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Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali
May 03, 2018
Call number: 2018.006.17
ALI: I'm Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian at Brooklyn Historical Society. Today isThursday, May 3, 2018, and we are here at Brooklyn Historical Society recording the oral history of Dr. Abdul Rehman for the Muslims in Brooklyn Project. Dr. Rehman, if you can now introduce yourself by giving your full name, the date of your birth, and where you were born.
REHMAN: Okay. My full name is Abdul Rehman. I was born in Kashmir, Pakistan on[date redacted for privacy] 1944. And this is right after the Second World War and during the time of India's partition that occurred in '47, so the strife was 1:00going on and very tumultuous times. I came to United States when I was 23 and a half years old in 1968.
ALI: Okay. So before we get to the United States, tell me a little bit aboutyour family's background.
REHMAN: Well, my family for generations has been on that -- in that particulararea, from what I can recall, at least three or four generations. This is a nice little valley in the foothills of Himalayas. And this particular city where -- suburbs of that city where I was born is called Mirpur, M-I-R-P-U-R. And this is equidistant from the capital of Kashmir, which is Srinagar, which is now 2:00controlled by India. And Islamaba-- and Muzaffarabad, which is in the part of Kashmir that is under control of Pakistan. So this town where I was born is right in the middle there. We had about, I would say, 70 to 80 miles from Indian border on the west side of Indian border. And it's basically a farm area. There is no industry. There is not much development there at all. And our family, and other families, that live in that valley and in that area basically were subjects. We wouldn't call them slaves, but they were subjects of Maharaja. And 3:00we were landsteaders, so to speak. We could -- we were given parcels of land. Our ancestors, maybe three, four generations back, were given certain parcels of land to till -- to -- to work on those and find food for yourself and give a certain portion to the government, in terms of their -- their share of it. And they would take it in crop, not -- we didn't have any cash. But you could live and that land was in your name, so to speak, but you did not have the deed in your name. It was still owned by Maharaja, but you had the lease to -- to use it for 100 years, and then they would extend it probably for another 100 years. And 4:00that's how it was.
So there was not much education available. There was no place where you could goand earn money. So cash was not there for people to have. So people worked on the land; grew the crop, vegetables; raised their own chickens, and sheep, and goats, and they had eggs and milk and all that locally. So they really didn't need much else. The only thing is there -- there was not much education or much progress, no universities, no schools, and no factories of any sort. The only employment one could get was to be in the army or work for the British rulers 5:00and do -- in -- and the land management. We call it settlement. So the one that tells you which parcel of land you own, and from where -- to where is your mar-- demarcation, buying and selling part. That was in -- where -- department of the government, and you could get a job there. But that was very few jobs like that.
ALI: So how did you -- what -- tell me about your schooling and how you ended upstudying medicine.
REHMAN: Yeah. My father was a -- a religious kind of a person, spiritual person,and he had learned how to read Qur'an, the scripture only. He could not write or read anything else, but Arabic letters and Qur'an he had learned through the 6:00mosque, through the -- through his imam and through his teacher. So Islamic teaching which is verbal mostly, and Qur'an, which is written, while available, yes. So he, being a Islamic kind of imam or a leader, was looked upon by community as a respectable person. And he also was a homeopathic physician, who we call those people hakeem, H-A-K-E-E-M, hakeem. That means "one with wisdom." So but they were basically physicians. So they would use the herbs and other things that they had learned over the years, and some of the knowledge that came from person to person down, learned from your teachers, as to how to take the 7:00roots of this particular stuff that comes out in spring and make it into this, and this, and that.
So he had that practice and he intrigued me all the time because people came tohim for fevers and stuff like that, and he had a little white powder that he used to give that he used to make out of a stone, grind from that, and stuff. And it was a precursor of aspirin, I suppose. But people would get better, and I wanted to be like him. And the other, other very interesting reason why I wanted to be a physician was he -- he -- no one would used to sit down after our end of the day prayer, 'isha prayer, at night when it got dark. And there was no other 8:00way of entertaining yourself. There were no televisions or radios at the time when I was growing up. So they would tell stories. So specific to our -- my point is the story that he used to give about Hakeem Luqman that is mentioned in Qur'an also, that he was given the hikma from the divine and he could treat many ailments. And locally, we had Hakeem Ajmal [Khan] in India, who was a -- who was a very famous and very popular physic-- hakeem that had lived not that long before -- before our time. So his stories about how he -- how great a diagnostician he was and how he would diagnose certain conditions by -- by feeling the pulse intrigued me. So, and I wanted to be a physician, but again 9:00that was just a dream. I didn't know how to, and I didn't seem to have any -- any facilities that I thought would take me there.
ALI: So I want to just do one thing which your mic because it's such a sensitive cord.
REHMAN: To interrupt?
ALI: Yeah. Just when you touch it, it buzzes a little bit. Okay. So we're good.Okay, so where did you end up studying?
REHMAN: Well, that's -- and that's an interesting story. I was able to get to aprimary school. That was the difficult part because in the village where I lived, there was no schooling. So I was able to go across two little villages to a place where they did have a -- a facility they called school. At the time, it had no walls, no building, but a very old, beautiful tree. There were many 10:00others like that, I'm sure, but this particular one was at the edge of a -- of a body of water which i-- I wouldn't call it a small pond, but a larger pond. It was -- people some times ago may have put a little wall to a tributary of draining water that comes from the mountains. So during rainy season, it would fill up, and for the rest of the time, the water would be there, and for the cattle to drink and stuff.
So at the site of this particular body of water, or large pond of water, was abig tree, banyan tree. We call it "buR," B-U, capital, R. This is the tree that has roots that come out from the branches out of the propping kind of roots that come down, and then they become a separate tree, stuff like that. So it was a 11:00large tree and it had beautiful shade, so it must have been at least 100 years old at the time that I remember it, and who knows? So under that tree, the class would meet, and the tree covered us from, of course, the heat, the sun, but also even the heaviest rain would really shelter you. It would take a long time before a few drops might pierce through here and there, but rest of the area would still stay dry. So the school had five or six little groups of -- K, and then first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grade. And there were only two teachers, but they would teach -- they would just shift from one to the other side, and -- and that was good enough.
And after fifth grade, I had to walk longer distance to go to a place that was12:00our middle school. Middle school is from sixth to eighth grades. And that was about three to four miles, I suppose, but it was fun walking down there. And then when I finished my middle school and went to two years of high school, ninth and tenth grade, this was in the city, Mirpur City. By then, I was grown and I could walk and use the bicycle -- only if I could afford one. But I couldn't afford one, so I didn't have a bicycle. After high school -- and that was in high school. Now I was trying to think that, "Yes, I have gotten out of that area where you're totally illiterate and now I can read and write. I should really try to be a doctor." So this is now already nine-- late in the fifties, 13:001958, '59.
Our -- my father and a few other elders in the community were able to convincethe high school people to ask for precollege classes. We called them intermediate. It's not high school anymore. Here, it's called high school because up to twelfth grade, you call it high school, but over ten-- eleventh and twelfth are the -- are the intermediate where you pick science subjects or biol-- or art subjects, or what have you. So I wanted to pick science subjects so I could get into medical school, and they did not have, of course -- any syllabus you had -- it was not even approved prior to that, but as I was seeking admission, the approval did come. Now the challenge was to find the instructors 14:00and the professors or the teachers to teach science classes for two years, eleventh and twelfth grade. And I know that several of us signed up for premedi-- premed, our science classes, but had nothing to do really because there was no teacher and no classes or anything. We would go there and just do other subjects, but -- but waited until we could get.
So it was three months after the session started that we were told what books tobuy and we had an instructor and a teacher that took our biology classes. Botany and zoology, I remember that. And we were the first ones to actually -- to not only be the class, but -- but have a parcel of land on -- on the college campus 15:00to put those special seeds for those plants that we were supposed to learn about in botany in -- in different plants and what are their ingredients and all -- all that, chlorophyll and stuff like that, that we were supposed to learn. In the green in the leaves, and the patterns of leaves, and all that stuff. So we did that. We did a little gardening and bought the flasks and these ex-- biology petri dishes and stuff like that, to establish a laboratory. Not only that we were supposed to learn, but we were also pioneers in actually setting this thing up and trying to -- to -- to make it look like a premed kind of class.
ALI: That's awesome. So then when you finish high school, or the intermediate --16:00
REHMAN: Yeah, intermediate. Yeah.
ALI: Intermediate school. Where did your studies take you after that?
REHMAN: Well, this is 1962 now. At the time, Kashmir had not a single medicalschool. Pakistan had been created already and it was, let's say, from '47 to '57. It was 10, 12 years already. So we had five medical schools, plus one. One was a -- for the ladies. Six medical schools in West Pakistan, and three medical schools in East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh. After '65 War it became a different country. But at the time, when India was divided into free India, and 17:00British was left, they made Pakistan out of India, and the principle used was to take Muslim-majority states and make them part of Pakistan. So on west side, there were Muslim-majority states that were contiguous, so they became West Pakistan easily. But there were some on the east side that was too far from West Pakistan, and in between was Hindu-majority states. So they had to create a separate portion of Pakistan, which was called East Pakistan. And they had three medical schools there.
Now for us, the students from Kashmir, now this is the Kashmir that is under thecontrol of Pakistan. We only had few seats available. Regardless of how many students are there, we could only have, let's say, five seats in one college and 18:00three in another, and one seat in a female college, and stuff like that. So they had assigned quota for Kashmiri students. Anyway, if you look at it by today's American terms, it was a -- quite a favored approach for Kashmiris because they had no choice in -- in their own land. So at least they were given the option, some of them, to get into medical schools. So when I graduated from my intermediate college, I did with very good score and I was given the option. If I wanted to go to medical school, I could apply. So after you apply, it goes to a department called Ministry of Kashmir Affairs that was run by Pakistan. So 19:00they would pick the top students from there, assign them to the choices that they -- of the school that they would make. So in my case, there were five schools available to me in West Pakistan. So I gave the priority list, that I would prefer to be here; if not there, there; if not there, choice one, two, three, four, five. And I got what I wanted. So I went to Karachi Medical School, which was south end of Pakistan, way on the other side. I am from way up north, Kashmir. It's like being in -- in Monticello in New York, and the medical school is in Orlando, Florida. [laughter] So, that's how it was.
ALI: Was that your first time there going --
REHMAN: Yes! It was my first time to fl--20:00
ALI: What kind of culture shock did you have going from Kashmir to Karachi?
REHMAN: You know, I obviously had no way of seeing ocean. And being in warmweather all the time, climate in Karachi is like climate in California, or say Florida gets a little hot, and San Diego. Beautiful weather all year round. So Karachi was like that at the time. So weather was good, and any moment I got, would get on a bus and go to the beach to the -- to -- for -- to just look at the ocean and walk on the sand, which was novelty for many of us. And f--
ALI: How did you get any work done? [laughter]
REHMAN: Well, there was -- there was enough time for work to do, but -- but youcould take your book with you if you wanted, and then go down there when you 21:00have time off, and enjoy your -- enjoy the bus ride. And they -- they had actually made a very nice park area. And the beach was fairly shallow for a long time, so you could walk inside the water for maybe 200 yards and still have knee-deep water, so it was fairly safe. So, it was fun whenever I could go. But to Karachi was a culture shock because number one, tea in Karachi was like water, you know? Any time you went to -- to the street or to -- to even college, you sat down and they had a cup of tea for you. And then three of you are sitting there, students, and the fourth comes in. Everybody gets fresh tea again. It was not expensive, but it was just tea -- tea continuously was -- I 22:00mean, I think it was different for me because I was not used to that, but I enjoyed it.
