Adnan Zulfiqar

Rutgers Law School in Camden

Finding Common Ground

Adnan Zulfiqar, who was born in Virginia to  Pakistani immigrants, spent much of his childhood abroad. His father, a World Bank executive, frequently accepted transfers to African nations to broaden his children’s perspectives. The task of acclimation was easier when Zulfiqar sought the similarities between cultures, religions, and languages—a tactic he still relies on as a scholar of criminal law, Islamic law, and laws of war.

“Commonalities are the entry point into a different culture or context. Once you identify points of familiarity, it’s easier to appreciate the differences,” says Zulfiqar, an  assistant professor at Rutgers Law School in Camden.

Zulfiqar, who teaches “Criminal Procedure–Investigations,” addresses emotionally charged issues—over-criminalization, bail reform, abuse of authority, and the evolution of Islamic legal concepts—to understand conflicts and then initiate legal reform. As he completes his Ph.D. dissertation, Zulfiqar is exploring legal questions related to jihad and revolution, with the intention of unraveling the legal arguments that militant groups use to co-opt jihad for their purposes. Communities and governments, he hopes, will then be better equipped to stem the tide of militant recruitment globally.

If his father’s moves to Africa opened his mind, Zulfiqar said his mother’s charitable gestures—such as donating truckloads of food to needy Malawi villagers—opened his heart. “She taught me to appreciate what you had and recognize the responsibility that comes with all that opportunity,” says Zulfiqar, who with his sister established Banja Umodzi (“One Family” in Chichewa) in Malawi to honor their mother’s lesson. The nonprofit provides flood and drought relief and postdisaster reconstruction, and it supports two orphanages.                                          

— Lisa Intrabartola


Pamela Valera

Department of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences
School of Public Health

Health Care Justice for All

Public health abruptly got personal for Pamela Valera after her sister, Irene, died at age 25 from idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, a rare disease marked by elevated pulmonary artery pressure. Because it was an existing condition and was back in the days before the Affordable Care Act, Irene couldn’t secure health coverage.

“I wanted to take on her passion for social justice,” says Valera, whose sister had intended to attend graduate school to study public health. “I decided to commit my life to addressing health disparities among those unable to advocate for themselves. Access to screening, prevention, and treatment should be available to everyone.”

Valera, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health, part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, worked with criminal justice and correctional health investigators at the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision while she was a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, an experience that sparked her interest in studying cancer  health disparities among incarcerated populations.

She developed health education programs while studying cancer prevention and smoking cessation among incarcerated men and otherwise gave a voice to people in the criminal justice system. Valera also worked with Bronx Community Solutions, which provides judges with sentencing options for nonviolent offenses. And she cofounded the Bronx Reentry Working Group, which promotes community reintegration of formerly incarcerated people. “If you have been incarcerated for decades, you return to a foreign environment,” says Valera. “Technology and how you get services have changed dramatically.”

— Patti Verbanas


Zahra Ali

Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Newark College of Arts and Sciences

Feminism Knows No Boundaries

It’s news to most people living in the West, but Iraq was once considered progressive when it came to women’s rights in the Middle East, even during the oppressive, violent reign of Saddam Hussein. But those advances came to an end in 2003 with the American invasion of the nation that overthrew the dictator, engulfed the nation in a sectarian civil war, and led to the rise of conservative social and religious forces limiting women’s rights. Practices such as child marriages and strict dress codes proliferated. But years before, “Iraq was a very advanced country in social rights,” says Zahra Ali, a native of Iraq who is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Rutgers University–Newark. “We had an excellent welfare system, an excellent educational system, and an excellent child care system. Women were in a good position with their personal rights of marriage and divorce.”

Ali provides a study of Iraqi women and their loss of social and political rights in Women and Gender in Iraq: Between Nation-Building and Fragmentation (Cambridge University Press, 2018), reflecting her interest in Iraqi women and  Muslim feminist movements in predominantly Muslim nations and the West. Ali grew up in Rennes, France, after her parents left Iraq as political exiles. As her interest in  feminism and Muslim women grew, she moved back to Iraq while working on her Ph.D. in sociology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, based in Paris. She had received two research grants to study women’s political activism in Iraq today—research that led to her new book.

— Sherrie Negrea


Alvaro Toledo

Department of Entomology
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences

Eradicating Lyme Disease

As a child growing up in Madrid, Spain, Alvaro Toledo loved the French cartoon Once Upon a Time ... Life, which portrayed the human body as a big city: red blood cells were the good guys, and viruses and bacteria were the enemy. “That’s how I got interested in science,” says Toledo, an assistant professor of entomology at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick who studies Lyme disease. Toledo—who worked for a decade in the laboratory of a pioneering researcher of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses—is now on a mission to discover the connection between the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease, and the cholesterol that fuels its growth.

“There are antibiotics that work, but there isn’t a vaccine that prevents the disease,” says Toledo. “So, we have to look at whether this cholesterol is allowing the bacterium to grow and if we can target and kill it.”

Roughly 300,000 people become ill with Lyme disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotics successfully treat most cases, but sometimes antibiotics are ineffective, allowing the disease to establish a chronic presence. Toledo hopes his research will help determine whether lowering cholesterol levels through diet or medication could stop the spread of Lyme or at least decrease its severity. “We know the big picture of Lyme disease,” says Toledo. “We need to discover the exact mechanisms that make it happen.”

— Robin Lally