Faith plays an integral role in the lives of many Americans across the United States, and even more so in minority communities. Growing up in the Black and Latino community, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of faith on these populations. Visiting Latino friends, I would see candles representing various saints around their homes, the prominent presence of a cross on their walls, and many references of God during conversations.
I also grew up with my Black grandmother who was a prominent figure in her church, and God was incorporated into every aspect of her life. The same was true for my aunts and other extended family members. Within my own home, I was exposed to the diverse teachings of Islam and attended a mosque/masjid in my community that supported a melting pot of populations. Being exposed to these rich and beautiful cultures of mixed faiths and backgrounds helped me to develop a unique perspective on life.
I also grew up around discussions of vaccine hesitancy or distrust of science and medicine, and how faith alone could be an option to stay healthy. Our relationship with trusting in science was complicated, and not many within my community were interested in marrying or developing a lifelong relationship with it. Over the years, I witnessed my grandmother die from a heart attack, my aunt spend years in a coma due to complications from an asthma attack, and other family and friends die from preventable or treatable diseases. It made me question science a little less, even though I still had a heavy distrust of many vaccines.
My journey has empowered me, and helped me to navigate my own path when it came to understanding vaccine science and peeling back the layers of medical distrust. I also realized I can still have a deep relationship with my faith and also trust science. In the Islamic faith, there is a religious saying that is traced back to our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) that says: “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.” In essence, this means that faith is a great way to have a relationship with God and trust in Him, but also use the tools God has given you. Tie up your camel to help ensure it doesn’t wander away while unattended, then you trust in God that it will still be there when you return. This is the same reflection I take when it comes to medicine and science. I’ll take the necessary steps to be healthy and then leave the rest in God’s hands.
With this outlook, I am honored to be a part of the HVTN Faith Initiative team, and I hope my faith, relationship with God, and open willingness to embrace science can have a positive impact on the communities I serve.