ALI: And how long were you there for?
REHMAN: Exact five years.
ALI: Five years.
REHMAN: Yeah. Fortunate for us, the -- those days, it was fairly tranquil,although we did have political parties in the students, and we had elections. But otherwise, it was pretty peaceful and we were able to -- to complete our studies on time. Now, that was not the case a few years later because I heard -- and I know for a fact -- that students used to protest, and they were asked for more time for preparation of exams. And many times, it would have taken them six years instead of five years to do their -- these two exams. We had five years to do -- do these two annual medical exams. First one was after two years. I mean, 23:00we had in between the sch-- different subjects, but the actual major exams were -- were on sec-- on after second year of medical school, Indian; after final, in American schooling. Those were exhaustive exams that entailed practical and, you know, face-to-face questions and all that by professors and teachers. They were very tough.
ALI: When you -- when you went there, did you know anyone? Or, you know, eitherof the people who were going there, or did you know anyone there? I'm -- I guess I'm trying to get a sense of how you felt kind of leaving your family and being away from people that you knew, being among new people, and also if you being 24:00Kashmiri, how did people respond to you? 'Cause you said that -- so Kashmir was kind of occupied by Pakistan and India, and you were kind of somewhere in the middle. And how did people receive you as someone from Kashmir, and how did you feel being in a place where you didn't know anyone, if you didn't?
REHMAN: I remember my older brother went with me to accompany me to make surethat I'm settled before he comes back. And I didn't have any bank accounts anywhere, so he wanted to make sure that the money that we need to pay the fees there and whatever stays safe. So I remember him hiding it in his jackets, and here and there, and he stayed up throughout the 24-hour train journey --
REHMAN: -- from -- from Mirpur -- Jhelum, as a matter of fact. Jhelum is the25:00city that you catch the train. It's in Pakistan by the border, very close to Kashmir border. So from there, we took a train and I -- me and my brother only. But there were five of us total, students, that were accepted in that medical school. So I had four other fellow Kashmiris that joined me, maybe a day or so. They came a day earlier. They came a day later, whatever. But we all basically assembled there and we already had a group, five guys. And we were sufficient to -- to socialize, so we really were not feeling lonely in any way. Although I never knew these people before, but they were from Kashmir and they were placed together in a hostel, in a place to stay. So we were basically together, and we had a group. Just like we have hazing for first-year students here in this 26:00country, we had much worse hazing there.
REHMAN: Yes. So when you went in there as a freshman -- we didn't call ourselvesfreshmen there, though. We were called first-year students. We were afraid of hazing. So there were two major parties, Young Medical Organization, YMO, and National Students Federation, NSF. So leaders from both of those parties tried to court us to -- to join their -- their party and -- and in turn, and they would protect us from hazing and they will make sure that hazing is tolerably done to you and not too severe. So if you are a lone ranger, and if you are unaffiliated, you are on your own, and anything could happen to you. [laughter] So we were quick to join YMO, and then those guys were there to protect us. We 27:00went through hazing, but it was mild, fairly mild. They just made a fool of you and stuff. And for two or three days, they are allowed to do that, and it's amazing the college faculty and all that, you know, collaborates with that. So if older students walked in with a big white coat and stuff, and he -- and was listed at the anatomy class, and everybody's sitting there, and he was not anatomy teacher or anything. He came in and he started to give whatever he wanted to talk, total BS, [laughter] and it took about 10 minutes for people to realize that we are being taken for a ride. And after that, the other students walked in from different corners and did whatever they had to do.
ALI: Now did you -- when you were an older student, did you participate in -- in hazing?28:00
REHMAN: We protected. We were in the protecting group, yes, for the -- forpeople that came the following year, and the following year. We just were watching on the sidelines and if anything got rough, we just went in there. Yes. But I didn't do any hazing, no.
ALI: Okay. [laughter]
REHMAN: I did not.
ALI: So -- so let's get to your travel to the United States. Tell me how -- howdid you get to come to the United States, and where?
REHMAN: 1966. The film, the reel, the spool, with a projector and a screen ontripod was already in existence at the time. And a beautiful young lady from America came to our medical school from United States Information Service, USIS. This is right after that Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 and people 29:00from Muslim countries also were allowed to come to United States. Medicare had come into existence and private hospitals were dreaming of making a lot of money on expanding their hospitals and services. But they needed physicians and nurses. In the beginning, they needed physicians. They may have had enough nurses there -- here because I don't remember anybody pitching for nurses. And even if they did, they -- they wouldn't find in Pakistan because we didn't produce [laughter] nurses over there. Not many ladies there went to nursing. It was not consider very -- very safe for them or very honorable for them, so to speak, just like they wouldn't want to be hostesses on the airlines. So, modesty 30:00in a Muslim country.
So this lady showed us the film of how beautiful the hospitals are in America,and how the training is there for you to get postgraduate medical education, and how you can qualify yourself with degrees, and come back here and teach and whatever else you want to do. And I don't remember the subject matter. All I remember are the pictures. And they had shown the pictures of some hospitals in Garden State, which was New Jersey. And I really loved it, especially when they showed that here is the hospital, and here is the attached building where the doctors live. Here is the attached building where the nurses live, and here is a 31:00swimming pool, and here are the tennis courts, and stuff. And I said, "That looks like fun." So after we saw that film, which was okay. I had no clue that I would ever come here, but it was interesting. The same year, they had a beauty contest in Florida, then the -- the lady beauty -- and Florida was shown, and obviously the ladies were shown. The rest of it, I don't have to say. My mind was made.
So this, USIS had given us a little brochure. In their brochure was a time andthey would offer an exam, qualifying exam to come to America. There was a slight fee for that. I think $10 or $40 or something. And obviously, I didn't have the 32:00$40. But they said if you take the exam, we will waive the fee for now and if you decide ever to come, then you pay it. And there was an incentive to -- to take the exam. But in reality, my incentive was to compete with three or four other classmates of mine who were always in competition with me. Who reads more? Who goes to the library more? The British Council Library where they have imported books from England -- and that we couldn't afford to buy, but we could read them there. So we said, "Okay. Let's see who knows more." Because this exam, the -- it was called ECFMG, Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates, ECFMG exam. So this exam was scored by numbers. You scored 90 out of 33:00100, 80 out of 100. In our country, there, it was essay type of exams and the teachers gave you certain scores on it based on how he felt about your answers, but it was not really 100 percent com-- you know, kind of compatible between teacher, to teacher, to teacher. Some were tough in scoring the students. Some were lenient. And you know, the human variation was there. But this would be, you know, the goldest gold and silverest silver. [laughter] You will know exactly who -- who is more informed than the other.
So four of us sat with this thing mind, that we will compare our scores. A lotof us graduated and passed well, and all of us had good scores. Of course, I had the best score, but I don't remember the other guys' scores. [laughter] So I can say that I had the best score. But then, that result came and I put the result 34:00in my pocket, and that was the extent of it. Following year, when we gra-- when we graduated -- actually it was the same year. We were already in that year. Earlier on in the year, this exam took place, and our final exams took place afterwards. I think this may have been in April or March, and the ECFMG exam, and the MBBS [Bachelor of Medicine] exam was in -- in October. And when I got my final information about passing, I had no clue that I'll ever go to America, but I was called back to Kashmir and not allowed to do the house training because they said that it's right after the war with India. And this is '67 now, '67. 35:00And war was in '65 and there was still strife going on at the border in Pak-- in Kara-- in Kashmir. But they said that, "You are Kashmiri and you are to come back and serve your people." And I had no choice. So they did not let me do the house training for a year. Without that, you only had book knowledge but you didn't have any hands-on training with patients. So I had no choice. I went, but I was not really comfortable in being left alone, making diagnosis, and treating.
So and then when I went to that hospital in Mirpur, I was given a title of CivilMedical Officer, and the hospital was under the control of the military, combined military hospital. But it basically was civilians being treated. So the 36:00commander was the military man, but I was civil medical officer under him. So, and I did not like that environment at all. I didn't feel comfortable. So --
REHMAN: There was nothing available to give patients. And you felt bad, andeverybody that came in, their g-- we had a couple of things that we could prescribe, dispense for free. And one was carbonated mixture, we call that, just for your digestion. It had a little sort of bicarbonate and whatever else. It looked nice. You give that in a bottle and people felt that they got something. And the other thing was something for cough. So we had a little pink medication with little codeine-like substance probably, and that you could give. So most people have common cold or a fever so you could give a little something for that. But other than that, we didn't have much to give. And plus, I was a skinny 37:00little kid, 23 and a half year old, not -- no hands-on experience with patients. Through Pakistan, it's mandatory that after you finish five years of medical school, you do one-year rotation in the hospitals, and then you are a registered medical practitioner. Then you can join Pakistan Medical Council. For Kashmiris at the time, they did not permit that or allow that, and that was a major reason why I felt that I don't want to hurt anybody by not being really fully trained. So I used that to satisfy me, that it may be a good idea to -- to seek further training. But the -- how I got out of that country as a medical, I still do not understand. 38:00
ALI: Why is that?
REHMAN: Because I had no money. I didn't know anybody in America. I had no wayof finding airfare to come here. I was employed. I couldn't take a day off to go and track these things. I reported to duty -- I graduated in October convocation, or what you call the assembly here and graduation day. We call it convocation. It was in October. And right after that, I was appointed Civil Medical Officer in Mirpur CMH. And first two or three months, I was there observing, trying to see what -- how to endure all of that, but it was difficult. I made up my mind that I have to try it, since I do have this option 39:00of going to America. What can happen? And let me try. Now, I don't want to say to my parents because they had thought that I finished medical school. I should get married now. I'm a grown man. And I had other ideas in my mind. Plus, they wouldn't allow me. I mean, it was bad enough for my mom to wait five years, being away from them, and now I am at home. And they won't like it if I was to say I'm gonna go away for another few years. But as luck would have it -- and again, I mean, there is another as-- aspect to my life that is totally unexplainable, not even to me, how things happened for me. They just --
ALI: And what do you -- and what do you attribute those things to?
