Munib Ali

Munib Ali an Ahmadi Muslim and first-year Medical student.

Munib will be starting Medical School in July of 2020. He is starting med school later due to personal circumstances that heartened him take a year off school for. This year, he is focusing on himself and his research in human biomechanics at the Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) as well as some research at the Cumming School of Medicine. He is active in social activism and his community.

What was your reaction when you found out you got into med-school on your first try? 

“As with anyone, a lot of excitement and things go through your head all at once,” Said Munib.

“But I guess an answer worth sharing is that the very first thing that probably went through my head was that I want to show my parents. I think one of the most important people that allowed this opportunity to be there in the first place was them.”

“So that was one of the first things that went through my head for sure. Another thing was this sigh of relief because, of course, you put a lot of time into it and just knowing that you have that security of being able to follow the path that you’ve wanted to follow.”

“I actually woke up out of bed, I was going to go study for the MCAT – which is the entrance exam, because I wanted to improve it for my next application round – I packed up my bag, I showered, and I was ready to leave the house. Right before leaving, I just looked on my phone and I got this email on my phone, which showed [the acceptance] and it was just like, this huge sigh of relief. I just threw my bag on the couch and [thought], ‘Okay, how do I tell my mom?’” Munib expressed with relief.                                                                                                                                                                  

Munib decided to become a doctor since early on his life. Of note, his mother is a Doctor. 

“The first thing is that my mom is a doctor. She was a gynecologist from Pakistan, and she was not able to practice here in Canada. It was an interesting kind of thing I grew up around. Obviously, anytime I had illnesses or anything, she would be right on the forefront of getting them fixed. And she played a huge part in the Jama’at (the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) and the first aid. Everyone relied on her medical knowledge. It’s interesting that although through her mind and capabilities, she is a doctor, but legally, she can’t practice here. Also, she spent a lot of the time taking care of us when we were growing older and put away that dream for us. So, I, in my head, saw it as an opportunity that was there for her, but she chose not to avail for my sake. That was the first thing, [which] is the influence of my mother. Another thing is that my mom’s side of the family is predominantly [composed of] doctors. My uncle in Pakistan, in 2007, was martyred because he was an Ahmadi Muslim. He was killed in Ramadan and was a leading cardiologist and pathologist in Pakistan. He was actually a principal for the Jinnah board, which is the biggest chain of hospitals. So, he was quite acclaimed in his profession. Anytime I visited we would be in their hospitality so I would have those kinds of experiences, you know, and he was always really kind. I guess having that influence throughout the family [was big]. Because one of the things they always mentioned in Medicine is that physicians’ families usually end up breeding physicians, which for the most part ends up being true.”

“The last thing is that, it’s not just about helping people. It was a mixture of both: of helping people and maintaining personal ties as well as to represent our community. On the side of helping people, you can help people in various ways. If you want to make big policy level changes, you can do human rights law, for example. The thing with medicine though, is it allows you to help people like tangibly, that you can notice. Someone comes in, you do a set of protocols, and they’re better, that’s a tangible impact that you can see yourself. Another thing is that it has personal interaction. For me, I need to be able to talk to people to experience their emotions and everything to kind of motivate me to keep going and that’s what I love about medicine. Now, another thing is that I also wanted to pick something that our community needs to be represented in, and something that could be taken to a level or a platform that gives a voice for our community. I think that was overall a very important thing as well.”                                                                                                                                                   

Munib is has two sets of decisions to make which is either if he wants to e generalist or specialist the second decision would be if he want to practice medicine or surgery.  

“That’s really hard to know. One thing they tell you at the start of med school is this one: do you want to be a generalist which is knows a little bit about everything? Or do you want to be a specialist that knows a lot about less? So that’s the first question you have to ask yourself. And the next question you have to ask yourself is do you want to do medicine, or do you want to do surgery? Because at the end of the day, there are different things. My answer to the first question would be, it would be nice to specialize. Although I don’t know yet. I want to get the experience [shadowing] in it. I’ve always had this motivation, whether I’m doing research, or whether I’m doing academics, to know a lot about a specific field because I think it matters to me to push knowledge forward in a given field. And then the second thing is that, do I want to do medicine or surgery? I don’t know. I know for sure I want to do medicine. But do I want to do surgery? I don’t know yet. 

Munib speaks of his application to medical school.

“I applied to two schools, the University of Alberta and University of Calgary.”

“It seemed like the odds were against me at the age of 21, but the University of Calgary was my first choice,” Munib expressed with a sigh of relief.

If you were not to become a doctor, what would it be?

“I would probably continue my research in biomechanics and keep pushing that forward, and obviously, keep applying. But to me, one thing that also intrigues me is that I do care about pushing one stream of knowledge forward. So, in a way, it’s academics. I do care about academic excellence in that sense. So, to me, I think I would feel equally accomplished with a PhD. So, I would strive towards that,” Munib said with determination.

