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Samina Ali

Samina AliSamina Ali, born in 1969 in Hyderabad, India is an Indian-American author and activist. Samina serves as the curator of Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art and Voices, a global, virtual exhibition for the International Museum of Women (IMOW), now part of Global Fund for Women.

She is the co-founder of American Muslim feminist organization Daughters of Hajar. Her debut novel, Madras on Rainy Days, was awarded the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger award from France and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. She is a blogger for The Huffington Post and Daily Beast.

In July 2004, Madras on Rainy Days was chosen as a best debut novel of the year by Poets & Writers magazine. The magazine featured her on the cover in its July/August 2004 issue.

Ali is an award-winning author, activist and cultural commentator. Her debut novel, Madras on Rainy Days, is a book about a young woman's arranged marriage and political awakening.

It was partly inspired by Samina's real-life experience growing up bi-culturally in Hyderabad, India and in St. Paul, Minnesota.

At the heart of Ali's work is her belief in personal narrative as a vital force for achieving women's individual and political freedom – and in the power of new and traditional media as platforms for social transformation.

As the curator of the groundbreaking, critically acclaimed virtual exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women's Art & Voices, Samina illuminated the multi-dimensional realities of women's lives to challenge fears and misconceptions of Muslims and Islam within and beyond Muslim communities.

Samina AliWeaving her personal story with a passionate appeal for women's equality and justice, Samina's current project is an account of her near-death experience delivering her firstborn and an unsparing look at gender bias and the crisis of preventable maternal deaths in one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world.

In this memoir-in-progress, Samina describes how she defied the odds by boldly charting her own path to recovery, from relearning how to walk alongside her son's first steps, to retraining her mind — word by word — to write what would become her debut novel.

Samina has spoken extensively at a wide range of universities, from both Harvard University and Yale University to community colleges, as well as at other institutions worldwide.

She has spoken as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department, a Master Teacher for the Mama Gena School of Womanly Arts and was a featured presenter at the Nobel Women's Initiative 2017 International Conference.

The recipient of fiction awards from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, she has been featured in The Economist, The Guardian, Vogue, National Public Radio (NPR) and other publications.

A regular contributor to The Huffington Post and Daily Beast, she has written for The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, among other top publications.

Leaving Hyderabad, India, Samina's family immigrated to the US when she was almost two years old. But she has spent her life straddling both cultures and a variety of ideas, and has done much to build a fluid connection between them both.

Samina AliHearing her history, it is no surprise that Samina works so hard to dispel damaging myths that surround Muslim women.

Along with her mother and two brothers, Samina returned to India every year because her father did not want them to lose their culture, faith or language.

"I spent six months in the US and then six months there, I went to school in both places and was entirely confused. But now I'm grateful for what was a truly bicultural and bilingual upbringing."

Having grown up in the United States prior to 9/11, Samina was surrounded by a culture of ignorance. Perhaps Americans weren't afraid of Muslims as much as they were unaware of them.

"My dad was often mistaken for Mexican and my mom was considered "exotic" because she wore saris. It was an almost invisible upbringing."

This "invisible upbringing" meant a 'safe' Catholic school life during the week, but on Sunday taken to the mosque and Islamic scripture.

"The religion we practised was private, as it should be, but 9/11 changed all that. The equation of 'terrorist equals Muslim' is so pervasive in our culture that it's become part of our thinking.

I know of fellow Muslims who board a plane and become afraid when they see a man who looks Muslim on the plane with them wearing the beard, the tunic, or the prayer cap."

Samina AliNowadays, her struggle is all about having a more woman-friendly reading and practice of Islam - a fight against gender-biased, patriarchal readings embedded in politics and power. Samina wants to restore the original intention of the faith – namely, equality and justice.

Far from being a single-minded activist, however, Samina demonstrates an empathy for the different threads of the Muslim women's narrative.

In her curator's statement for IMOW, she distinguishes between a Muslima and a muslima, a distinction she puts down to inclusiveness of all faiths.

"In the Qur’an, all prophets are referred to as Muslim: those who believe in God and follow His will. Jesus, Abraham, Noah, Adam, and others. A Muslim with a capital 'M' is someone who follows the Islamic faith. The exhibition is inclusive to all faiths: we want to engage in interfaith dialogues," she explains.

Perhaps it is her own history that has informed much of Samina's life philosophies. In her own words, "the journey has been long, and full of unexpected turns. And lessons in patience, amongst others, are learning curves", Samina says.

"My natural tendency is to be impulsive. But now I sit in patience and wait because I know that no matter how trying the current situation may be, once I round a corner in the not too distant future, I will understand why I am going through the hardship."

However, Samina says she hasn't achieved all her goals. In fact, she's still very much on the journey.

Samina Ali"Her mission began with the novel then the activism and teaching and then the curation. The message through all these has been the same: Muslim women are and must continue to work within the framework of Islam to reclaim their rights," she says.

"The exhibition was able to bring so many leading reformers/thinkers/artists together on a virtual platform. Now my dream is to find a way to bring them all together in the same room. Imagine the energy, the conversations, the ideas that would come out of that...?"

"The more others tell me I can't do something, the more I know I can - it is so important that women trust themselves, their intuition, their perceptions, their feelings and thoughts and to do what they know they must."

Helping Samina in her quest for a deeper and more meaningful awareness are the contacts she has picked up over the years. A trip to Europe with the US State Department to discuss her novel and Muslim women's issues, as well as her activism work, have brought her in contact with some exceptional Muslimahs.

