SLUCare Neurologist Captures YWCA Racial Justice Award

Ghazala Hayat, M.D., a SLUCare neurologist who has worked tirelessly to promote religious understanding between Muslims, Christians and Jews, received the YWCA’s 2016 Leader of Distinction Award for Racial Justice.

Hayat, a professor of neurology who specializes in treating patients who have muscular disorders, is an outspoken interfaith advocate, preaching a message of mutual respect between religions.

Ghazala Hayat, M.D.

From left, Barbara Bentrup, chairwoman of the YWCA Board of Directors; Adrian Bracy, YWCA CEO; Ghazala Hayat, M.D., SLUCare neurologist; and Lydia Padilla, YWCA Leader Lunch chair, celebrate the accomplishments of outstanding women in the community at the 36th annual YWCA Leader Lunch.

“Interfaith relationships — knowing about another person’s faith — make you learn more about your own faith,” said Hayat, who is Muslim and writes a religion column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“You begin to discover the commonalities between religions. Supporting compassion is not limited to one faith.”

Hayat is director of the clinical neurophysiology fellowship at Saint Louis University School of Medicine as well as director of SLUCare’s specialized ALS clinic.

Particularly since Sept. 11, 2001, Hayat has seized every opportunity to condemn acts of violence promulgated in the name of God as she shares her message of peace, acceptance and tolerance during media interviews, community presentations and lectures, such as this TEDxSLU talk last year. 

“Everyone has a value system and one of the basics of my value system is I have to speak up. It is my duty to provide real information,” Hayat said. “Misinformation or no information leads to fear, bias and finally hatred. If I can provide accurate information I can stop the cycle that leads to hatred.”

Hayat is one of the first women chosen to chair a major U.S. mosque, the Islamic Center in West St. Louis County. The spokeswoman for the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, Hayat is past president and a former board member of the Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls. She established dialogue groups for Jewish and Muslim teens and adults to break down barriers and foster understanding, and participates in the annual Jewish-Muslim Day of Community Service on Dec. 25.

Hayat, who was born in Pakistan, is well recognized for her social justice work. She was named a St. Louis Post-Dispatch Woman of Achievement, is listed among St. Louis Magazine’s 100 power people, named to Who’s Who in Diversity in St. Louis and received the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Norman A. Stack Community Relations Award as well as awards for her interfaith work by the National Council for Community and Justice and the Sisters of Loretto.  She also has been named to Who’s Who in Diversity in St. Louis.

About 40 members of the SLU community, including SLU’s own 2016-2017 Women of Achievement who were selected by the Women’s Commission, applauded the accomplishments of their colleague at the Dec. 13 lunch. SLU’s Women of Achievement were chosen based upon their outstanding work performance, leadership qualities, outside activities, service to others and special talents.

They are Aleidra Allen, program coordinator for the Cross Cultural Center; Lauren Arend, Ph.D., assistant professor education; Christina Bagwill, instructor of chemistry; Jessica Ciccone, communications director for the law school; Sandy Gambill, senior instructional developer at the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning; Mona Hicks, Ed.D., associate vice president and dean of students; Mirela Marcu, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry; and Kathy Kienstra, associate professor in the department of medical imaging and radiation therapeutics.

SLU had other connections to the event. Alumna Toni Kutchan, Ph.D., vice president for research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, received the science award, and Thelma Steward, who received an honorary degree from SLU, was the recipient of the award for philanthropy. In addition, SLU was an Investor Sponsor of Leader Lunch, which drew about 900 people from around the region.

Hayat says she’s grown in her understanding of different religions since joining SLU’s faculty 30 years ago, after completing her neurology residency at the Medical College of Virginia. She remembers her first interfaith conversation at SLU, with a Catholic priest.

“I was taking the medical history of one of my patients, a Catholic priest, who was wearing his clerical collar, then started asking about his social history. I said, ‘Are you married?’ A stern answer came, no.

“I said, ‘Do you have children?’ I could see he was visibly getting upset and I had no idea. He points towards his collar, and says ‘Father.’ And I replied, ‘Yes, that’s why I’m asking how many children you have.’”