Why is education so important to you? 

“I have always thought about why it isn’t important to some people and why it’s important to others. And it’s really hard to give an answer to that. I think there’s two domains of why it’s important to me, maybe even three – one is a personal one. Education is a very broad term. But I think once you learn about a lot of things, you start to bridge connections between different topics. In my opinion, it’s not enough to be educated on just one topic. The idea is to be educated. So, if you’re educated on a wide variety of topics, I think that you offer your mind the flexibility to draw connections and hopefully – for example – be a more eloquent person when you’re speaking, and hopefully make more informed opinions. Things like that. Right. So, I think on a personal level, there’s that side of it. On a community level, I also think it’s important. You know, if we say that it leads to good things on a personal level, then I imagine that a bunch of good things on personal levels leads to a community of good things, right. So, especially in our community, I think I always grew around people who told me the importance of education. It is in my very religion as well. For example, there are Hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet) on the attainment of education. It’s not only prescribed on men, but also on women – its universal. I think it’s important for a wide variety of reasons. And you know, whether we enter the sociological or psychological domain, we can keep talking about that. 

But another thing is that I always think that a current generation has some type of responsibility for the next. And I think that one’s pretty obvious through our expectations set on parenthood. You know, negligence is against the law. So clearly, even as a society, we agree upon that, and through the institutions we have, we clearly recognize that a generation has some influence on the next – and should. So, I think another important thing about education is in disseminating it. Thus, spreading that education or knowledge. And one [way of disseminating knowledge] is to the next generation or to your kids, for example. But another is that, although there’s people here that may or may not value education, there’s people across the world who don’t even have the ability to be educated even if they want to. And I think in that sense if we have a bunch of people with more privilege, that understand that education is important, maybe we can start delivering it through the necessary resources to the people who want it but can’t have it. So that’s another thing of why I think being educated is important, because it bolsters the motivation to do that,” Munib Stated with passion. 

What do you do in your day to day life?

“If I can tell you a synopsis of my year off so far, it’s literally just been resting and research work. Again, like I have mentioned, if I’m chilling, it’s usually cafes or going out for food. I’ve had a lot of health complications, obviously. So, I’m dealing with a lot of those too.”

Munib is a very café type guy. He loves to go out and try new food and just hang out with friends. When he’s working, he goes to two cafes near his house just to clear his mind and finish up work. 

“There are two of them and its for certain reasons. I was born and raised in that house. So, I’ve grown up in that community. And I think I mentioned to you, I live near Marda Loop or Altadore, which is like a very French-inspired community. So, it has its own culture to it. And it’s an interesting community because I feel like that community is not replicated anywhere else in Calgary. There are two cafes there that are staples of Altadore, Monogram Coffee is one and then just down the street from this is NHBR. These two cafes are nice because they’re in the heart of our community. I don’t even go there that much but it’s a nice place because I feel like my mind is just open to it. Whenever I go there, I’m just doing work and my thoughts [are flowing]. And of course, that’s not the only reason. It has really good coffee.”

Munib is into music is R&B and Hip-Hop. 

“I’m a very R&B and hip-hop type of guy. If I do experiment to stuff, and I do experiment a lot, they’re totally random things. I like jazz. Classic rock I got into for quite a bit when I was experimenting other genres. I occasionally listen to Bollywood music. It’s very sentimental.”

“My favorite artist in recent history has to be the Weeknd and Lowkey a British rapper. 

Munib speaks of the Weeknd and Lowkey,

“I thought it was really cool because for similar reasons of anyone who likes his older music is that at the time he released it, he brought this totally new style. R&B was always known as this romantic genre when you look back at like the Usher’s, you know. This guy totally flipped it around and was just like… dark. It was an alternative side to R&B where he played on the really dark and maybe even more realistic side of the life he was living. And he like a picture through it. But interestingly enough, it’s hard to choose a favorite hiphop artist. But one of them that just stands out is a Lowkey. This is a UK artist. And I always grew up loving him because he’s from Palestine and he’s a well acclaimed as a rapper too. He always made very conscious songs. They would be lines that just get you to think about the politics of other countries or just general consciousness and I always thought it was really uplifting. He has really uplifting songs that just get you more aware about the world we live in. Which, honestly, when you look back into the origins of hip hop, that’s what it was about. It was a social movement at the time. And I think he kind of stepped down the [origins of the] genre.

What makes Munib Ali Munib Ali was a tough a question for him to answer. 