"The exhibition is a really beautiful culmination of what I have been doing over the last 10 years. The reformers in this exhibition – like Dr Shirin Ebadi - the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, or Zainah Anwar of Sisters in Islam and now Musawah, are all leading the change to reform how Islam is practised from within," Samina says.

Samina wants there to be representation of all Muslim women, from the conservative to the cultural.

"The assumption that this is a Muslim exhibition meant only for those women artists who actively identify as Muslim or the assumption that people of other faiths can't be involved is simply not true. Interfaith and intrafaith conversations are necessary to bring about positive change."

Samina AliFor this reason it was important to collect diverse contributions – geographically, artistically, and religiously.

Even attire preferences do not escape Samina's attention; the exhibition features a diverse representation of women, from veiled to those who are quite comfortable in more revealing clothing.

"This beautiful diversity of thought and expression and appearance is the reality of Muslim women and this reality must be presented visually in an exhibition like this to combat the other strongly visual stereotype of the Muslim woman as submissive."

"And just one look at this exhibition will show any person that Muslim women are anything but passive."

"There are so many negative stereotypes of Muslim women but perhaps the most predominant one in my mind is the myth of the Muslim woman as a passive, illiterate, powerless, veiled woman," she says.

"What these stereotypes effectively do is eliminate all diversity within a group of people. It's easier to dismiss them this way."

An advocate for Muslim women for more than a decade, Samina's path towards social reform for women kicked off with the publication of her novel, Madras on Rainy Days, a story she describes as a character's journey from 'a place of blindness to light'.

"I actually believe that God inspired me to write during that time when I could not even put two words together."

Samina AliIt is also, quite significantly, a story she wrote during a drawn-out recovery period after her illness. A near-death experience while delivering her son that led to two brain hemorrhages, liver and kidney failure, heart damage and other medical complications.

"My doctors told my family that if I was lucky I would die. If not, they would need to decide who would be my ward. The doctors did not think I would be anything more than a vegetable."

But, to their surprise, Samina came out of the coma.

During a three-year recovery period that followed whilst Samina's small son learnt to walk - so did she.

"I got myself back up on my legs. I trained myself to speak again. Doctors said I would never write. Guess what? I wrote Madras on Rainy Days, which went on to win both national and international awards, while recovering from my brain injury. A healthy brain has wrinkles - my brain was a balloon with not one wrinkle left anywhere on it."

One to never say no to a new challenge, Samina defied the odds once again — and gave birth to a second child. She now lives happily with her husband, son and daughter in California.

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Samina Ali - TEDx Talk


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Bonesetters Waiting Room

In the Bonesetter's Waiting Room:
Travels Through Indian Medicine

BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week India defies definition, and the story of medicine in India is similarly rich and complex: shaped by unique challenges and opportunities, uniting cutting-edge technological developments with ancient cultural traditions, fuelled by political changes which transformed the lives of millions and moulded by the energy of forceful individuals. Here, Aarathi Prasad investigates how Indian medicine came to be the way it is. Her travels will take her to bonesetter clinics in Jaipur and Hyderabad and the waiting-rooms of Bollywood's best plastic surgeons, and introduce her to traditional healers as well as the world-beating heart surgeon who is revolutionising treatment of the poor around the globe.

Like a Virgin

Exploring the Frontiers of Conception

Sexual evolution is a slippery business. Like all mammals, we humans seem to have been left no choice in the matter: even though it is costly, inefficient and dangerous, if we want to reproduce we simply have to have sex. Yet most human cultures tell the tale of a maiden who gives birth untouched by a man; and in the wild there are plenty of creatures – such as turkeys, komodo dragons, sharks and the ‘Jesus Christ’ lizard (which walks on water, too) – that take various approaches to reproducing without sex.

In LIKE A VIRGIN, the biology writer Aarathi Prasad discusses how reproduction without sex is achieved in animals and explores why evolution hasn’t made it an option for humans – yet. In doing so, she provides a quirky, entertaining and perceptive overview of the mysteries of evolutionary biology, sex and reproduction – past, present and future.

It’s a remarkable story that ranges across Greek mythology, natural history, agriculture, conservation and medicine; takes in some of the most exciting areas of developmental genetics and molecular biology that other popular science books largely ignore; and is packed full of a cast of amazing characters, be they obscure animals or eccentric scientists such as the respected geneticist Dr Helen Spurway who in the UK in the 1950s unwittingly sparked a nationwide search for a virgin mother.

There is now a plethora of strategies being developed in reproductive medicine that could ultimately keep our species going in a world of embellished sex: the creation of artificial eggs and sperm from bone marrow, labs-on-chips on which eggs are fertilized, silicone wombs and artificial wombs (where fetuses can spend their full nine months), and even research to prepare us for reproduction in space. What’s more, we are finally beginning to understand what genetic modifications are needed to allow for the creation of women who could have babies without having sex. Now that we have the competent hand of science in our lives, will girls still need men?

Publisher: Oneworld (UK/US)
Pub Date: 16 August 2012
Status: Draft manuscript
Length: 288 pages

All rights available excluding:
UK & Commonwealth, US, Arabic (Arab Scientific), Japan (East Press)

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Yabanci is a book by a Dutch woman who moved from Holland to Turkey to start a new life in a Turkish village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. A great read for those who are considering a move abroad or have lived in a different culture. Available in English as an ebook or in Dutch in both print and popular ebook formats... take a look

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