An inspiring immigrant story

June 15, 2011

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Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and his wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are pictured after a ceremonial swearing in of the 112th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington in this photo taken Jan. 5, 2011. – AP Photo

As the Republican and Democratic parties condemn New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s reluctant admission of bad conduct, the world is left to reflect over his brilliant and powerful wife Huma Abedin.

Abedin’s life is an inspiring story where a Muslim girl manages to reach the top. Saleha Mahmood Abedin, Huma’s mother, a Pakistani was born in 1940 in pre-partition India and is a renowned and respected Islamic scholar with a PhD in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Late Zainul Abedin was born in 1928 India and also earned his PhD in American Civilisation from the University of Pennsylvania in the 70s.

Born in 1976 in the US, Abedin is fluent in Arabic and a constant in Hillary Clinton’s center of power. She started working as an intern in 1996 and succeeded to the rank of Clinton’s deputy chief of staff. This may be her official title, but personally Abedin is much closer to Clinton. “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would be Huma,” Clinton said at the Abedin Weiner pre-wedding party in 2010.

Vogue did a spread on Abedin in 2007 in which Clinton said, “Abedin has the energy of a woman in her 20s, the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s, and the grace of a woman in her 50s. She is timeless, her combination of poise, kindness, and intelligence are matchless.”

A Trailblazer

There is conjecture and guessing games. Will Abedin stay or will she go? Many feel that Abedin’s personal and political paths are either deliberate or fated but one thing is certain, her story is inspiring, conveying a vision of freedom and strength to immigrant Muslim girls.

“I think Muslim girls are brought up believing their opportunities are limited. They must understand that there is no ceiling on what they can accomplish, the sky is the limit.

Being a woman and a minority may have the superficial appearance of a handicap, but it also provides the opportunity to break boundaries and become a trailblazer. If we choose to keep our focus nothing can get in our way,” says Fatima Khalid, a twenty seven years old Columbia graduate born and raised in Texas, she currently works for a leading US law firm.

“It is somehow irrelevant if Abedin decides to end her marriage or not. The issue needs to be bigger than the obvious of a cheating husband and a good wife; her decision may be politically or personally motivated but her story is inspiring,” she added.

“Cross-cultural marriages, inter-faith marriages, you Muslims seem to be having more and more of them. Look at Abedin-Weiner. Let’s see if this one can withstand the scandal,” said Parker Silver, a mom at my children’s school. She is a blue-eyed

Caucasian, while her father-in-law is a brown-skinned Pakistani who moved to the United States in the sixties.

“Huma must set an example for the girls who are going to be following her footsteps. She should divorce him,” added Silver.

Most South Asians who are aware of the sandal have very definitive opinions on the story. Surprisingly, most sub-continental modern 30 and 40 something women appear to be more focused on the fact that Abedin’s decision, regardless of what it may be, will reflect strength. It may be due to the fact that they put themselves in Abedin’s shoes or simply the voice of the emancipated women once they migrate west.

“Western popular belief is that South Asian tradition expects women to compromise, but Abedin appears to be a very independent, liberal and rooted woman, her story is inspiring to say the least. What road she chooses to travel is going to be a personal choice but in no way a reflection of weakness in character,” says forty-five-year old Aliya Nagmi, a physician by profession.

Stick Or Split

The debate whether Abedin should leave Weiner, or not, is roughly split. While most feel that Weiner’s lack of judgment is impermissible, many say that a marriage is sometimes about learning to forgive and rebuild.

“It's difficult to say whether she should stay with Weiner or not. They've been married a very short time, and I believe not giving it a chance might be a mistake. In the grand scheme of things what he did was not cheating, just a severe lack of judgment and an enormous ego. He's exactly the man she married,” says a 21 year old Cornell student (who asked to remain unnamed) currently working with an American Senator.

“I think Huma shows that in order to become influential one has to balance hard work, determination and drive. Most people fail to combine these the right way. Some wish to do great things but don't work hard, while others will work hard but never have the fire in their belly to improve themselves. Huma used her first experience as a White House intern as an opportunity to make herself known. She impressed key people. There is no doubt that she will continue to advance her career, and will leave this scandal behind her,” added the Cornell student.

The debate in Washington remains split also. My story took me to college students working in Washington. “I've asked some of my friends working for Senators, lobbying firms, and political activists groups. All believe that Huma’s story is one of inspiration. She did not quit at any roadblock. Some however believe that along with hard work and determination, luck played a role in her success story also,” an interesting perspective from the young Ivy Leaguer.

Some feel that if Abedin keeps her marriage she sends the wrong message but most seem to embrace the fact that an immigrant couple with strong South Asian and Islam heritage raised a dynamic young daughter in the environs of Saudi Arabia. They sent her for higher education to the United States and gave her the confidence to follow an ambition few emerge unscathed from.

Bisma Tirmizi is one Pakistani Diasporas living in Las Vegas. A journalist by profession she worked for Dawn in the 90s.