“Honestly, I don’t do anything unique enough to say that makes me, me. I would say if I were to localize what people say about me, they would say humour as one of them. I have this different style of it that people just associate with me at this point. That’s one thing, and then another thing is that – just on a more every day or maybe even academic side – I am a very analytic person. I guess a lot of people comment that about me. Analytic, yeah. I am very observant”

Munib Is an Ahmadi Muslim and Ahmadi Muslims are persecuted in Pakistan every day for what they believe in. Hence, Munib started the Common Denominator. The belief is that a Promised Messiah has arrived. Most Muslims do not agree with the Ahmadi beliefs, label them liars and heretics and commit state-sponsored crimes with this fuel. 

Are you religious? 

“That’s interesting question. Again, I don’t like when people ask me that. I don’t know what they mean. There’s always like two domains to being religious. There are certain people who abstain from what the religion tells them to abstain from, but then are not motivated to be spiritual. Then there are some people who are spiritual, but they don’t care about the individual or minute teachings. So, what do you mean? From the religious side of it or do you mean from a [spiritual or] holistic side of it?” asked Munib. 

What do you think you are more? Are you more on the religious or holistic?

“I am quite [in congruence] with what the community says. So, I will say that, but then again, [some] would think that its coming out of, just totally blind obedience. But because of the way our community setup is, we have a Khalifa. And the idea is that we trust him. And I feel like I know and do, because I write to him. And I do believe that what our community tells us to do is usually on point with what’s the best for us [as a whole]. And again, what’s interesting is that Islam has always said there’s like no compulsion in religion, right? So, you’re offered the ability for free thought, which I think everyone is. [It is so important and yet] I find myself rarely thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do that.’

Who do you look up to?

“Dr. Abdus Salam is arguably one of the greatest Islamic minds that have ever existed and clearly that’s given proof by what he did and what he won the Nobel prize for. For some reason, he is written out of every history book and it’s interesting because in some part of our mind, when we do something, we do it to like leave a footprint behind. It’s sad to see the books of Pakistan did everything in its power – just because he’s Ahmadi – to try washing away that footprint. But [his legacy] will live as it is ingrained in the Western world. It’s just that [Muslims] continue to reject it. Even though he pretty much created the national boards for like many of the physics programs and nuclear boards [in Pakistan]. Another example is Sir Chaudry Zafarullah Khan. It’s interesting because I think the two most intense examples of people who brought Pakistan to a level of international designation would be him and Abdus Salam. Both were Ahmadi. [Sir Zafarullah] was the only person in the history of the world – and when people look at the UN now, they see it as like a formality, this is when the UN was made and it was no formality at that time. So at that time, he was the judge of the International Supreme Court, and the President of the General Assembly of the UN, no one in history has ever held those designations at once. Those were the two most powerful and when you think about the positions near the world wars, he held them both at once. He was the first person in Pakistan to sit on the Department of Foreign Ministry so they could focus on could have external relation. He was the first foreign minister of Pakistan and again, long forgotten [due to his beliefs]. These are the types of people you have to look up to. They bring so much and there’s so many efforts to try washing away what they did, but their legacy lives on. Lastly, as you know, my uncle that I mentioned, and my mom who is also a physician, but couldn’t get to work here. My uncle, again, was killed because he was Ahmadi and many cousins too. So, as you can probably see, community is probably a big reason of why I do what I do.”

Who are you the closest to in your family?

“I’m closest to my brother and my mom.”

“My brother has always been there for me. I know we’ve been talking a lot about academic role models, but then there’s totally other types of role models and he’s always been like that. Even academic but also in every other way, right. When I was having tough times when things were also hard with university, I would be stressed and maybe display that at home. He was always that person that I could maintain a close tie with and like talking. We have a pretty deep level of trust between us.

“My mom; she’s always – even through the rebellious phase that children go through – been very motherly and amazing. So, yeah, its beyond me. It’s ridiculous. In no ways do I deserve her unparalleled kindness.”

Last Question of the Interview what made you agree to do this interview?

“Well, I thought it was a super cool idea. I think I mentioned the interview to a friend before, and he’s like, why? And I said, why not? Its cool, you know what I mean? I’ve told you one of the main reasons I wanted to do med, or really anything, was to represent the community. But in order to do that you need to be able to represent yourself and have a platform yourself. I just want to, even if one person sees, I just want to be someone overall that people know about Hopefully people can come and talk to me and approach me about similar questions and I’m open about it. You know, a lot of people are very mysterious about what they do. I don’t see any logical reason for that. A lot of people ask you things because maybe they’re interested or motivated about what you want to do. Why stay mysterious, right? Other than that, I didn’t really think too much about it. I was just like: let’s do it. You know?”

Did it make you nervous?

“I don’t get too nervous.”

“I’ve gotten stage fright a few times. But that was like massive crowds are like very high-profile crowds. One time I had to present in front of a huge panel of high-profile academics and then I was scared. I was like, damn, you’re probably hearing my voice trembling. Yeah, that’s me.”

This Munib Ali and his story

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