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Alumni Profile

Born to run

Nadia Hashimi '00
Nadia Hashimi '00 (Photo: Nahid Popal)
By Brian Klotz

At 10 years old, Nadia Hashimi ’00 and a few of her classmates gave a presentation to the Board of Education in Ramsey, New Jersey, that successfully convinced them to stop using Styrofoam trays in school cafeterias. Now she is looking to effect positive change on a larger scale, as she runs to be the Democratic candidate for Maryland's 6th Congressional District. If elected, Hashimi would be the first Muslim woman and first female Democratic physician to serve as a voting member in Congress.

A doctor, bestselling author and mother of four, Hashimi is a political outsider running for the first time. “Watching the direction of the national conversation since 2016, I knew we needed a better tone,” she says. “I didn’t want this to be the future my children inherit.”

As a first-generation American, Hashimi saw the promise and challenges of the American Dream firsthand. Her parents emigrated from Afghanistan in the early 70s with advanced degrees – her mother was one of the first women to graduate from Kabul University as a civil engineer – but the family struggled financially. Hashimi’s father initially shared a New York City apartment with two friends, sleeping in their lone bed every third night. Undeterred, the family became entrepreneurs and restaurant owners, enabling Hashimi to pursue her education. "My father once told me he would go hungry before he took a penny from my education fund,” she says.

In high school, Hashimi developed her voice as an advocate for social change, forming a group called Being Informed Active Students (BIAS) that facilitated school-wide discussions on topics like racism, domestic violence and AIDS. When applying to colleges, it quickly became apparent Brandeis was the perfect fit. “The campus has such a spirit of activism,” Hashimi notes. “I really appreciate how it allows diversity to flourish.” During her undergraduate career, she joined with two other classmates in the Intercultural Center to found Culture X, an annual multicultural arts show that continues to this day.

After graduating in 2000 with a B.A. in biology and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, Hashimi obtained a medical degree from SUNY Downstate, achieving a long-held dream of becoming a pediatrician. “I was always drawn to work with children,” she says. “There’s just something about having a positive impact on a child’s life, when they have so many years ahead of them.”

Hashimi, an avid reader, found a second, unexpected career when her husband, Afghan-born neurosurgeon Amin Amini, suggested she try her hand at writing. Hashimi began writing novels centered on Afghanistan, drawing upon her own heritage and the experiences of her husband, who fled the country as a refugee. Having lived in New York City during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she wanted to give people another window into Afghan culture. “We don’t want stereotypes or misconceptions to rule the public image,” says Hashimi. “I like to show the universality of our struggles. Nothing I write about is uniquely Afghan.” To date, she has written three internationally bestselling novels, including “The Pearl that Broke its Shell” and “When the Moon is Low,” as well as two children’s books.

Writing is on hold for now. “I’m putting all my energy into this campaign,” says Hashimi.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Hashimi became increasingly politically active, attending gatherings such as the Women’s March and the March for Science. Particularly frustrated with the lack of health care providers involved in shaping health care policy, she decided to take matters into her own hands, but not before some serious thought.

“This was huge,” Hashimi says, jokingly adding: “So I did what any rational person would do: I pitched it to Facebook.” After consulting with friends and family, she announced her bid to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Democratic Representative John Delaney, who retired to run for president in 2020. Hashimi joins a record number of women running for public office in 2018.

In her quest to become the first Muslim woman in Congress, Hashimi is well aware of the unique challenges she faces. “There’s no denying the Islamophobia in this country,” she says. “I’ve been told, ‘With your background, it will be tough for you.’” Hashimi has discovered that much of this bigotry resides exclusively on the internet. “When speaking with someone face-to-face, those barriers melt away.”

Drawing comparisons between her careers as a pediatrician, an author and now a political candidate, Hashimi notes how they all have required her to pay close attention to the many factors that impact an individual and shape their story. As a doctor, she has seen the gaps in the health care system, and has made addressing them the crux of her campaign.

To many, however, Hashimi’s endeavor represents something more, which she encapsulates with a quick anecdote: “At an event recently, I had a young Afghan-American woman tell me, ‘I never thought someone like me could do something like this.’”

Date: May 30, 2018