Chaudhry to be first Muslim recipient of interfaith award
It happened slowly, over time, but eventually Mussarat Chaudhry realized something about her life. The more she lived it like a practicing Muslim, the more rewarding it was to her.
“I find that it’s more freeing and liberating the more I act and live as a Muslim woman,” said Chaudhry, a radiologist at Ellis Hospital’s Bellevue Woman’s Center in Niskayuna. “There are many rights in the Islamic religion that are very beneficial to women. The status of women in our religion is very balanced.”
A native of Pakistan who moved to the Capital Region in 1971, Chaudhry is a recipient of the Capital Area Council of Churches’ Carlyle Adams Ecumenical/Interfaith Award. She will be honored at the group’s annual dinner Oct. 2 at the Albany Country Club.
“I feel honored, and I feel like there are probably many people who deserve the award more than I do,” said Chaudhry. “But I am of course glad to receive it. It is very nice honor.”
Deborah Riitano, board president for the Capital Area Council of Churches, said Chaudhry is the first Muslim to win the Carlyle Adams Award since its inception in 1983.
“Our interfaith movement was originally about the Jewish-Catholic dialogue, but Mussarat saw the need to begin a dialogue with us and be a part of the already existing dialogue,” said Riitano. “I’ve known her for about 20 years now. She is very easy to get to know, and very humble. She takes on the issues around the interfaith movement and helps people understand Islam for the wonderful religion that it is.
“There’s no proselytizing with her,” added Riitano. “She’s a great representative of her faith, and she’s just wonderful at expressing that faith. She’s a great representative of the human race.”
Chaudhry moved to the U.S. to join her husband, Dr. M. Ashraf Chaudhry, who passed away in 1994. They had four children and Chaudhry now has one grandchild.
“When I first came here, my husband and I were both focusing on our training and our profession,” said Chaudhry, who lives in Niskayuna. “When you’re both physicians you don’t seem to have the time to worry about religion. But once we had a family it became much more important to us. We started getting involved with other Muslims and started learning more. We wanted to be better equipped to teach our children all about the religion we grew up in.”
When she first moved to the U.S., Chaudhry had thought about possibly returning to Pakistan.
“My parents would ask me, ‘how long are you going to live there,’” remembered Chaudhry. “So, at first you think about going back. But I knew my husband definitely wanted to be a part of this country, and I also felt that way. This is where we wanted to raise a family. It’s been 40 years now. I feel like this is home.”
Practicing — positively
The more she became a practicing Muslim, the more Chaudhry realized she had to represent Islam in a positive way to other faith groups.
“There are bad people in every part of the world, and when we see bad things in the media about Islam we have to understand that sort of thing is very unusual,” she said. “We get the impression it’s common, but it’s not common. Our religion protects women and children in the best way. The stories you hear about are because those people aren’t educated and tribal law comes into play. Where there is less education is where you see these horrible things. But they’re being done by people who don’t know anything about their religion.”
Chaudhry is an active member of the Capital District chapter of The Interfaith Alliance of New York State, and is also on the boards of the Albert and Beatrice Sidney Lectureship series at the College of Saint Rose and the Interfaith Story Circle of the Capital District.
Hughes also honored
“Mussarat is very knowledgeable, very gentle and kind, and she’s the epitome of women in Islam,” said Audrey Hughes, a past president of the Interfaith Community of Schenectady. “She’s someone you feel honored to know.”
Hughes, an Albany native and Glenville resident, also will receive the Carlyle Adams Award at next month’s Capital Area Council of Churches dinner.
“I am absolutely humbled, and also thrilled,” said Hughes, a Catholic and member of the Immaculate Conception Church in Glenville. “I knew Carlyle Adams. He was at the forefront of the interfaith and ecumenical movement, so I’m very honored to be getting this award, and particularly honored to be getting it with Massarat. She has done so much over the years to help relations between our communities.”
A Presbyterian minister who also worked as religion editor for the Albany Times Union and wrote for The Evangelist, Adams was president of the Capital Area Council of Churches from 1958-60, and served on the board for more than 30 years.
After his death in 1981, the Council voted to establish an award in his memory to honor others who exemplified his inclusive spirit.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org