Science and Religion Entwine in Interfaith Talk

Danny Reinan, news editor
A collage of photos of Aisha Mohamed ‘16 during her time at Augsburg, including her presenting her research (left), attending an interfaith retreat in Rock Island, Illinois (right), and standing with her cohort in the Biology department (bottom), screenshotted by Danny Reinan.

As a part of their ongoing speaker series inviting local faith leaders to share their experiences and wisdom, the Augsburg Interfaith department and Muslim Student Association (MSA) came together earlier this week to host a talk with Aisha Mohamed, an Augsburg alumnus who graduated in 2016. As a devout Muslim, biology major, interfaith leader and current medical student, Mohamed’s passions for religion and science seem incompatible. But in reality, as she revealed through her talk, these two dimensions of life are not inherently at odds with one another – and in Mohamed’s case, they are inextricably intertwined.

Mohamed’s passion for education has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, tying in with her Muslim identity as the prophet Muhammad was told to read. What really enhanced this passion, however, was when her family moved to Kenya when she was 10 years old, where she was able to learn from teachers who shared her Muslim identity.

“The teachers who taught me science were people of color, were Muslims, and did not shy away from talking about their experiences and faith practices,” she said. She recalled a particular teacher she had in sixth grade, a hijabi Muslim woman, who set her on her path to science. “She was just so in awe of how the heart was working that she said, ‘Science gives you a greater appreciation of God’s creation. Science will help you appreciate God more.’ I was so inspired by that that I wanted to pursue science. I wanted to understand God more. Me understanding science was a way to get closer to God.”

When Mohamed returned to Minnesota for high school, she set her sights on college, and eventually on a medical degree. She worked hard as a PSEO student and joined several service learning causes. One of the most significant to her was The Ladder, a nonprofit organization started by physicians in North Minneapolis that helped get young people of color into the sciences. Their mission statement, “Lift as you climb, build as you grow,” would become foundational for Mohamed. 

There’s always someone who’s younger than you who wants to be where you are, even if the place where you are now isn’t where you want to be.

Aisha Mohamed

“There’s always someone who’s younger than you who wants to be where you are, even if the place where you are now isn’t where you want to be,” she said. “I didn’t have to be a doctor or a medical student to people, I could just be a person on the journey lifting people up as I went. I realized that medicine was the perfect amount of service and the perfect amount of knowledge.”

Mohamed’s joint passions for faith and science only grew as she started attending Augsburg, where she was a biology major, an active member of MSA, a student researcher and writer for The Echo. In particular, Mohamed’s interfaith experiences were meaningful to her, allowing her to open her mind to people of many faith identities.

“I was afraid, going into a Christian theology class, that people wanted to save my soul, or that I’d have to defend my religion,” Mohamed explained. In actuality, she was met with a kind and curious cohort and learned about the differences and similarities between Islam, Judaism and Christianity. “That experience made me a better medical student for sure, because I now interview patients with more of an open mind. If it wasn’t for interfaith, I don’t know if I’d be as comfortable asking them personal questions.”

Mohamed faced challenges at Augsburg as she delved into her biology studies, particularly because of her identity as a Black woman amongst an overwhelmingly white, male cohort. “It was hard, having to constantly prove yourself, and show that you are dedicated, and you are not lazy,” she said. “You had to be on your A game, and I feel like that was not something expected of my white counterparts.” Her teachers sometimes tried to steer her towards other fields, making her question whether or not medicine would be “too difficult” for her, but she ultimately powered through these microaggressions and stuck to her passion. “Everything hard is worth pursuing,” she said.

Mohamed (right) standing with the students who she worked with at the Science Museum of Minnesota, screenshotted by Danny Reinan.

Since her graduation, Mohamed has continued to pursue her goal of becoming a doctor, taking some time to work at AmeriCorps, leading and teaching budding scientists at the Science Museum of Minnesota and ultimately attending the University of Minnesota as a medical student. She has worked to apply her commitments to service, non-judgment and understanding that come with her faith as she practices science. 

Mohamed expressed that at times she feels discouraged as someone “in between,” having not yet achieved her goal of becoming a doctor. She ended her talk by sharing words of encouragement for others who, like her, find themselves still in pursuit of their goal. “You just need to find someone who will support you, who will nurture your dreams no matter what,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where in your journey you’re at, you are at someone else’s dream goal post.”

You just need to find someone who will support you, who will nurture your dreams no matter what.

Aisha Mohamed