ‘The Tenth Parallel,’ Here’s part of why, on page 139 of Griswold’s book:
The hill on which we were standing was a mass grave.
‘We buried ten thousand and seventy-eight bodies here,’ Dr Abdi told me as we cut through the press of new arrivals and picked our way down the steep slope to the place she euphemistically called the neo-natal ward: a cracked veranda where half a dozen babies lay dying of chronic diarrhea, which is treatable. Abdi stuffed her worn hands into the frayed pockets of her white lab coat. When I first visited in June 2007, twenty thousand people had fled to her farm for safety; when I returned in April 2008, that number had quadrupled to eighty thousand.
As the Somalian government collapsed, famine struck, and foreign aid workers fled literally for their lives, the one-room women’s clinic Dr Abdi opened in 1983 became a 400-bed hospital, and her 1,300 acres of farmland on a hill outside Mogadishu became a refuge for those displaced by the famine and violence.
Then this past May, the extremist Hizb al-Islam (Party of Islam), angry at the very idea of a woman running the place, ordered her to hand it over. She refused. They attacked, with 750 soldiers, and seized the hospital.
But here’s the turning point: the world’s Somalis reacted, rightly, with outrage. And their outrage – and that of Muslims worldwide – shamed the Islamist militia into backing down. Dr Abdi could run the hospital under their direction, they said.
Again, she refused, demanding that the extremists withdraw completely. More than that, she demanded an apology from them, in writing, for having wrecked the hospital.
A week later, they did just that.
Here’s how Kristof concludes his column:
What a woman! And what a Muslim! It’s because of people like her that sweeping denunciations of Islam, or the “Muslim hearings” planned in Congress, rile me — and seem profoundly misguided.
The greatest religious battles are often not between faiths, but within faiths. The widest gulfs are often not those that divide one religion from the next, but those between extremists and progressives within a single faith. And in this religious season, there’s something that we can all learn from the courage, compassion and tolerance of Dr. Hawa Abdi.
But here’s where I disagree with Kristof: This is not between extremists on one side and progressives on the other. It is, I think, between extremists and the vast majority of Muslims: the one and a half billion believers, including both mainstream and progressives, whose moderation – exactly as advocated in the Quran itself — never makes the headlines.
For more on Dr Abdi (Kristof refers to her as Dr Hawa, Griswold as Dr Abdi), altmuslimah says it has a fuller profile in the works.