AliAsghar Diwan is a 4th year medical student from New Jersey, USA interested in emergency medicine and healthcare administration. He is a passionate educational speaker and holds the distinction of committing the entire Holy Quran to memory (known as a hafiz al-Quran in the community). His previous involvement in global health work led him to work directly with rural Ugandan communities on healthcare delivery and economic upliftment field projects. In this blog, AliAsghar shares his views on how wearing Libas al-Anwar, the Dawoodi Bohra attire, and specifically the topi—a traditional white cap with golden designs—has become an important part of his everyday identity.
Being a medical student or a young doctor in training can be a nerve-wracking experience. The stress of seeing patients for the first time, diagnosing them, managing their conditions, and treating them is compounded by the fact that patients must trust you and your judgment despite your being a newcomer in the field. Trust fundamentally underlies every doctor-patient relationship; without it, there is no effective diagnosis, management, or treatment. Building that trust can be difficult for any new doctor, but earning it while wearing a topi, in a country where many citizens have never met a Muslim, let alone one wearing religious attire, can be even more difficult.
At least, that’s what I had presumed going into medical school, but my experiences have upended this notion entirely. I knew that many of my fellow Dawoodi Bohra community members embraced wearing a topi to their schools and workplaces, but I did not fully appreciate the effects it would have on myself or others until I entered medical school. I found that wearing a topi helped build more trust, not less, as my patients saw me as someone grounded and firm in my convictions and morals. Many patients, and even some supervising doctors, have expressed admiration that I remain true to my beliefs and open about my faith. Just as any dress code signals something significant about the wearer, such as a doctor in a white coat, the topi signaled an important part of who I was to my patients. Several times patients have asked me to pray for them, having identified me as someone who believes in the power of prayer.
Even more important than how others view me is how I view myself, and how the topi influences my own conduct. Wearing it in clinical settings allows me to remember who I am and what I stand for. It reminds me to stay grounded to the tenets of my belief and not waver in my conduct. It reminds me of the Prophetic tradition that states that all human beings are part of the Almighty’s family, and the most beloved to Him are those who benefit His family the most. It reminds me of Imam Ali’s timeless advice to constantly seek knowledge and to strive to always have a robust moral compass by being honest in my interactions with patients and colleagues. It reminds me to follow the invaluable counsels taught during the sermons of Ashara Mubaraka, which guide us to work towards the betterment of all people with kindness and respect, while maintaining humility in all that we do. I wear the symbol of these reminders every day and, guided by it, I strive to be a better student, a better physician, and a better person.
Above all, wearing a topi gives me strength through hardship by reminding me that I am more than just my occupation. Medical training is rigorous, can induce self-doubt, and often brings out the dreaded Imposter Syndrome. As a daily reminder of my faith and self-worth, a topi can shield me from these thoughts and doubts. As I progress through medical training and practice, I have realized that having an emotional and spiritual bedrock to rely on is essential, and my faith has helped me find resiliency, confidence, and humility through the highs and lows of medicine and of life.
Disclaimer: The image used in this blog piece was acquired and edited with due consent from the Patient.