Chenab Nagar, better known as Rabwah, is a tiny town located in district Chiniot approximately 170 kms west of Punjab’s capital city, Lahore. The town is famous for being home to Pakistan’s most persecuted religious minority, the Ahmadiyya Muslims.
Years ago, there once lived a little Ahmadiyya Muslim girl with big dreams and ambitions in Chenab Nagar. Her name was Sitara Barooj Akbar, Sitara is the eldest of five siblings. Born on February 10, 2000, she had a thirst for knowledge and asked questions about everything around her.
Sitara wanted to follow in the footsteps of Nobel laureate Dr. Abdul Salam, and studied diligently, passing her O levels at the very young age of 11. As a teenager, she not only received numerous prestigious academic awards for her outstanding achievements, but she also has the honor of becoming the youngest certified anti-money laundering specialist in the world at the age of 17.
Previously, only 32 other Pakistanis were able to pass this certification course from the U.S.- based Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS).
Despite being exceptional in her studies and winning several awards, she and her family faced serious security threats for having different religious views than most Pakistanis. The hostile environment consequently forced her and the family to leave Pakistan in 2015.
While living in self-exile in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sitara served as the Youth Ambassador for the Pakistan Youth Forum (PYF) in Dubai. Nowadays, she is pursuing an under-graduate degree in Biochemistry from the Center of Excellence for Biochemistry and Research in UK.
Muslim World Today spoke to Sitara Barooj recently to learn about her life and future plans.
MWT: When did you leave Pakistan and why?
Sitara: I left Pakistan in 2015. I love my country, but due to the terrorism based on religious extremism, I had to travel with gunmen wherever I went so my family decided to shift abroad. I have always been and will remain a Pakistani. A person’s country is not just a piece of land rather it is the principles, culture and heritage that is given to us as a part of our identity and the patriotism that comes with belongingness. I carry it with me everywhere and will return once I finish my education to help my country in any way that I can.
MWT: Do you think you are discriminated for being an Ahmadi Muslim?
Sitara: Unfortunately, due to a very small number of religious extremists in our country, discrimination has become institutionalized and has been for many decades now. The people of my nation are not to blame for it as hate is not in our blood, it is taught through socialization. I hope that the new generation will move past barriers of caste, creed, color, sect and religion and together we shall work towards Quaid-e-Azam’s dream of a prosperous Pakistan for all.
MWT: Who is your ideal and why?
Sitara: My ideal is the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as he is perfect in every spiritual and worldly way and his character is the ultimate guiding light for all of us. Other than that, growing up, Dr Abdul Salam and Sir Zafarullah Khan were my biggest inspirations. My late grandfather, Muhammad Aslam Nasir started telling me stories about them when I was very little and taught me that a person’s true worth lies in the good he/she do. And the legacy we leave behind for those after us, as they come from the same background as me and have left such great gifts for the world. I always draw motivation from them.
MWT: Did you ever get any recognition by Pak government for being exceptional in studies?
Sitara: I was awarded a Gold Medal on Children's Day in 2012 by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousaf Raza Gillani and besides that Alhamdulillah many national organizations and people have appreciated and encouraged me beyond measure and for that, I am very grateful.
MWT: What you want to become? Your Future Plans.
Sitara: Since a young age, my interest has leaned towards science and I am currently studying towards fulfilling my dreams to become a researcher in the field of Biochemistry. The opportunities to revolutionize life in this field are limitless and I hope to just do this in the future.
MWT: Any specific future plans for your small city Chenab Nagar and Pakistan?
Sitara: I want to see my community moving forward and at the forefront along with other Pakistanis in making our country best in the world. It requires a lot of hard work but courage doesn't always roar, sometimes courage is the little voice saying I'll try again tomorrow. This is my message to all people who are deprived of their rights, disappointed from life that if you want to follow your dreams, it requires the confidence to stand alone and the courage to make tough decisions.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.