REHMAN: Some -- some guardian angel somewhere. It happens to me automatically40:00and it -- I may not even realize it until after the fact. So the thought occurred to me that I should take 10 days off, or a week off, and go to Karachi and try it out to see if I can go to American Embassy and whatever. So to get information about that, I went to Islamabad. And an embassy in Islama-- it was a consulate at the time -- was -- was fairly new. Islamabad City was new at the time, fairly new. It was away from the city that is Rawalpindi, that city that was there before. So Islamabad was a capital that was chosen and decided by 41:00General Ayub Khan in 1950s, '57, '58, '59. He was the president in '58. So he made a decision to move the capital from Karachi, which was very vulnerable. It was right next to Indian border, next to ocean. He wanted to put the capital safe inside the country, so he took it up to a place close to Pindi in -- in -- and called it Islamabad, new city, new -- put the government buildings first and the other embassies came around, and now it's obviously connected to the city, but this was then. So I remember going through the farmland and whatever else on a -- on a -- some bartered ride or whatever, and I went into the embassy. Now I -- those days, physicians from Pakistan were not allowed to travel outside the country without a special permit. 42:00
REHMAN: Because there was need for physicians in Pakistan. And getting apassport was a mira-- I mean, was impossible. They had to go through the security check. Even in the best of circumstances, it took -- took four or five months for the clearance to come, and then -- then you will get a passport. But that doesn't mean you can travel. If you are a physician, no way of traveling outside. So and I had all those things against me, so but I went to Islamabad American Embassy to get information to see if I can have a way. So as I enter there, I'm pretending I'm not a physician. I'm pretending I'm a local person. I'm pretending that I am -- I was told by a friend of mine to get a brochure or something because he's going to medical school and he wants to know. I was afraid that somebody will report. So I look around here and there, and when I 43:00see nobody at the -- at the window, I went up there to -- to the information desk and asked her, "Can I get some information about hospitals in America? He wants to go there and apply there, or whatever else. Somebody wants to apply." She says, "Okay. I'll get some brochures for you. Have a seat over there."
So she points me to a sofa way back inside, so I go in there and I'm not inside,but in the waiting area. So [laughter] I'm sitting at the sofa and this gentleman comes up to me. And he was sitting there and he overheard my conversation. So he said, "Well, you want to come to America? I just came from there. And here is my card if you wanna come." I said, "No, no, no, no, no, no. I don't want to come. [laughter] I'm not going there. I -- I asked -- I wanted to get some information for my friend." I got petrified. So he says, "Well, you 44:00know, the best thing -- tell -- tell him, the best thing to -- to call this number over there. I'll write the hospital's number because they are looking for doctors over there, so if you want to go, it'll be very good." I said, "You can write it if you want, but" [laughter] so I didn't give him the impression that I will use that card, but that card was a blessing. So she gave me the brochures and I took those and I was on my way back. I just happened to write them. Calling again from telephone over there was impossible. You had to book your calls. And many times, it would take you 12 hours to 24 hours --
REHMAN: -- for them to call you back to say, "Okay, we'll connect you now." Thatdoesn't mean that you are being connected right away. That only meant that now they will try to connect you [laughter] when it's your turn. And they will dial 45:00it here, and finally the connection will be made. So phone was out. So I wrote to them and I got a contract back. It looked like it came in a -- in a jiffy. It must have taken maybe 10 days but it was fast. Now, I have a contract to work and they included a voucher inside for Pan Am. If you remember, Pan Am was the airline at the time. And they said if you present it to the counter at Pan Am, you will get the free ticket to come here.
REHMAN: And now, I had a major hurdle of making a passport. But I now have acontract. This is March of 1968. And the contract makes me start my internship 46:00in July of 1968, because that's where the -- the cycle starts. So I had two or three months. So I told one of my brothers who had a shop. My father used to have a shop for a hakeem, so his shop was taken over my -- by my brother when my father retired. So he was there, and I would go there and relax after my work. So I had to tell somebody, so I told him that I'm going to take a chance and go to Karachi and see if I can get a passport made to go to America. And he thought about it, and he said, "Well, they won't give you a day off from here so how will you go away?" I said, "I know that they will not, but I have to do it." So 47:00what I will do is I'll write the application for seven-day leave and leave it at the desk, or mail it to them wherever, and will not wait for their response. I'll go. And I'll basically say that I'm -- as I had discussed it with you. I'm taking the seven days off [laughter] because I need this, that, and the other, and hopefully I'll report back on such and such date, and left that letter. And they immediately called back and they said, "No, you can't!" But I wasn't there. I had taken the train to go back to Karachi.
Rest of the two, three days are totally blank in my head because the very firstday, I went there, filled an application, and went to the university, and got 48:00the copy of my diploma. Next day, I filled the application for passport, 10:00 in the morning when the windows opened, and 4:00 in the afternoon I had the passport in my hand. And then I came back with passport, Pan Am ticket in my hand, and I told -- came back and told my brother than I don't want to surface now because they will want me to come back and do the work, and I don't want to come back. I have a choice to leave. That I didn't resurface. I didn't go back to that job, and they sent a letter, and then this, and that. But I said goodbye to my parents quietly, and I had to leave in March -- or by then, it was April 49:00-- to get out of the country. Now, the biggest hurdle was passport said "Dr. Abdul Rehman" and I had no special permit to -- to get out of the country as a doctor. How do I get out? That paper is required. So I had a friend there, classmate of mine. His older brother and his family, I knew.
So I told them that I'm flying to New York to -- to -- to -- I had to stop atEngland to my brother first, and then come here. I said, "But I don't have this permit, so can you just watch over it and see? If I have to come back, I have to be -- I'll just have to come back to you." And I stayed with them, by the way, because I didn't want my -- my classmates or my medical school or anybody to 50:00know. So they drove me to airport and stuff, and then they did whatever they did, and they spoke to somebody and whatever. And I showed my passport, and he stamped it, and I went in and got the boarding card. And I'm sweating, [laughter] and then sweating, and sweating, and palpitating. I -- finally, they called me in and I go in the -- into the airplane. I'm still nervous. I cannot believe -- I've never been inside a plane. And I have never -- I didn't think it will happen, but nothing -- when the -- when the airplane took off and leveled off, [laughter] I remember taking a deep breath and going back in the seat, and then I'm out. And I landed in London with my brother there, and then there I stayed for a few weeks.
But I made a mistake. After a couple of weeks, when I had my suit tailored to my51:00size, and British suit, and all that, because I knew Detroit where I was to start working -- it's cold. So I took some heavy material. And in England, those days, they used to tailor made these suits. You know, right now you buy everything from the rack. But I did that, and then I -- when I felt I'm ready to go, ready for going, I called up that hospital from there. And they said, "What are you doing in England? You better be here!" [laughter] I said, "But I start on July 1st." They said, "No, you start tomorrow. So come here whenever you can." And I told my brother that. He says, "Okay." Well, no he was just buying time here so might as well fly over. So I flew -- flew over in May, I think. And I went there Friday. They came to pick me up at the airport. Two interns came in a car. And it was a Ford Falcon car, blue with trim, silver trim, and it had a 52:00doggie in the front that had the bobbly head. You know, those days? And a lot of candy strewn around on the front area. And I said to them, "You know, there's candy over there and nobody's eating it." I mean, that's my first impression. How affluent this society is compared to where I come from. Here, the large car, this, all that, or the amazingly, amazingly unimaginable world, worlds apart from where I came from, to what Detroit at the time looked to be when I landed.
ALI: So you arrived in Detroit in -- in May of 1968?
REHMAN: '68, yes.
ALI: Do you remember anything about -- so that was a month after Martin [Luther]53:00King was assassinated -- do you remember anything --
ALI: -- about experiencing race in --
ALI: -- in Detroit?
REHMAN: Those days, in the press also, a lot of racial stuff was occurring.Hospital where I went was a totally private hospital. I understand now it doesn't exist because I tried to Google it a few years ago and the building was not there. Evangelical Deaconess Hospital on East Jefferson Avenue. From downtown Detroit, if you went up to Grosse Point, along the way you saw it on one side of the river, and the lake. Totally, totally White hospital. There was only one African American physician. Dr. Nash I think his name was, who was a 54:00gynecologist. And he didn't have any friends. And he was somehow there, but other than that, nursing school had all White students. Nurses were all White everywhere, and they were openly, openly racist. And it was -- it was kind of an eye-opener for me because Pakistan has a history of being treated as second-class citizens in England. British has always called us "Brownies" or whatever. So we knew that African Americans are the same way as we are in England. And I expected to be treated like an African American here, honestly, because I thought, "I'm not White, so I'll be clumped with that." But no, they had a class for us, which was different. Asians, and Koreans, and Japanese are 55:00treated differently than the African American Blacks. But at that time, Blacks were called Negroes. This is now 19-- and I'm witness to it. Now, the word started to change around that time after those riots, Detroit riots. But I wrote my histories -- original histories in New York also in '69 when I came here as Negro. A patient would come and we'll say that this 33-year-old Negro male came with vomiting, and this, and that. It's written in the charts. Now, obviously we modified it in the next few years, and African American term started to come in writing. But if you look back at those medical records, I and others, everybody was trained that way. So yes, I did witness that and I -- when I went to --
ALI: How did you -- you -- you -- you said you expected to be treated the way56:00African Americans were treated, but you weren't. How -- how did you -- did something happen where you realized that you were in a different group?
ALI: Tell me som--
REHMAN: Well, I -- I -- when I came, there were not many Indians and Pakistanishere. In Detroit, there was only one Indian with me, or at the time, around that time. And there were a few Cuban physicians, and we had one or two Chinese or Koreans. I couldn't tell the difference at the time. But I remember I went to a hospital in Toledo. I probably drove with a friend of mine or wanted to meet another physician there. I don't think there was a Pakistani guy there that I wanted to meet. I may have gone there to pick -- pick the information for next year's training. I don't know why I had gone there, but when I went to the front 57:00desk, the lady there was mid-fifties, or 60-year-old, uneducated-looking White woman who probably had never seen an Indian face. And she started to look at me as if she was in a museum. And she said, "Where -- where you from, honey?" I said, "I am from -- from Pakistan." "Oh! Hey, Marsha, come over here!" And -- and pretty soon, I had a few people around me and they were talking to me, and I obviously did not have the American accent yet. I -- whatever English I spoke, it was British kind of an accent because that's the teachers we had. Very little English that we learned in -- in high school was taught by British teachers. So -- so the accent was different, my features were different. But this was in Toledo. In Detroit, I didn't feel that because in Detroit, somehow or the other, 58:00I didn't have any -- any of that experience. But within four weeks in Detroit, I had called four of my other classmates. [laughter] And so, hospital was after me to get more. So I sent these guys contracts, and they came, so I was not alone in Detroit anymore. I had three other guys, so we were four from my class. But it was strange that we were -- being a physician, of course, you get a certain respect anyway, but other than that, also they knew that African Americans are a different race than the Indians, and Pakistanis, and Koreans, and whatever. So we were not -- I did not see any prejudice against me at all. It was more of a curiosity than anything else. I saw prejudice afterwards in New York, but that 59:00was when -- when there were, you know, circumstances were a little bit different. And it was not directed against me as a Pakistani, but as a Muslim, yes. So that -- that's different, yeah.
ALI: Well, let's -- let's get to New York. [laughter] How did you get fromDetroit to New York?
