Dr. Walid Fitaihi is an American Board certified physician, specialized in internal medicine and endocrinology, and most recently the host of a show, which aired during Ramadan called Wa Mahyay, Arabic for “My living.” The show aimed to help people understand and appreciate how their body, mind and soul are all interconnected with one another.
Fitaihi is also the founder, chairman of the board of directors and the chief executive officer of the International Medical Center (IMC) based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Arab News interviewed him and talked about his show, goals and future plans.
For those who don’t know you, who is Dr. Walid Fitaihi?
I like to think of myself as a part of a paradigm shift toward a more healthy relation between the mind, body and soul for our society in particular and for the world in general. I really hope that we all benefit from this vehicle of healing that is fueled with nothing, but good intentions, and that can, God willing, bring peace to all those who come in contact with it.
You have started a TV program during Ramadan with the title Wa Mahyay, please tell us more about the show?
The show is an attempt to help people realize how the body, mind and soul are all interconnected. Our society should be thought of as an individual, you can’t completely heal one part without tending to the other parts, and you certainly cannot achieve balance unless you treat them all with the same level of importance.
I have to admit that for a long time I’ve been in a constant internal debate over my true role as a physician and I’ve concluded that it can and should go beyond the typical, classical and traditional role of seeing patients in clinics and prescribing some pills. Physicians, as other professions, should act as human advocates, as vehicles of healing to their societies and to the world as a whole. If we want to feel divine love between one human being and the other, we should all try to reach out. Whatever affects humans negatively or positively is part of our role in life. As such, we can use media, go to TV, and make good use of the digital outreach through popular social networks to get the message out there.
We decided that the show shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes as today’s individual has a short attention span. The team of “Wa Mahyay” also thought we should use dynamic visualization of info-graphics and acting scenes to explain complicated concepts and relationships. The content, of course, is the core of the show and we combined it with interesting topics to target the right audience. No topic made the cut unless we were all passionate about it.
We decided not to be shy; as we should approach topics that we know the youth is struggling to voice out openly in a safe environment. For example, we started with an episode on pornography addiction, but within a framework that identifies problems, differentiates between disease and illness, suggests alternatives, and finally offers potential solutions. We also followed up the episode with a four-minute YouTube video to help people take the first steps toward quitting this addiction.
Our objective is to stir up a healthy debate that could help people change, achieve inner piece and be a positive part of people’s lives.
The dialog viewed the problems from different angles including physiology, psychology, social and cultural behavior because we truly believe in the need of a wider perspective and understanding to the issues facing our society.
Why did you choose to launch the show in Ramadan?
People in Ramadan are more susceptible to certain kinds of persuasive calls for change. Within a spiritual atmosphere, they are eager to reconnect with God and ready to change. As a matter of fact, the whole idea of making positive changes during Ramadan is not meant to be limited to one month alone, but for the rest of the 11 months. The special status of the holy month comes from its original purpose of helping us change for the better so that we part with the month as better people than when we received it.
Ironically, Ramadan generates spikes in TV ratings, but we are trying to turn this paradox into something positive.
Why did you choose “Wa Mahyay” as a title and what does it mean?
I chose the title Wa Mahyay, which translates to “My Living” from a verse in the Qur’an: “Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for God, Lord of the worlds”, because living consciously allows us to live in perfect harmony. Yes, it is important to think of our lives as our only ticket to win the afterlife, but life is for the living, so we need to work on that as well.
You have tackled different subjects every day, what inspired your choice of subjects?
As I said before, we weren’t shy. I say enough hiding behind social taboos and denying our illnesses and problems. For example, we discussed child abuse whether verbal or physical and we are fully aware of the crimes committed against children in our society. It’s all over the newspapers, but in this show we refuse to continue the state of denial. We believe this matter should be discussed on all levels so that no child has to give up their life as a vessel for a message to stop violence against our most precious treasures.
My source of inspiration is the pain and agony induced by the current conditions of our society and humanity as a whole. Some people say ignorance is bliss; however I believe that only true knowledge illuminates the right path. Once you see things the way they are, you will realize how much we need to change and what exactly needs to be changed. Your heart will be troubled by what you see yet, only through this internal turmoil can you create a great energy within. God will see that you care, and He will inspire you and channel tremendous positive energy through you for the good of your society.
