It is always refreshing to sit down in conversation with a successful Muslima like Dr. Aliya Khan. This remarkable woman is a true gem in our community and has been able to find the balance between deen and dunya; between family and profession. She is an inspiration to all and leads by example.
Dr. Aliya is a practicing physician, professor and philanthropist. She is also well-versed in Islamic knowledge. Dr. Aliya is currently a Clinical Professor in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, according to the extensive bio of her on the university’s website. It also notes that Dr. Aliya has published more than 100 scientific papers on osteoporosis, parathyroid disease and skeletal health assessment. She has written numerous book chapters and is the co-editor of the Handbook of Parathyroid Disease. She has also received national awards, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for excellence in clinical care, research and teaching.
In my interview with Dr. Aliya, I asked what inspired her to become a physician. “I wanted to become a physician as my younger sister was disabled with Rett’s syndrome,” Dr. Aliya says. “I saw the devastating effect of her illness. She required help with feeding, bathing, dressing. Much of my childhood and teenage years were spent helping my sister with her significant needs. It was difficult to obtain the support we needed. I wanted to study Medicine in order to help my sister and also other patients and families coping with major illness.”
Dr. Aliya went on to specialize in the field of bone diseases as she was fascinated by the structure and function of the human skeletal system while studying biology in medical school.
“There were a lot of challenges actually, studying medicine as a Muslim girl – I was the only Muslim girl in my class at the University of Ottawa,” Dr. Aliya says. “I would face discrimination on a daily basis. It was important to maintain my Islamic identity without compromising excellence in my academic studies. For example, there was no designated prayer room at our hospital and I would have to pray in the library. I helped to form a prayer room and placed a Quraan and prayer rugs in the room. This process was a great dawa opportunity.” Although Dr. Aliya did face many challenges, she used the opportunity to inform others of Islam.
I asked Dr. Aliya how she manages to be a working professional as well as a full-time mother, wife, daughter, and sister. “It’s always important to recognize we need to prioritize everything,” she says. “Our first responsibility is our relationship with our Creator, Allah (SWT), and if we strive to please Allah (SWT) then all of our subsequent goals will be blessed with success. As a wife and a mother, there are responsibilities to our family which come first after which we can help our patients. I finished medical school at 22 and I was married that same year. My children were born during my residency.” Dr. Aliya says that anything is possible as long as time is managed efficiently.
With the love and support of her family, her aspirations were made possible. “I have a very supportive family; my husband, mom, and dad supported me immensely. They stayed with our small children so that I could complete my residency and then work full time. When we fulfill the rights of our family they in turn support us and when we care for them our lives are truly blessed, as our beloved Prophet said ‘The best of you is he who is best to his family’.”
“Being a Muslim makes me a better physician,” Dr Aliya says. “In medicine we need to advise our patients regarding the best treatment options for them. For me this becomes easier as I follow the words of our Prophet who said ‘you are not a believer unless you love for others what you love for yourself.’ I simply recommend for all my patients what I would choose for myself in that situation.”
Dr. Aliya advises that we should strive for excellence, “Allah (SWT) made us all different and blessed each of us with unique gifts and talents,” she notes. “One person may be great in drawing, another may be a great speaker, and another may be great in math. We need to identify what our special talents are and then develop our skills and achieve excellence in that area. Our beloved Prophet (SAW) said ‘verily God loves for a person to perform every action with excellence’.”
Dr. Aliya is involved in several charitable activities, including orphan sponsorship with a number of different charitable organizations. She is currently working with the Canadian Government as well as ISNA, ICNA and Doctors for Humanity (an organization which she formed) to bring 1300 Syrian refugees to Canada. If you are interested in helping with the Canadians Supporting Syrian Refugees program please provide your name and phone number to Sr. Seema Khan, ISNA Canada or Br. Agha, ICNA.