REHMAN: Well, in Detroit, the hospital was very good and neat and clean, butobviously I did not -- I did not subscribe to their philosophy of segregation, so to speak. And but more importantly, I did not really have a good -- good authority to decide the treatment of the patients because all the patients were private. So if a patient was supposed to come into the emergency and then be admitted, we were supposed to call the doctor to tell him that a new patient came in, and then he will say, "Okay, put him on penicillin, this much." So he will make all the decisions, and we would basically kind of write it down. And 60:00of course, you examine them, and you follow them, but again it's not the same thing. You were not put on the spot to make a diagnostic conclusion on a -- on any patient.
ALI: So they were never your patients.
REHMAN: They were never my patients, yeah.
ALI: It was always somebody else's patient. Yeah.
REHMAN: They were somebody else's patients in the sense that I had no authorityto change their treatment or write their treatment. And I felt that I want that. I want to really be able to diagnose and treat. So I was talking to this -- and there was this Dr. Lee that was a year senior to me. And he said, "If that's what you want, go to Brooklyn!" I said, "What's Brooklyn?" He says, "Brooklyn in New York. They -- you will see patients that probably are medically deprived and med-- the work that you're looking for. And you have city hospitals there. You work in a city hospital, you are the boss. So you will be able to treat the patients and get the firsthand information -- firsthand experience that you are 61:00looking for." And I said, "Okay. I'll go to Brooklyn." So you know anyway, I said, "How do you know Brooklyn?" He said, "I -- my family is there" and whatever. So he was -- he was aware of Brooklyn. He gave me a number to call. And this was probably a few months into my internship there in Detroit, and I called. The -- the next level of training would start on July 1st of 1969.
So I called up and I remember a Dr. Eisenstein answered in Cumberland Hospital.Brooklyn Hospital used to be part of Cumberland -- Brooklyn Cumberland Medical Center. So he answered the phone and I said, "I want to come down for an interview because I want to start my training there in medicine." He says, "Where are you?" I said, "I'm in Detroit." He says, "Well, we can have the 62:00interview now." I said, "Okay." [laughter] So, and this, that, and the other. He didn't ask a single question of medicine. He asked basically to converse with me to see how good I was in English and communications, and maybe a few general questions about where I graduated from, and how do I find Detroit, and all that. But he could probably get a good feeling as to why I am coming from Detroit over here. And he sent me the contract to start next year, and I came in -- in Brooklyn on that July -- on June 30, 1969. Yes.
ALI: So tell me what this was like for you, [laughter] your first day. Tell me,when you -- you arrive in Brooklyn, what is it -- what is it -- what is your experience like?
REHMAN: Well, those -- those were tough days in Brooklyn. And I got out fromDetroit. It was a clean, neat hospital, clean, neat environment. And I did not 63:00have a car there, so I was not exposed to any -- any viole-- violence or any -- any -- any conditions that were not up in standards. Few outings we had were in the fac-- homes of the faculty, and they all -- most of them lived in Grosse Point, which was a very affluent area. So I had an American impression of being very, very park-like and you know, big buildings, and neat, and no dirt, no nonsense. So I get off at LaGuardia, take a cab, and come from there and take this Tillary Street exit on this -- this downtown exit. And as I turn, it was a Sunday, Sunday afternoon. It was windy day. Train tracks were still there, part 64:00of -- part of the-- and it was a really bad neighborhood from -- as -- as I got off this turn, I remember that, in Brooklyn Heights area. You know, right after you go over the way, I don't know what the name of that exit is that takes you right down to -- to well, the Court Street area.
So I looked outside and it looked like a war zone, and paper flying [laughter]all over the place. And he -- he took me to Brooklyn Hospital. At the time, there was no LIU [Long Island University] buildings. So the new buildings are not there, and on the Myrtle Avenue, stuff -- it looked bad. And then went to the Brooklyn Hospital. The entrance side was okay. So I went in there and the lady there told me that, "You have to go up to the on-call rooms and speak to 65:00one of the doctors. I don't know what to do with you." I said, "Okay. I'm starting tomorrow, Monday. I have to be stationed somewhere." So they made some calls and I -- they put me up in Clark Hotel, which doesn't exist now. It was here, from here if you go up Pierrepont -- in the middle --
ALI: It's like Hotel St. George, yeah.
REHMAN: Yeah, St. George!
ALI: St. George, yeah.
REHMAN: On Clark Street.
ALI: On Clark Street, yeah, yeah, yeah.
REHMAN: Right, St. George.
ALI: And Henry, Clark and Henry. Yeah.
REHMAN: Is it still called St. George? No? No, it changed?
ALI: Yeah, I think so. It's -- it's -- there's a sign there that reminds you itis. Yes, yes.
REHMAN: Yeah, yeah. Well, the -- the hospital put me in there because theydidn't have any room for me. So I stayed there for three months in -- in St. George Hotel. It was very convenient because the train station is right underneath and I would go to -- from there to Brooklyn Hospital and work. But a few of us got mugged walking from Brooklyn Hospital to Cumberland, which was two 66:00or three blocks through -- through the -- through the projects, and beat up, and I got very scared. And trains also were not an easy thing to do. There was a whole lot of -- of stuff in trains that was frightening. So I said, "I got to get a car." So I remember, it may have been second or third week in New York that I went to get a car, and I don't have a driving license. And I can't really drive, okay? [laughter] I would do something over there in Pakistan, but there it's a left-hand drive and different kind of thing.
Now I need the car. And I want you to -- don't want you to laugh at this[laughter] but I -- I took some money in my pocket and I went to -- I had seen 67:00it in Central Park, close to Central Park. There was a car dealer. So I had seen that once, so I didn't look at the paper or anything else. I went there and I said, "I want that car." And it was a model car sitting there, Plymouth Duster. Blue, light blue, this color that I'm wearing. And I liked it. The -- the price tag on that was 2,875 -- 2,875. I said, "I have that, so I want that car." I did not know that you have to order the car and it comes in three months. [laughter] If you are lucky, maybe two months. So you had to pick. You want -- certain things were available at the time, automatic or stick shift. So I knew I wanted automatic because -- but other than that, you had to pick if you want air 68:00conditioning, you want this, you -- what color, what interior. All that, you had to specify.
So after two or three questions, I said, "I know I want that car so why are you"-- he said, "You can't have that. You have to order it." I said, "No, I don't want to order it. I want to drive the car today out there." He -- he looked at me and he thought I was crazy. [laughter] And he said, "Let me talk to that guy." And he went to that guy, and obviously they didn't expect 2,875. They expected probably 2,475 or whatever, but I didn't know bargaining or anything. He says, "Okay, but do you have the driving license?" I said I had the permit. I took that yesterday. I said okay. Do you have the car -- you will have to buy car insurance. I said, "Okay, sell me." He says, "I don't sell car insurance." I said, "Then who does?" He said, "That guy over there. You see on that tenth 69:00floor over there, that sign on that building over there, sign in front? Go up there and give them this paper. In the meantime, we'll clean and get this car out for you." So they had to open the door wherever, and get that car out for me, but I drove that car home. [laughter] And I drove everywhere with that.
ALI: That's so awesome.
REHMAN: And with this learner's permit, you're supposed to have somebody next toyou, and I don't have anybody in New York that can sit next to me. And what am I going to do? So I -- whenever I could, I got this -- this Indian friend, Indian senior resident guy, not a friend, but I would ask him to sit with me. I don't know whether he had license or not but [laughter] at least he could sit and I was -- travel here and there, but thankfully it worked out.
ALI: That's awesome. How long did you have that car?70:00
REHMAN: I had that car one, two -- two years.
REHMAN: Because then I went into a bigger car. [laughter] Oh! I went to a Mercedes.
ALI: Well, that's an upgrade. [laughter]
REHMAN: Exactly. I, somehow or the other, have done things that were unusual, honestly.
ALI: That's still sentimental, though. It was your very first car.
REHMAN: Plymouth Duster.
ALI: And you remember it so vividly.
REHMAN: Yes. Yes. I remember it because the Plymouth -- although at that time, Ididn't use them, but the Chrysler was right on the Flatbush corner at the time. I don't know whether it's still there or not. And we used to get service there. And the car was really very nice. It was better than the -- the Volkswagen Beetle that people use to drive. [laughter] Our, our country, Beetle was very famous. 71:00
ALI: How did you deal with parking?
REHMAN: At the hospital?
REHMAN: At the hospital, I somehow or the other parked with the -- with theiradministrators. [laughter] How do you know that? [laughter] I -- I would park the car in the front of the hospital where administrators used to park. And a couple of times, they objected to it, but soon I bought a Mercedes and they stopped objecting.
ALI: So at what point -- and maybe you had already decided. At what point didyou think you determined how long you were gonna be here? You know? Or did you -- did you already feel, "I'm -- this is where I'm gonna be --
ALI: -- for a very long time?" No?
REHMAN: I decided finally that I will stay here only after I finished my medical72:00residency, which was one year of internship and two years of medi-- on third year, my initial information was that after I do four years of training, I will take an exam, and if I pass it, I'm now a fellow of American College of Physicians, and I can go back to Pakistan and be considered as a postgraduate trained physician. And if I was to join the army, I'll go straight as a major, not going through lieutenant and then captain and then major. And if I was to go there in teaching, I could easily become a, you know, clinical professor, you know, fairly fast. So but once I finished my second year of training, I realized that I could go into subspecialties and became a subspecialist, which I wanted to be, and that would take another two or three years. And then, as I was doing 73:00all that training and visiting Pakistan every year, I realized that the difference of practice here versus the possibilities that were there was day and night. That's number one.
Number two, each time I went back there and interacted with the faculty there,they were trying to stay distant from me because they felt that in a year or two, I might come and take their job. So I was not feeling welcome. And I realized why, because for them, it was the question of livelihood, which not every free society has. We have it here. Plus there are not many opportunities. You could only have one or two professors for the Department of Medicine in a large city that had one medical school. So opportunities were -- were scarce. So 74:00that may have been the reason also, that if you didn't go back, they wouldn't miss anything. They wouldn't want you back anyway. So, plus the opportunities here were amazing. Now, another thing that impressed me was -- economic opportunities wise -- was that when I came to Detroit and I was technically supposed to pay back that airfare and ECFMG exams, if there was any cost. I doubt if there was any cost that was added on, but -- but the airfare was 400 or 600 dollars or whatever.
Within a month or two, I felt that I was the richest person on earth [laughter]because I would take a bus from the hospital and along the path of the bus on 75:00Jefferson Avenue, there was a used car lot. And on there, you would see the price tags on the cars, $80, $75. [laughter] No. And I would say, "I could buy that, that, and that, and still have money." And for me, with the mindset of Pakistan, buying a car was the most expensive thing you can get because the cars there are not priced like this. There's custom duties, and this, and that, and then the car that is actually $400 here would be $4,000 over there by the time it gets there. So you couldn't afford it. And I was thinking with the same mind, the cars here. So economic opportunity here for practice medicine was so, so far superior to what I would do in Pakistan that that made no sense to -- to really 76:00be that patriotic that you have to go there and you're not even wanted there anymore. And now, you set up shop and try to -- to be where, you know, it's gonna take you a while to make a -- make a career. And here, the opportunities were endless.
