“Americans,” wrote the 19th-century French observer Alexis de Tocqueville, “are a uniquely philanthropic people. They make real sacrifices to the public welfare; and [I] have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another.”
By that standard, Arshia Wajid is as American as they come. Even as a 6-year-old visiting her grandparents in India, Wajid volunteered at her grandfather’s medical clinic, which served many poor patients.
As an adult, Wajid, now armed with a master’s degree in business administration and public health, volunteered for a year as the coordinator of Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network Health Clinic. The clinic delivers no-cost primary health care to uninsured people in the community.
“Free clinics were the safety net for these individuals, and I really felt that as a health professional I had to do something to help them get access to health care,” she said.
She’s also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels, and traveled on medical relief missions to Ecuador, Haiti and India.
Wajid’s Muslim faith reinforces her dedication to volunteering and public service. “Giving back to the community is part of our faith,” she says. “Islam encourages us to be active participants in civil society and give back to those who are less fortunate and those who are marginalized in society.”
In 2004, she founded American Muslim Health Professionals, a nonprofit that empowers Muslim health professionals to improve the health of all Americans. The group focuses on mental health, disability and access to health coverage.
The White House noticed Wajid’s work with the group and included her among a group of American Muslim leaders who discussed with President Obama issues that concern the Muslim community.
“It was a privilege,” she says of the February 2015 meeting with the president.
Wajid urges everyone to find a couple of hours each week, or even each month, to contribute to something they believe in. “It’s really just important that you pick a cause that you are passionate about and contribute whatever time you are comfortable with,” she said. “Whether it’s helping the homeless or orphans or veterans or the disabled, there really is no shortage of causes that one can get involved with.”