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Being a Muslim scientist in NASA

We present an interview by Hümda Mirzen Kahraman who was one of our friends in Washington on the occasion of the 2019 İSİF America summer program.

Due to the 2019 ISIF America summer program, we had the opportunity to meet many American Muslims around the Diyanet Center. Although the Diyanet Center is known as a Turkish mosque in around, it has a multicultural community. One of the people we met in this community is Aynur Abdurazik from East Turkestan.

It was an exciting event for us to meet him. Aynur Abdurazik is a Muslim whose clothes is not different from the Turkish ladies in hijab and she is an engineer at NASA. At the same time she is memorizing Qur’an with his exegesis. In the two months we have spent time in the US, we have seen how difficult it is to preserve the Muslim family structure in the face of the dominant American culture, and we notice that even this is a remarkable work in itself. Sister Aynur is living in American society without sacrificing the requirements of Islam, she gives importance to go to the mosque for five times prayer with her family and she trained her kids as hafiz al-quran.

During our conversations with her, we realized that space and conditions were not an obstacle to the person. Because, as we said, Sister Aynur is an Uyghur. I mean, they are not the people who have always seen the easy side of life. As such, we wanted to interview her. Aynur Abdrurrazik, as a Muslim scientist with hijab at NASA, was an example that we can not find very often around us, even though we have the opportunity to meet the Muslims who are competent at any time.

Could you introduce yourself briefly? Could you tell us about your story of coming to America, your profession, your daily activities?

My name is Aynur Abdurazik and I am an Uyghur. I came to America as a graduate student in Software Engineering Master’s program at George Mason University. Before I came here, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and worked for some time as a software engineer in Urumqi.

After I completed my master’s program, I continued my studies in the Computer Science PhD program in the same university. While I was a PhD student, I got married and had two children. Like in many things, there are pros and cons to study and to raise children at the same time. I was able to finish my studies with the mercy of Allah and the support of my family, alhamdulillah.

I currently work as a senior software engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. With my team members, we develop, enhance, and maintain a software for processing, analyzing, and visualizing remote sensing data for ocean research.

I try to get up early and memorize Quran when it’s quiet and my brain is fresh. Then I go to work during the day on weekdays. After work, I spend time with my family. We try to cook and eat our dinner together and pray in the masjid every day. I have a weekly Quran class and have homework every day. After I finish my family responsibilities I work on my Quran homework and do some reading on topics that I’m interested in. I also take daily walks to stay active and become healthier and stronger, alhamdulillah.

Are the people in NASA prejudiced about Muslims? If so, does this affect your business?

NASA has anti-harassment policy and procedures which prohibit any kind of harassment by anyone to anyone, including Muslims. My work hasn’t been affected by any kind of prejudice so far, alhamdulillah.

Do people act with suspicion against your scientific studies because of your Muslim identity?

No. My work is technical and it doesn’t have any religious element in it.

You are working in NASA and also you are memorizing Quran with exegesis. The process of memorizing the Quran is a difficult and time-consuming task in itself. Do you have suggestions for young people who complain about the shortage of time? How do you use your time? We wanted to get advice.

First of all, we need to think about why we want to study and memorize the Quran. It’s the book of Allah and it’s the MOST important book to study and memorize. Allah is speaking to us through the Quran. Allah tells us in the Quran the purpose of life, addresses the different conditions of our hearts, gives solutions to all our problems, and promises us eternal life of happiness.  It’s said that the true happiness of our soul is proportional to the amount of Quran we read.

It’s important to develop a daily routine for memorizing and reviewing the Quran and make it a habit. When something is your habit you will have time for it automatically. For example, you brush your teeth morning and night automatically and you will never fail to do it, even if you are tired or busy all day. If you make reading and memorizing the Quran a habit like that, you will find time for it under all circumstances. Think about other things in your life that you always do no matter what. You can develop a new habit for the Quran. Habits are very powerful.

How was your recruitment to NASA, what conditions are they looking for, is there anything like a Muslim quota? The reason for asking this question is that NASA’s relationship with Muslims has been the subject of news in Obama time. The former president has asked Charles Bolden to recall the importance of NASA to communicate with the Islamic world, to employ more Muslims, and to remind the importance of the contributions of Muslim scientists to history, science, and technology. Does NASA really have such a purpose? And as far as I know, in order to ensure diversity, some institutions in the US have to employ a certain number of Muslims or Jews. Is NASA also one of these institutions?

I applied for a job position that was announced on the web. A job position will have certain responsibilities to be fulfilled by the hired person. The hiring authority will look at the credentials and qualifications of applicants to screen them for the position. Credentials usually mean your university degrees and/or professional certificates. Qualifications mean your work experience and accomplishments. If an applicant is considered qualified for the job, then there will be an interview. Diversity is highly encouraged at work places, but qualifications come before diversity. I have never heard of a “Muslim quota,” but NASA has policies on “diversity and inclusion” and “equal employment opportunity”, which aim to ensure fairness and equity in hiring and decision making. These are for anyone who qualifies for the job.

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