ALI: So, you know, as you are getting your grounding in Brooklyn, what was lifelike for you religiously? Tell me about -- I don't know -- how observant would you say you were when you were in Brook-- when you first moved to Brooklyn in terms of religion?
REHMAN: I was not obs-- as observant as I am today, however that is not becauseI didn't want to be. That's because even if you were observant, you wouldn't really notice the difference because you couldn't be that observant. If I want to pray five times in a mosque, I could -- [laughter] didn't have the mosque. So -- 77:00
ALI: So tell me what you did. How did you do --
REHMAN: So when in Detroit, that was my eye-opener. When I came there, there isnothing around. And in the hospital also, you didn't always the choice of a fish or a seafood. And whenever they did have seafood, I would see when I'm in line that they're using the same spoons and same serving stuff, for the pork, that they are using for fish. So I wouldn't be -- I wouldn't be hungry all the time. [laughter] I would take -- I would tell her to give me this, and if she takes out the spoon from there, and uses that to give me the vegetables, then I would not even eat those vegetables. So I remember I was really losing weight, and but I didn't feel sick, depressed, or any way -- that I didn't even sense that I'm losing weight, because I was so elated being in America that I -- nothing else mattered. So I was eating cantaloupes, and watermelons, and fruits of all kinds, 78:00and that's all I was doing, and eggs. Never mind cholesterol. I was just -- there was nothing else there except breakfast. So I remember this Mrs. Haddad.
ALI: This is in Detroit.
REHMAN: In Detroit. She saw me late evening or early night, and somewhere whennobody else was in cafeteria. And I have plateful of stuffs that I was not eating, and I left it there, and she came to pick it up around 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And she says, "I have been noticing that many times, you get things that you don't even eat and you pay for them. Why?" And then I told her. This is the first time I told her. I said, "Listen, I -- I -- I want to have halal, but there's not halal, so I want to have seafood, and fruits, and vegetables, and 79:00stuff but you don't have separate serving spoons for those. And many times, you have good ones and I take it, but sometimes you take spoon from here, and you do that, and then I don't like that so I don't want." So and she then sat down with me. She was a Christian Arab, Arab Christian. And she then told me that there is a farmhouse run by Jews that have live poultry. So if you want to make halal yourself like you say you do, then go there and get live chicken and make halal yourself. I said, "Okay, great!" [laughter]
So me -- by then, I had another classmate of mine that had already come there.So but I went there alone. I remember he was probably working. So I went and I bought, and another arm, and walked through the farms, through the land with my kitchen knife, which was not a cutting knife -- which was just kitchen knife to 80:00-- to cut apples, [laughter] not -- not slaughtering anyone. So I go down there and I bought some chickens, and I said I'm gonna -- "You will not wanna do that! Are you?" I said, "Yes, I am. I'm gonna make halal with that." He said no. He said, "This is not sharp knife. That's a kitchen knife." I said, "Well, let's make it sharp." He says, "I don't know how to make it sharp over here but you can use mine." I said, "Yours, I cannot use." He says, "You should be able to use it. It's clean." I said, "Okay, you have running water here?" He says, "Yeah, I have running water." I said, "Then I will make it halal myself." So I -- I washed it three times and recited my kalimah on it. And then I said, you know, at that time I did not connect that Kosher is halal, in the sense that I could use their utensil, their knives, but I was being careful. So but I washed his knife three times with flowing water and I called it halal, and I said "La 81:00ilaha illa Allah Muhammad-ur rasul Allah," and I had it Islamized. [laughter] And then I prepared those three or four chickens and I put them in the bag, and I came home like nobody's business. I was so happy.
My friend knew a little bit how to cook, so we had some spices and stuff that hegot. Not necessarily the best, but at least salt and all that stuff, that we had halal chicken. And this was a few months into being in Detroit. But that was a rarity. I couldn't go all the time to get it. In New York, when I came, and there was a so-called spice place in -- on Lexington Street in Lower Manhattan. Jackson Heights didn't exist, Indian markets. And Canal Street existed for 220 82:00voltage for Indian appliances. But other than that, no. And there was no halal restaurant anywhere.
ALI: And there was nothing in Brooklyn.
REHMAN: Nothing in Brooklyn at all. And this place that was on 44th Street -- or42nd -- no, it couldn't be 42nd -- 44th or 46th, this side of -- close to American Hotel which doesn't exist anymore. And with a Bangladeshi guy, East Pakistani guy at the time, who -- who had a little -- not a restaurant, but a little cubby hole type of a space to sit for 10 to 12 people, and halal labeled food. So I went only there once there also because I had a guest from -- a classmate of mine that came from Detroit to visit, and I wanted to take him 83:00there. But other than that, it was not reachable. So basically, we -- we made do with the -- our own, you know, whatever we could get, and seafood. Started to see some development in Jackson Heights. There were Indians first, but halal also came somewhere in '70, '71. And there was a butcher shop that came up on Atlantic Avenue somewhere. I don't even know where it was. But it was no interest to me because I didn't know how to cook [laughter] so I -- I was not married. So but there were some choices.
Was I religious? Not necessarily, in the sense that I did not have Islamiccalendar. I did not know when Ramadan started. There was no availability of 84:00that, and we were so busy at work that, although I prayed, and would really ask for all these things. But I think I was surprised that I found out that Ramadan is starting next week and I still -- I had no clue because we were just involved and there was no information you could get about Islamic calendar. This was 1969 and '70.
ALI: When did that change for you?
REHMAN: It changed, I think, in 1971 or so. We had established a rapport withour kitchen in the -- in Cumberland Hospital. They opened for us for sehri, for fajr prayer, for fajr in -- in -- in the cafeteria. They had -- they would open it specially for us, and they gave us a little room to pray in Brooklyn Hospital -- not a room but in the on-call areas, you could pray here and one of these rooms are designated for that, the prayer. Refrigerator in there so that you 85:00could eat sandwiches in the morning for se-- tuna fish sandwich, halal stuff, whatever. And --
ALI: This is so you could observe Ramadan?
REHMAN: Observe Ramadan. And for praying, we told them that we have to have acongregation of prayers on Fridays, and they said, "Okay, you can use this and that." We were using the chapel. We still use the chapel. We -- they were kind enough to put Jesus's picture on the side somewhere. And we had Qibla direction on one side and we were storing our Qur'an and Janamaz Musallah in this. And they allowed that. In the beginning, we felt that we should have that -- that mural also covered when we do that, but it didn't matter after a while because we were facing this way on the side. This thing was there. So that, and my first 86:00Eid prayer in 1970 in New York was nowhere in Brooklyn. It was in Americano Hotel in Manhattan. And I came alone and in train, and I came out and I prayed. And they tried to cover the portraits of people, and they couldn't reach up there. Although some people, "Hey! Cover there! Cover there!" And they -- I know they tried to cover one of them with a white sheet and the white sheet was ugly-looking hanging because they couldn't do it right. But others were open. But they tried. And there were no more than 200 people.
ALI: And what -- I'm interested in -- in -- in who was there, what -- what kindof communities were represented in that --
REHMAN: United Nations people. Muslims, dignitaries, and some maybe Albanians or87:00European Muslims that had come. A few Arabs, but not that many. Not many Indians or Pakistanis.
ALI: So had you heard of any mosques in Brooklyn when you were first --
REHMAN: There wasn't any.
ALI: What about the one on State Street?
REHMAN: State Street Mosque was there at the time when I came. I did not hearabout it for another year, year and a half. And we went not -- we heard about it not because from prayers, but because there was some scholar visiting somewhere and we wanted to meet, and that's where we met. Islamic scholar of sorts, whether it was an Arab or somebody. But then when we heard that he will be there, we visited and we saw that. It was like a basement I think, low level. A 88:00small, small house. State Street Mosque was there, yes. And Al-Farooq Mosque was not there yet, the one on Atlantic Avenue. And, yeah.
ALI: Okay. So let's talk about what, I guess, helps make your time permanent inBrooklyn, which is your family life, how you grew a family in New York. So tell me about how you met your wife.
REHMAN: Okay. This is another unusual aspect of my life because I -- I, sincebeginning, somehow from my early childhood, have always felt that you love only God. And you love for God. Anybody that loves God, you can love that person. But 89:00other than that, your love should not be directed to anything but God so in that courtship, and wife, and all that, and loving your wife, that concept is not --
ALI: That's a very Sufi idea, right?
REHMAN: Whatever. Whatever. Yeah, whatever. But it's -- it was never for that.These are the milestones in your life. You have to do it, but I looked at all of this as a business or a life decision, not -- not in any way personal decision and love-based or anything, no. So I -- in my culture and where I came from, people still marry within people that you know, in the -- within your caste system, within your group system, and all that. And we have -- although we don't practice caste, so to speak, in that we don't discourage anybody, but still we 90:00stay within our caste system. So outside your -- your clan, you don't marry. You don't really do that. And I think the rationale for that had -- may have been in the beginning that you don't want the land to be now taken over by somebody from a different clan.
ALI: It's a way of keeping the resources.
REHMAN: Keeping the resources to yourselves. So marry within, the land iscommon. You divide amongst yourselves but it basically stays in the family, so to speak, extended family. So that may have been the need two generations, three generations ago, but now that we were, you know, flown out of that place and traveling the world and stuff, it didn't apply. In my mind, it didn't jive. My biggest hurdle was how to get out of that and how to say no to those prospects, and then make a choice of my own. And God made it easy for me because I was 91:00somehow -- and not, nothing to brag, but I somehow got the opportunity to study from my clan. So the -- and nobody else really had that. So I had choices of whoever I wanted to marry from different families. And that made it easy for me to -- to pick none of them because either one of them would have created trouble for the other. So if I married this, and then they'll marry that, and my sister-in-law will be upset. And if I marry that, my aunt will be upset because this is -- "What's wrong with her? I mean, everything is nice. She's so beautiful. Nah, nah, na, na." And that's true! But that went on as I was doing my training here, but I was not getting married anyway until I finished my training.
So when I were finishing my training in end of June, that March I said, Okay.92:00Between now and July 1st, I have to get myself a house, I have to marry, and I have to have an office to start practice on July 1st. These three major things, I have to do. It was all a calculated business decision, nothing to do with anybody that I love and I must marry now. No, no, no. None of that. So I actually had a huddle with a couple of seniors in -- in -- in hospital here, that I want to get married, and do you know any -- you know, anybody? And they looked around here, and there, and there. And then there's, you know, one of the ladies pointed to -- to my wife that I'm married now. He said she used to be here, now she's in Kings County, and she's still not married, so you could marry her. She has a very nice family. I know the family. I know the father. I know 93:00this, that, and the other. I said, "That's good."
