Qanta Ahmed is a Muslim physician, author, and British citizen. In a recent exclusive interview with United With Israel, she called Israel’s achievements in women’s and minority rights an inspiration to the Muslim world.
Qanta Ahmed is a physician, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, a British citizen and the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in Saudi Arabia.” Ahmed told United With Israel that she has traveled virtually everywhere in the Middle East, and has found no other country in the region with the same “level of freedom and integration.” Based on her experience, she acknowledges Israel as a special and unique country, a fact she believes no one should take for granted.
Ahmed recounts, “There was a very powerful sense of national identity in Israel, and in a certain way an acceptance of people wanting to be different. I found Israel extraordinarily liberating, for Muslim men and women. I met with Israeli Muslims…I visited the Beit Issi Shapiro Center in Kalansua, where Israeli Arab women were taking care of children with special needs. These women participated in the society, whether veiled or not. They had a role outside the household.”
Ahmed remarked that during her visit to the Technion, she was amazed by the various programs offered and the strong minority presence on the campus. She noted, “20 percent of the undergraduates at the Technion are Arab Muslims and seeing how they were thriving is very different from even the privileged women in Saudi Arabia. There is a different climate. I don’t feel in Israel that women are under siege or unequal or victims, but that is a strong feeling in the Muslim world. They aren’t fully empowered and they aren’t equal. I found Israel very refreshing. I did not find it in any way oppressive.”
Ahmed was also impressed that Israel provides a safe haven to the Ahmadi Muslim community, which is “persecuted across the Muslim world.” In contrast, the Ahmadi Muslim community in Haifa has “been thriving for the last 100 years.” They have their “own mosques, cemeteries funded by the Israeli government, and a school,” while in Pakistan “Ahmadi cemeteries are frequently desecrated, Ahmadis are barred from giving the Muslim call to prayer, and it is forbidden to call their holy places mosques.” Ahmed relates, “When I was visiting the minorities in Haifa, there were young men who recently converted [to Ahmadi Islam]…[and] some of them were Palestinians from the West Bank. They were excommunicated by their families in the West Bank for adopting their views and sought shelter in Haifa.” She acknowledged, “Israel is a guarantor of religious freedom. Religious freedom is an absolute human right under Israeli law, but not in the Palestinian Authority.”
Ahmed concluded, “The Muslim world needs Israel as an inspiration more than Israel needs the Muslim world’s acceptance. It is very bleak times, but Israel is extraordinarily hopeful…a hope I really experienced through the Israeli Muslims I met.”
By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United with Israel