Muslims join Race to ‘save lives’


Members of Tucson’s Muslims for the Cure hold a bake sale at the Islamic Center of Tucson after Friday prayer. Nearly 100 people are on the team. (Amer Taleb)

By Amer Taleb

As hundreds of men walk out of the Islamic Center of Tucson after Friday prayer and congregate in the center’s courtyard, the blistering sun hits them with its fiery rays. People use a palm tree’s shade, sunglasses and even umbrellas to shield themselves from the beams.

Among the ocean of men and beneath the hellish heat, there’s a woman with a scarf around her head asking the men the same question as they walk by. “Cookie?” she asks.

Nearly every Friday for the last month and a half, Maryam Mir has braved the warm and windy weather to sell baked goods and Middle Eastern desserts at the community center. It’s her way of fighting cancer.

Mir’s the captain of Tucson’s Muslims for the Cure, and according to her, it’s the first official team the local Muslim community has organized to walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a fundraising walk that raises money for breast cancer awareness and research.

“Last January I was driving around doing errands when I saw a Race for the Cure poster that said ‘Ignite Passion’, and it did,” she said. “Cancer doesn’t care what color or religion you are. It’s an equal opportunity destroyer.”

Now, she has nearly 100 people on her team and many have requested sponsorship to cover the $30 entrance fee. Mir and few of her teammates have raised hundreds of dollars for the rest of the team by tabling, but it hasn’t been enough.

“It’s fun wearing a scarf and standing in the heat,” she said laughing. “And I know how dorky I look when I put my visor on too, but $30 shouldn’t stop someone from joining the team. So yes it’s hot, but it’s worth it.”

Komen’s Southern Arizona chapter doesn’t help people pay the entrance fee, but the foundation should look deeper into the topic and possibly change their position, said Debbie Friedman, a radiologist and founder of the Southern Arizona Race for the Cure.

Friedman said she was glad that the Muslim community was putting a team together and although Komen can’t give the team money, it can advise them on methods to gather funds. Donations to Komen’s Southern Arizona branch are down 60 percent this year, a ripple effect of the recent Planned Parenthood controversy, Friedman said.

The ruckus began when Komen’s national office changed its grant standards last January, which would have cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides reproductive and child health services. A massive public backlash forced Komen to reverse its decision a few days later, but the negative publicity continues to hurt its branches all over the country, Friedman said.

Mariyah Binthoras said she decided to look past the controversy and stay on Mir’s team. As a nurse, she said the Komen Race is especially personal and important to her.

“Cancer patients need us more than ever,” she said. “The way our economy is right now, a lot of people don’t have coverage.”

Ehab Tamimi, one of at least 10 men on team, said he would’ve signed up by himself if he had to, but decided to join the team to promote a positive image of Islam to Southern Arizona.

“I want people to know that Muslims care about Tucson too,” he said. “I’d like to think we can fight cancer and stereotypes at the same time.”

Beyond reputation and image, the free services the Komen foundation funds could benefit many Muslim refugees, who make up a significant portion of Tucson’s Muslim community. Within the Islamic community, breast cancer awareness isn’t discussed as often as it should be, Mir said. The team’s formation has become a catalyst for bringing the topic into the spotlight.

“People have come up and told me, ‘Did you know I’m a breast cancer survivor?'” Mir  said. “These are women I’ve known for years, and I never realized they were sick.”

An example of community support for the team, which Mir said has been very strong, was local artist Tamina Muhammad making 60 hijab (veil) pins in one night. Donations have even come from the other side of the world.

“An old Tucsonan who lives in Malaysia plastered on my Facebook wall, ‘I’m going to buy you pink hijabs (veil) and mail them to you,’ It was a very generous gift,” she said. “I had this idea to make all the men wear pink bow-ties, but sadly it didn’t work.”

For Mir, measuring if organizing Tucson’s Muslims for the Cure was worth all the cooking and standing in the heat, is easy.

“Saving lives,” she said. “If we help save one, it was all worth it.”

Find out more about the team here: Team Facebook Page

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