Then I reviewed some others, and then I told my parents that this is what I wantto do in the next couple of months, and then the whole floodgates started, discussion. And my -- I told my mom that it's going to be rough, whichever decision I make amongst these people. I actually had visited the year before and felt things out, and I was -- I actually visited a -- a very powerful and very rich family. And there was nothing wrong with the young lady and stuff, but they insisted that I have to build a house here and live here in Pakistan in that area as one of the conditions of marriage, and that we don't want our daughter 94:00to go away to America. We want her to be with us here. I said that's very nice, very noble of you. [laughter] So it was a no-no for me. So I told mom that this is going to be tough, but what should I do? And she said -- you know, this was her decision. She said, "If you can find yourself somebody that is educated like you, or educated more than these girls, then we will be very happy for you. We will support you, so don't worry about this. Just see if you can find somebody that makes you happy. And if it's a doctor, then everybody's mouth will be shut. Nobody will say anything. Because they'll know you're a doctor. So that's exactly what I did, and then I called this lady, and I met her, my wife, in 95:00Kings County. I remember --
ALI: What did you say to her, the first time you spoke with her?
REHMAN: Well, she knows. She knew me from being in Brooklyn Hospital. She washere and I was here, but we never talked. But she was in pathology, and I was in medicine, and pathologists have very little to do with the hospital inside. So they usually go in the lab and they -- from there, they leave. So I didn't really know much about her, but I knew that she's an intelligent person and well -- well versed and came from a good family. So I talked to her, and I said, "Listen, I do want to get married. Do you have any -- any particular choices, or have you made any decision or -- how do you go about it?" She says, "No, but my parents [inaudible] -- will make the decision," and she did -- I remember she did have prospects in our family, which I learned afterwards but -- but I know that she did. And she was comfortable that she could get married anytime, but 96:00she was trying to finish her training here.
So when I told her that, you know, I was thinking about it because, "I have toget married," I said, "before I start practice in July. I want to get this over with." So how -- how about it? She says, "Well, go talk to my parents." [laughter] It's true! She says, "Well I -- you know, I -- I don't mind. I mean, it's okay but you go talk to my parents." So I said, "Okay, give me the address and stuff. We'll go." So I went there with my friend, the same friend that I was talking about who would -- the passport thing, help. I went to them and I said, "Listen, there is a possibility that I marry from this family but I want to really investigate them. Let's go to there, see -- see their house." So we went there, we saw their house. We actually went inside the door, ran the -- rang the doorbell too, and then we told them, "We -- we came from your -- New York, from your daughter, she said hi, this, that. "Oh, come on in. Come on in," and we 97:00didn't say anything about everything else until we found out how things were going and we met the ladies that were home, mother, her aunt, and stuff. And then --
ALI: What were you looking for? What would have -- what were the things you werelooking for to make you feel comfortable?
REHMAN: Educated person that would basically be a free thinker and not bound toany kind of prejudice. I say this because in Pakistan, we have our own Pakistani way of prejudice. I am from north of Pakistan. It's a no-no for Karachi people. People in Karachi would never marry anybody from north. They call us Punjabis, although I'm not from Punjab. But there is a -- there is a -- a kind of a, not 98:00competition, but there is a -- always a -- the rift that goes on between Sindhis from that province and Punjabis because Sindhis is south, Punjabis in the north. And the land in between -- tilling land where that you have this farmlands -- are owned, some by Sindhis, and some by Punjabis. And there's a point where they meet, and they are sworn competitors to each other. So they won't sell their land to a Punjabi and stuff like that. So that's an inherent cultural bias that they have.
So first thing, when I told me -- when after if -- half hour of sitting andtalking and having tea, I told them that, "I really want to marry your daughter," they said, "But you are Punjabi." I said, "Well, so?" "Oh, we'll have 99:00to talk to our daughter." But they -- all of them rejected me. They did not want to go next step, so -- because it's a no-no. But the youngsters sitting there, the little nieces and stuff, they liked me somehow, you know? They were always curious, and they were giggling and stuff like that. And one of their -- or my wife's aunts got a feeling that I would not have opened my mouth unless Razia, my wife, would have consented. So she probably figured it out and she didn't say no. She said, "You know what? Why don't you go? We have to investigate your family side also now that you know ours, and we will let you know."
So I went there without anything, and with -- I left there without a yes, and I100:00didn't expect a yes. I just didn't want the outright "no," and I got exactly what I thought I should get, and that is that they will "talk to our daughter." So I went, and now I didn't tell my parents. I went back to my parents. And when I called them, like they said, "Call us in four days or three days." So I called from there and I said, "You know, what have you guys decided?" They said -- they said, "Okay. That -- that's okay. It's a go." We said okay. Then let's set -- set the date and stuff. I said, "I'm gonna come over right now, and we'll meet you guys, and then you have to make arrangements. And call Raziya to come, and then we'll, you know, do a very quick wedding over there." Even quick one is very ceremonious over there, but we were able to do it. So what I did was I -- you have to buy jewelry for the wife, and this, and that. No, I didn't know what to do and my family is so far away. I mean, they can't really help me. So I told 101:00her aunt that I had befriended at the time, I said, [whispers] "Here is the money. Let's do it. Buy two sets of this, and two sets of that, whatever you can get. And get the clothes done and let's do that before I go back."
So I had three weeks and they called Raziya and she came, and then we gotmarried fairly -- in a -- in a very ceremonious way. And there was an American colonel that served in American Army, but he was there, so I don't -- you guess, figure it out who he was. But he was guest in the -- in our wedding party and he -- he was friends with my father-in-laws, and my wife's uncle. So, and he had adopted a Pakistani boy as his son. So and he was in the wedding, and at the 102:00front. So right at that wedding, he -- he offered me to come and have honeymoon in -- in Pennsylvania in one of the farms in -- in one of the, his summer homes. So we said, "Okay, we'll think about it," and we actually went. I think we came back. In May, we got married. By mid-June, I think we were there.
ALI: And what year was this?
REHMAN: This is 1973. Yeah, '73 was when I was finishing my training and '73,July 1st I had an office on Joralemon Street, 143 Joralemon that were custom-made for me. I had the carpenter from the hospital to come for the bookcases, put the rooms, all that for me. And --
ALI: And what kind of medicine were you practicing privately?
REHMAN: Internal medicine and hematology oncology. I did both. But at -- in the103:00beginning, it was hematology oncology, both -- more but I never gave up medicine. So and afterwards, it was more medicine than hematology oncology. Yeah.
ALI: Okay. So we have -- we're coming down to the -- the close. So let's --let's talk a little bit more about your professional work and then we'll -- we'll close out.
ALI: No, you're good. Let's just untangle you there. Okay.
ALI: All right. So some of the -- one of the projects you mentioned when wefirst talked was on sickle-cell screening that you were involved in. Can you tell me a little bit about the work that you did on -- on that?
REHMAN: When I decided to go into the blood diseases -- hematology, it was104:00because a Swiss researcher came and gave a talk on lasers, and how laser technology was being used in terms of some research in hematology. And I remember going to downstairs to attend the lecture with my mentor, Dr. David Westring who was the director of hematology. I was flabbergasted when I saw the laser being used to -- to break a red cell. The laser beam so minute under a micron-- microscope, we could see an electron microscope, and he projected that. He would make a thin film of blood coming down a slide, and you could see the individual cells coming down like cars.
REHMAN: And with a laser, he would pop one red cell. And once this red cell105:00breaks, the white cells are the scavengers. They are the ones that eat that up to clean the blood. So he was saying -- his theory was that when anything breaks, any cell breaks, the white cells get a smell, get some kind of a sense, whether it's a chemical released or whatever it is, that they actually can figure out where there is this dead cell and they go to it. So here you have downstream cells coming and a white cell that has already gone down, and on top -- above that, you break the red cell. The cell that had already passed it will turn back to swallow it, as if it was a human -- as if it was a living being! And prior to that, I never saw a living cell because all we used to see was stained cells under a slide, and they don't move. They're all stained and fixed, 106:00and they're dead cells. Here were live cells coming down and when this laser would pop one, the white cells all around it would gather around it and eat it.
REHMAN: And I got just lost in that thought. I said, "Oh, my God. There is somuch in the blood that we probably don't even know! And look at how many universes live within us. This is what I want to do." So I went into hematology because of that. Now, those red cells are the ones that are affected by sickle-cell disease. So here it is right in my field, in my interest, that you have a red cell disease that occurs in African American population ex-- well, mostly exclusively. A few Hispanics have it, but mostly it's -- it's a disease from there. And it's a devastating disease, and when you have a crisis, you -- the person cannot really function. And it's very painful and you see people 107:00dying very early and it reduces your immunity, and these people had lifespan of mid-twenties. Nobody survived into thirties and forties at the time. And with the electron microscope coming in picture, and for us to learn more about the blood cells, research occurred on sickle-cell disease also.
The first step was to identify the population and identify the vulnerablepopulation and try to prevent sickle-cell disease from getting worse. And one of the ways to prevent it is that you don't make two people carrying the trait of sickle-cell marry each other because there's a chance one out of four, or one out of three, or one out of two, each time that you will get a child with sickle-cell disease. You can have a trait from one parent and it will not affect 108:00your red cells. It will be carried but it will not make you sick. But if one parent gives you trait, and the other parent gives you trait also, now you have double those. Now you are sickle-cell disease patient. Now your hemoglobin is low and your cells are sickled and you can get crisis a lot. So our project, that was to screen the population, find out how many people that have sickle-cell trait, label them as such, and tell them that before they marry, they should counsel and make sure that their spouse is not sickle-cell trait. If they have a choice of marrying somebody, they should go for one that does not have sickle-cell trait. So this was a population study, and Brooklyn was where we had sickle-cell disease patients. I had never seen a sickle-cell disease patient anywhere, ever, and the first one I saw is in Brooklyn. So, I never even read much about it.
So here was an interesting disease, and we wanted some funding for it. We wanted109:00to make sure that the people are not afraid of these programs. So Shirley Chisholm was at the time very active and very vocal, and she was the first African American, and first woman, to be in Congress, I think. I have to check on that. But I think she was the first one, and she actually was the first presidential candidate. Not many people know that. She had that aspiration, and she actually announced it, to run for primaries. So she was a favorite of mine, and plus she had a very special accent that I loved to hear. So I was a resident at the time, a fellow in hematology, so we talked to her a couple times and we -- we went to -- to get her blessings to -- to allay the fears of the population, that when we send these teams to test for sickle-cell trait, it's not that we have anything against anybody but we -- and they should be identified as such. So that's how I remember Shirley Chisholm, yes. 110:00
ALI: So I wanna fast-forward to your becoming president of the Kings CountyMedical Society in 1991. Tell me -- tell me what that meant for you, and what it entailed.
REHMAN: Well, when I came to New York, at that time, a union was being made herecalled Committee of Interns and Residents, CIR. I didn't know anybody else and I didn't have any guidance here, so their representative came to meet these -- this house staff, which is their interns and residents, and they wanted to tell them what this union means and if we were to join. And I didn't know anything about it. So they had a conference in the auditorium in which the lawyer for the CIR spoke for the union, and our department chair, Dr. Mueller, Robert F. 111:00Mueller, spoke not to join because he said, "Physicians are physicians. We are not union. We are not people that work for money. We are professionals and we shouldn't be picketing and stuff like that."