Tell us about your experience in front of the camera; was it comfortable for a physician to speak about something else aside from medicine?
First of all I do not read from notes or teleprompter or such, I speak from my heart. We made this decision because we wanted to resemble a natural conversation not a tedious lecture, i.e., talk to the audience not at them. That’s how we managed to empathize with our viewers and sense their suffering. Of course, I have the scenario prepared and I know exactly what I’m going to talk about, but I try to speak in a very natural way because I do care, and indeed love my society. I truly believe that the more you care, the easier the words will flow genuinely and reach the hearts of those listening to you.
What does this experience add to you personally?
This experience is so dear to me because it probed to me how much we need to reconnect and communicate on a wider range. I learned that the true role of any human being should not be confined in a job description, and that every human being has the right to contribute and join the driving force in his or her society.
Another thing I loved about doing this show is working closely with the young team of Wa Mahyay. They all shared a desire to do something with heart and integrity. It was truly remarkable to see how everyone was keen on bringing this project to light and thank God that the time spent researching, gathering data and filming did not go unnoticed.
Who is your target?
The Middle East in general is characterized by a young population, so our initial target audience was the youth, more specifically teenagers to 30-year-olds. Yet, we were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming feedback of unexpected age ranges.
The show’s slogan is “Let’s make humans our case. Deliver a message, hold a case.” What is the message you want to send from the show?
The message is in few words “life is too valuable to waste.” We are very valuable and we deserve to live with dignity. We can make a difference by changing ourselves and with that change our societies and our world to the better.
How can we make humans our case?
By showing more care and love toward others. I realize these terms aren’t much appreciated or used in our local lexicon, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “You do not truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself,” so yes the answer is love.
Why did you choose a public and general awareness angle for your show and not something related to the medicine?
This is the misconception of what medicine is. What is medicine? What is health? Health is sustained by holistic practice that cares for mind, body and soul. Medicine is not merely a study of the body and identifying the physical illnesses and the treatment through medication or surgery. In this show, it is all what affects the human life we are after, not the physical disease. We are trying to help this generation establish a healthy civil society of conscious individuals with a strong sense of community.
Which episode was the closest to your heart and why?
To be honest with you, when I think about it the number would go up to at least ten. Many topics have been on my mind for a quite while, for example; the holistic concept of medicine, hijacking the brain, holism in Islam, reading, questioning, children abuse and positivity.
In the second episode you discussed the importance of first aid courses and you demanded this subject to be taught in schools are you going to follow-up with the Ministry of Education?
I did try to pursue this on a wider range in the past and ended up nowhere for logistical reasons so I settled for opening a trust at the International Medical Center to fund free training open for everybody to learn basic life support. We are trying our best to meet our objective, which is to ensure at least one member in every household knows how to administer first aid when the need arises.
After the episode, I was approached by the Red Crescent to partner with us and they have contributed ideas on ways to improve the training. We are overjoyed with this concrete gain of the show and we are gladly willing to spearhead this movement of awareness regarding this critical issue. After all, it is literally a matter of life and death.
The YouTube videos had subtitles in English, is the program also targeting non-Arabic speakers and why?
The subtitle was added recently after we received many requests for it. This is actually what’s encouraging me right now to create a pilot of the program in English. So that’s my next project God willing.
What was the feedback from the audience?
The feedback was phenomenal, and it is much more than we had anticipated. Wa Mahyay has ranked as the top ten most popular shows in the Middle East. From the feedback I heard, I believe we were able to reach the hearts of many people, thank God. We were able to provoke the minds of many, make them ask questions and reconsider their attitudes toward many of the issues discussed in the program. The biggest reward from the show is the prayers of viewers who were touched by the show and who have been inspired to change certain attitudes.
What are your future plans for the show?
We’re going to have a second season next year, but for now I’m concentrating on the English version of the show and going international to reach out to all the youth. Our message is not just for the Arab world, our message is one of peace and peace is just what humanity needs. In the show we are speaking a language that is common to all. The challenges we are facing here in the Arab world are not very different from those facing the youth worldwide. So our next step, God willing, is to try our best to spread the message as far as we can, to help people on a wider scale.