And I, as an innocent 24-year-old physician from outside the country, notknowing the politics of this place, basically stood up. Nobody -- after they made those two presentations, they said, "Any questions?" And I raised my hand and I got up and said -- I said, "From what I hear, Dr. Muller also basically said the same thing, that we are professionals and we are not unions and we shouldn't be picketing and we shouldn't be negotiating our salaries." I said, "This is exactly why we need the union. Let them do it for us." And everybody started to look at me and started to clap. Then one after the other, guys came 112:00in support of the union. I think they had that idea in mind anyway, but they wanted somebody to start that. And I, in a very naïve way, was the first one to open up, and it made me -- well, the CIR came. It made me the first representative of CIR from the hospital. It made me the first president of the house staff because of that, and I became known as somebody who feels for the physicians and thinks outside the box a little bit, and I also proudly felt that I could do that besides being a physician.
Similarly, I read at the same time, around that -- then, I read an editorial bythe president of the Medical Society from Bedford Avenue about foreign medical physicians. He wrote an editorial. He wrote a president's message about foreign physicians coming into this country and diplomatically, he implied that maybe 113:00their training, their education is -- is not at par with medical schools here and we have to make sure that they are, and this, and that. The hidden message basically was that some of American physicians are superior to foreign graduates, and I took offense to that. And I wrote him a very scathing letter. As a matter of fact, I didn't wait for the letter to get there. I called. And those days, presidents used to go and sit [laughter] once in a while in the office. Now we don't. So he picked up the phone one day and -- I called, and they said he -- he will be there at such and such time and whatever. So I called and he picked up. And the first thing he said is, "How -- why don't you come down, we talk?" I said, "I'll come down and we'll talk, but again, tell me why -- what makes you think X, Y, Z?" And he felt something.
So he -- he called one of the senior attendants at my hospital and he told him.114:00He was a member of the Medical Society. He told him to contact me and make me join the Medical Society. If I talk too much, I better join. I said, "I don't mind joining," so I joined. He took me, this guy took me in his car, I remember, to Medical Society and I met Dr. Fontanetta, the president that had made that -- made that message. And I became involved in organized medicine. And that gave me a podium to become a local leader at the hospital, local leader at the Medical Society. I mean, I -- they gave me the encouragement. So I joined the Medical Society, became a proponent of organized medicine, physicians organizing, and I was the youngest, the first foreign physician to become the president of the Medical Society. It was, really catapulted me up, I believe, ahead of many people that were senior to me. And I was the first Muslim physician. And when I 115:00became the president, I stopped that -- that cocktail hour that we used to have, the drinking part for a half hour before the meeting. Every month [laughter] when we had the meeting, there used to be an open bar there and we used to -- people used to drink there and then go to the meeting.
ALI: Did people miss it?
REHMAN: I did not let them miss it because I ordered halal food also [laughter]from Shahid and I told them that our diet budget is cut one -- I said two-third is gone. Only one-third is left. All that bar expense was gone, and the food was much cheaper than what the previous caterer was supplying. So they loved the food and they didn't miss the bar, but they may have grumbled here and there, but they -- they said, "Okay, we'll take that extra 15 minutes at home." So they will drink, whatever they do at home, and then come straight there. But they 116:00were very good. But there was a miracle that occurred that I want to record somewhere, and it should be in the history. That miracle was when I gave the speech at my inauguration, I started it with, bismillah. And that obviously was news to many people. And --
ALI: What was news, that you were Muslim? Or that --
REHMAN: That I actually invoked the name of the God in -- in a public place. AndI probably translated it also, and then I gave my talk, and I went. And in comes a letter three or four days later from one of the doctors that this disqualifies me from being president, that "He mixed religion with politics, and this is a no-no. It clearly is in our policy that nobody will flaunt their religion, and I 117:00want this man to resign." So now, I received it. I'm the president. I opened the letter. And I saw that, so and then I thought it through, and then I gave it to the executive director, and I said, you know, "What do we do about this?" "Hmm, hmm," she was a racist par excellence. So that was the wrong person to tell but I had to tell her. She was a racist. So she said, "We will have to handle this, so talk to Dr. Bloomfield." Bloomfield is an African American president of Medical Society couple of years before me. He was a good friend of mine. He was the one that was supporting me to go up.
So I called him up, and I said this is what had happened, so we will have tohave a hearing probably or whatever. So we are in the negotiations there. I 118:00think it was within that week, if not the very next day. New York Post headline, front page, the same doctor who had complained to me, his office picture, I think his picture also, "The Doctor from Hell." And a patient had complained to DA's office, that he didn't know, of course, that he had exposed himself in front of her or whatever else. And his license was being revoked. The DA had sent it to him and eventually to the paper also that we will have to take disciplinary action against this physician for behaving in this way, and to -- in front of a -- either it was a minor, a 15- or 16-year-old girl, or something 119:00like that. And he had exposed himself. So he was on the front page losing his license. Here comes his letter addressed to me for the Medical Society to support him now to fight the DA [inaudible] and he withdrew his complaint against me and all that. I didn't have to do anything. So that --
ALI: Did you -- if it had gone forward, how -- how would you have responded tothe criticism that you --
REHMAN: I had al--
ALI: -- inserted --
REHMAN: I had already formulated a response and I had used that when I spoke tothese people that were my supporters. I had basically said that this is a tradition, nothing to do with my being, you know -- imposing my religion, you know. We begin everything with this invocation. This is our tradition. You 120:00cannot be a Muslim and then do things without being a Muslim. So when you elected a Muslim physician, get used to it. He's not asking you to become Muslim, or I'm not asking you to do this or that. This is what my life is. And --
ALI: So it was really more for you than --
REHMAN: It was for me --
ALI: Yeah, yeah.
REHMAN: For anybody else. I said this is historic for me, and I don't want tostart anything without invoking the name of the Lord. And I do that, and this was formal for me. It's not intended for anybody else and if -- if you don't believe it, you don't believe it. It's up to you. But it's not an Islamic discourse. It is [laughter] a -- it's tradition. It's the way we do things. If I'd write a book, I -- I'd dive in and start with that. If I write a speech, I do that. But this is the way it is, and if this is a melting pot, or a salad bowl, then you have to be exposed to that, and you were simply exposed to it. 121:00And they said, "We don't mind. I mean, we understand." They said they knew that after I go, they can go back about their own ways if they want. They can bring back their bar. They will bring back whatever they want. But that way, I was able to do, and it went well.
ALI: Earlier, you -- while we were talking about facing prejudice, you said you-- you -- you faced -- you felt that you faced some prejudice being Muslim when you came to New York, or came to Brooklyn. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
REHMAN: I should not be complaining about it when I say that. I -- I --
ALI: Oh, okay. Okay.
REHMAN: -- sensed it but it's not that it deterred me from anything or it was --did not impact me in any way. It was rough in the beginning when we tried to make an argument to take a day off on Eid, or a particular special holiday because they wouldn't allow it and they said, you know, there are other religious people, and this, and that, and they -- they all -- you do whatever you do but you're on when you're on. And people just were difficult. But I think 122:00once we had significant population, a few -- few Muslims on the -- not everybody's on every day, so if I am not on that day and another Muslim is on, I'll -- you know, I'll cover him. We started to do that with Jewish people also. So on their holidays, we'll cover them, and then on -- on their hol-- on our holidays, they'll cover. So we were able to manage it but in their discourse, before we were able to establish the Islamic holidays, recognize and people didn't mind. Before we did that, there was this undercurrent of resentment and people felt that Muslims basically -- probably some kind of a -- some kind of a, not even a sect -- it's like a very, very odd kind of a group. And uneducated -- 123:00Bedouins, Arabs that don't know anything. That's -- they equated Islam with Arabs. And -- and said very small -- they did not realize that Muslims are almost like one-third of the pop-- world population. They had no clue.
ALI: Okay. So we're down to the last two. I -- I don't like centering 9/11 as a,you know, as -- as -- as part of the Muslim experience, but it is important to -- for people to understand what Muslims who are living in Brooklyn, or in New York, or working in Brooklyn, what your memories are of that day and the experiences you had shortly after. So can you tell me -- tell me what your experience was?
REHMAN: Yes, I did have a negative experience related to that, but that was theonly one that I can say was physical.
ALI: Can you tell me what that day was for you?124:00
REHMAN: Well, the day I actually got call from my sister-in-law in the morningthat lived on Staten Island also. And she said, "Have you watched the news?" I was still at home ready to come to work, and I said, "No." She said, "Turn the TV on." I turned the TV on and I saw in the -- the -- the one plane had hit and the smoke was coming out. I immediately started to, you know, try for the hospital. In the meantime, I got a -- I -- I called the hospital first to see what plans they have because I was already up in -- in the higher faculty and we thought that we have to do something. They said that we are getting everybody in. Try to make it in quickly. And we will have to man this place, and get over to the hospital quickly. This is Caledonia. I was in Caledonia at the time doing 125:00my directorship in the Department of Medicine. So -- in the clinic. So I got into the car and as I get to the expressway and now try to get on, it was like totally jammed, and people were -- the bridge was still open but it was -- people were on the sides and wa-- outside the cars watching and police were trying to stop the -- the traffic at the time -- bridge, but they hadn't stopped yet and emergency vehicles are still going.
I got off on the -- on the side of the road and I drove along on the -- on thesides, on the grass and wherever I could. I didn't get on the expressway but I stayed on the side road. And then I find a police car and I went up to them and I said, "I am -- I'm a physician. I have to get to Caledonian Hospital." He says, "Okay, follow me." So he escorted me over, but -- but as I was at the 126:00height close to that, Capodanno Boulevard area going, before Calabria on the -- on the height, I saw the -- the building go down. You know, many people have seen it on TV, but I think it was hap-- people were saying, "Oh, my God! It's gonna -- oh my God, it's gonna go!" And then it went down and I could hear everybody crying. And I also had felt terrible when the building went down because I didn't think it'll go down. But I -- and -- and then I went to Caledonian and up to maybe where the Aloma school is now, up to that area, it was okay. I could see it. There was smoke but not that much. But when I got there, then the smoke was thick, starting to come. But I turned right from Pros-- there to Prospect and then I went to Caledonian. And we waited with chairs, wheelchairs, and stretchers, and all that, but nobody came. Not one. 127:00Nobody. We did not receive any patient 'til night when we called those things off and we said, "Now we will, you know, take whatever it comes on -- on duty, so everybody's relieved."
I had a friend to pick up from -- family member to pick up from Kennedy Airportthe next day. So I went to Kennedy, picked them up, and with my wife, my son, and that person. We were coming back and we felt that we will have dinner here in Brighton Beach area. There was a Pakistani restaurant, halal restaurant there. So I drove the car in front. I dropped off my wife, my son, and the guest, and they went inside. Now, I went up to the next block and I was ready to 128:00park, and this retired police guy who was walking there, he saw me, that I'm not, you know, from there. So he started to yell, and curse, and bully me, and somehow or the other he wouldn't physically touch me. I come out from this side and he was, "You son of a -- you, this, this! You -- look what you have done over there!" First, I thought I'm parked illegally and that it was his parking spot that I took. So I said, "Well, this is a legal spot." "Ah, ah, ah. Look what you did over there! Look what" -- then the smoke was still there, of course. And -- and he was a grown man, had -- able bodied, and he was ready to hit me. Then it dawned on me.
And then I we-- went around the car to avoid him and he came around, and hestopped me again. And he's going like this, you know, trying to -- if I was to raise my hand or s-- touch him or anything else, I think he would have probably hit me. I continued. He wouldn't let me go. And then a couple of people saw, 129:00Pakistanis maybe or Indian, but they got scared also and they didn't want to come and help. Nobody said anything to my wife inside in the -- in the restaurant. She didn't see anything. And I gradually started to squeeze and I realized I'm in trouble but I did not respond in any which way. And I went here, and there, and there, and there, and then finally he kind of eased up and I ran into the hotel, into the restaurant.
And I didn't say anything to my kids or my family for a minute or two, but theowner had seen it, and the other guy that was at the door saw it. Then he walked up to me and he says, "What was he saying to you?" "He said -- whatever he could, he [laughter] said it to me." But then I had realized that he was connecting me to that, and God saved me that day because he actually could have hurt me. But that is understandable anger. He associated that with Muslims, and 130:00he knew that this is a Muslim restaurant, if I have come here. He basically came to pick on somebody and he -- he saw me from the front of the restaurant and he could pick me as -- as somebody who was a good target. So that was the experience that I had, but quite frankly --
ALI: Did you -- based on that experience, did you counsel your children or give-- what did you say to your family in terms of how -- what they should do or --
REHMAN: I actually downplayed it. I didn't want them to be afraid and I really-- even I was not afraid. I felt that this is something which is rational and natural and I think people would understand it once they know there are lots of Muslims dying there too. And obviously, when you have a tragedy of that magnitude, invariably everybody suffers, and I expected some suffering. I 131:00expected some backlash, which is normal. And from where I come from, if this happened in my country, [laughter] they would have done much worse than this man did to me. So I understood that and I was mature enough to realize that I really can't get anywhere by complaining about him. I had to try to understand that and avoid -- avoid that confrontation for then, until better circumstances occur.
And we had a congregation from our mosque the next day, and the day after. Wewalked with presents and with gifts, and with money, checks, to the fire station that was closer to us on Staten Island. And we told them that we -- we realize, we feel -- we feel their pain and we realize it was Muslims that did that, and if we could avoid it, we would avoid it. We are not that. We are not all bad. 132:00But if you are angry at us, we understand it. So we did this repeatedly so that they know that not all Muslims are like that. But Staten Island, that fire station that is next to our masjid, they lost a lot of firefighters. I think they lost the most compared to many other stations. They lost a lot and it was -- it was personal to us because we are right next to them. Yes. So 9/11 was a tragedy, but I think the society has come out -- out of it with -- with a lot of education, lot of learning.
ALI: Okay. I had just one more, and then we can -- it's been -- it's been awonderful interview. So tell me about your Urdu poetry.
REHMAN: Oh. Urdu poetry, again, amongst many miracles that occurred to me. One133:00of this was when I went for pilgrimage to Mecca and visited the Prophet's city, Medina, Medinatun Nabi. At that time, our mosque on Staten Island was in the formative stages and I was very active, involved in that, and also actively trying to establish Sunday school for our children in which besides religious education, we wanted to give a little bit of Urdu education. So I had that Urdu learning bug in my head at the time because being here in this country for a few years, that language I was losing. So I was ready to learn it again. And I'm into that literature and reading those books. When I was there, I had time to myself. I was thinking of writing something for the mosque and it came out as a 134:00poetry. And we had a little gathering of the families that were involved in mosque management and I recited that poetry there, a few words, to say about basically personal about like -- in your case, I would say that the -- that the -- that checkered shirt on you looks fine, but believe you me, it's going to be mine. Stuff like that. I said that to them in Urdu.
And it somehow or the other stuck to somebody. There was one person sittingthere who was Urdu-speaking from that family. And knowing that I'm from Punjab, and Kashmir, and that's not my language, Urdu. It was. And he said, "Who said that? Who wrote that for you?" I said, "I did that." He said, "That looks perfect poetry." And I said, you know, I have said something when I came back from Medina, from -- and maybe, you know, there is something in there. So I was 135:00writing this magazine that I showed you, this -- this -- I used to write it in my own hand. So I used that poetry there which was in the presence of prophet. And it was perfect. It -- it was accepted by Urdu literature people as proper poetry. So I started to write qasidas for the prophet. So that's my first book. And all the poets and every-- everyone couldn't find any fault with that and it was really very nice poetry.
I discovered poet in me at the time. That doesn't mean that I was not a poetbefore. I must have been. But I did not know that I have that talent in there. It came out when I came back from -- or during my visit in Saudi Arabia, and then I started to write prolific. But by that time, I had already made my mark in my profession. I was already 40 years old. I was 40 years old, by the way. It 136:00happened at age 40. And I had anything and everything that I wanted in life, a wife, and a beautiful house, beautiful children, a -- a profession that is already at its peak, so what else could I do? And I had spent my time in poetry, and now I could give time to it. And now I have five books already print-- published and two are in the press now. One is already in press, and this next one will be going pretty soon. And poetry comes naturally to me now.
ALI: Before we go, can you recite a stanza or a passage in Urdu and translateit? It doesn't have to be long.
REHMAN: Well, let's do the one that you had here.
REHMAN: Where did that go?
ALI: Let's pause it.
REHMAN: It's very difficult to pick.
ALI: Start again when you said, "For the poet."
REHMAN: I said for a poet, really, when somebody says, "Well recite some part ofyour poetry," [laughter] making a selection is a challenge -- 137:00
ALI: Yes. Yes.
REHMAN: -- because you love every word that you've said. But this one from 1991,it was published in '91, must have written it before. It says [Urdu]. It ends in that rhyming way. [Urdu]. These are the two lines, okay? [Urdu]. It's -- it's necessary to think and ponder about the world, the created world that is around you. [Urdu] means the -- the world that you can touch and feel and see. [Urdu], if an eye has the capacity to see, a -- a person with a vision has so many 138:00things that he can look outside. All these sceneries out there are there for him to see. But you have to have a visionary eye. That's what I was looking for, the word, a visionary eye, not the -- the eye, that animalistic eye that sees things, and that's it. No. A visionary eye beh-- you see what it is there are why it's there. That's -- so [Urdu] there are millions of scenes for a visionary eye. [Urdu], this ocean, these valleys, these mountains, these stars, and this sky. [Urdu]. This world of smell and color, [Urdu], we call something that you 139:00can see and feel. It's used as a metaphor for the world. This -- this world of color and smell, who has actually created it? So that is what you have to ponder and that's what you must look at it, and see as to why it exists and what is your role in it? These are the opening stanzas, and then it goes on into -- tells you different things that you -- you have to see. And then at the end it says, yes, this is all the creation of that one Creator who has no -- none like Him who has none equal to Him, and He is the only one that is the Creator and the sustainer of all of us, and that is our good Lord, Allah. 140:00
ALI: And what was the title of this poem?
REHMAN: Mahazana Lul Forta [Urdu] [phonetic]. Mahazana [phonetic] is the tray orthe storage where you put everything. Lul Forta [Urdu] [phonetic] is all the grace and bounty, all the grace and bounty that is out there for humans to use. "All this Treasure," that is the title. The treasure --
ALI: The treasure?
REHMAN: -- that is this created world for us to use. We are not created for thisworld. This world is created for us. So you have to identify the resource you have been provided, and that is the world around you. Recognize it. See what it is. Benefit from it.
ALI: And this was published --
REHMAN: This is in my book, first book --
REHMAN: First book that came out, which is For the Praise of the Prophet and141:00Praise of God, and this is from there. And it came -- the book was published in '91 but the writing was from '85 --
REHMAN: -- to '90, some of it --
ALI: But and -- and this -- this is right here. This is an -- an article called"The Doctor and the Divine."
ALI: And what magazine is this?
REHMAN: This was a -- a reporter that approached me that time. This is the NewYork Doctor. This was the name of the magazine.
ALI: So what -- what did it mean for you to have that poem be included in anarticle about you as a doctor?
REHMAN: Well, I was the president of the Medical Society at the time and shecame to interview me, and she found out that I was a poet, and she told somebody else who was writing this magazine. And she said they're always looking for something unique other than medicine in physicians, and "Since you are a poet, can I ask that person to come and interview you? They might, you know, put your 142:00little article on the paper." I said, "Fine." So she came, and then just like you asked me to -- to recite something, she also said, "Can I have a piece of your poetry that I can reproduce here?" And I said, "Sure," and I gave her that -- that page, gave her that little something and she reproduced it in here. And for me, it was a very unique experience because I had never really seen anybody other than Urdu-speaking people to be interested in that. And she was so interested in poetry itself that she felt that, you know, these people should know their physicians can be more than physicians. Yeah. She was very complimentary to me. And I saved this for -- you know, just to see if it means anything to my future generations and for a day like this.
ALI: That's awesome. Thank you so much.
Oral History Interview with Abdul Rehman
Abdul Rehman was born in 1944 near Mirpur, Kashmir. He earned a medical degree from Dow Medical College in Karachi, Pakistan. After immigrating to the United States in 1968, he completed his internship at Evangelical Deaconess Hospital in Detroit, Michigan and his residency at Brooklyn Hospital Center in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. He practiced internal medicine in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and took on leadership roles within Brooklyn's medical community, including serving as president of the Medical Society of the County of Kings.
In this interview, Abdul Rehman describes growing up near Mirpur, Kashmir (also considered part of Pakistan), particularly regarding his family and medical education. He expands on his immigration to the United States; settling in Detroit, Michigan and Brooklyn, New York; and growth of Brooklyn's Muslim communities since he arrived. He speaks extensively about practicing medicine in Pakistan, Michigan, and Brooklyn; his research on sickle cell anemia; and his tenure as president of the Medical Society of the County of Kings. He also talks about his marriage to his wife and recites an excerpt of original Urdu poetry. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.
This collection includes oral histories conducted and arranged by Brooklyn Historical Society in 2018. The interviews reflect varying approaches to religious observance among Muslim Brooklynites in relation to a wide range of communities and traditions within Islam, including Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi, Nation of Islam, W. D. Mohammed community, Five Percent, Dar ul Islam, and Ansaarullah. Collectively, there is particular focus on cultural and religious customs, practices, and gender roles within these communities; education and the arts; immigration from South Asia and the Middle East; the Nation of Islam; Islamophobia in the wake of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as well as after the 2016 presidential election; political activism and engagement; and community relations with law enforcement and government officials.
CitationRehman, Abdul, Oral history interview conducted by Zaheer Ali, May 03, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.17; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Brooklyn Hospital Center (Fort Greene, New York, N.Y.)
- Evangelical Deaconess Hospital (Detroit, Mich.)
- Medical Society of the County of Kings (Kings County, N.Y.)
- Rehman, Abdul
- Kashmiri (South Asian people)
- Medical education
- Muslim physicians
- Religion in the workplace
- Sickle cell anemia
- Urdu poetry
- Azad Kashmir (Pakistan)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Detroit (Mich.)
- Fort Greene (New York, N.Y.)
- Karachi (Pakistan)
Finding AidMuslims in Brooklyn oral histories