Remarks Given By
Frank F Islam
Al-Qalam Academy on July 14, 2017
Distinguished guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for that kind introduction. I appreciate your kind words.
It is truly an honor to be here with all of you and Ambassador Chaudhary and Dr. Altaf Husain for this benefit dinner this evening. There are a lot of things that bring us together as we are linked by common cause, common commitment, and bonded by shared history, shared heritage, shared background and belief.
I want to thank all of you for your warm welcome.
I applaud the leadership of Al-Qalam Academy for all of the great work you are doing. You are indeed the voice of those who are voiceless and venerable. Thank you for extending your hand, help, hope, and heart to the Muslim Girls. You are making the investment that will yield exponential returns. You are building the next generations of entrepreneurs, leaders, problem solvers, and innovators.
Even though I received the invitation to speak on short notice, I immediately said yes because the topic of Empowering Muslim Girls through Education is a critically important one both here in the United States and in countries around the world.
I have had a life long passion and commitment to improving Muslim girls’ access to and participation in meaningful education. I want to make sure that their voices are heard and they are not ignored.
I strongly believe that if we empower girls through education they are most likely to control their own destiny. This capacity to control is essential in a world that is as tempest tossed as ours is today and in which the demands and stresses on those youth growing up are ever increasing.
In my remarks, I will share my thoughts regarding the importance and requirements for building that capacity and empowering Muslim girls through education. Then, I will talk a little about what is going on here at AL Qalam Academy. Finally, I will put the educational empowerment issue into a broader context.
My perspective is that in education literacy is the starting line and higher education must be the finishing line for fully empowering Muslim girls. Muslim girls must participate along the entire educational continuum. This participation is pivotal for the future of those girls, the Muslim family, and the country in which they reside.
For the individual Muslim girl, education itself is empowering. It removes the shackles of ignorance. It develops the knowledge, skills and attitudes to pursue and create one’s own destiny. It builds self-esteem and confidence. Education is the key to opportunity and the bridge to the future. Education empowers the mind and lifts the soul. It is a powerful equalizer to all to lift themselves out of poverty. It is the gift that keeps on giving. Education helps create higher aspirations and higher aspirations propel individual and moves the nation forward.
For the Muslim family, education prepares the Muslim girl to become a change agent. Too many Muslim families are trapped in poverty because of a lack of education. With her own education, the Muslim girl who becomes a woman and a mother can educate and equip her children to escape that trap.
In the United States and democracies around the world, the central promise is one of equality and opportunity. Education levels the playing field and makes that promise a reality. Once that reality exists for Muslim women they will be able to deliver on that promise and to help others in the country up the ladder of success
In the 21st century, higher education is becoming more important for climbing that ladder. By higher education, I don’t just mean 4 year colleges or universities. I include technical, vocational and professional education at the two year colleges and secondary levels.
Given this need for higher education and the development of specialized capabilities, it is essential that Muslim girls be taught and become exceptionally proficient in the STEM disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. In order to excel, the Muslim girl must begin her STEM instruction in the primary grades and have it reinforced continuously as she receives her high school education.
I am not suggesting that we should try to make all Muslim girls into rocket scientists. But, I am saying that we need to ensure that they receive the breadth and depth of education that will enable them to succeed and to help others in their family and in their homeland to succeed as well.
In short, that is my view on the significance of empowering Muslim girls through education. Let me turn my attention now to some thoughts on Al-Qalam Academy.
I didn’t know much about the Academy when Trustee Zahid Hameedi contacted me to invite me to speak at this benefit dinner. I must confess that I have been most impressed by what I have found out.
The vision for the Academy is a compelling one. In part, it reads as follows:
Our goal at Al-Qalam is one track: Our objective is to establish a sound Muslim community at the grass roots that follow an Islamic way of life. We aim to develop lifelong learners who are productive, positive, and active citizens of community at large. Our purpose of instruction is to educate our future generations to grow to love and understand Islam, excel in academics, and lead our community and country. We aim to promote education, responsibility, kindness, and leadership.
There are words and phrases in that vision that resonate well with me:
- “active citizens”
- “to grow to love and understand Islam”
- “lead our community and country”
I will come back to them in my closing comments.
I was pleased in looking at the Academy curriculum that it reflected the vision and those were not just words on paper. The curriculum is robust including science and math courses, computer courses, the Quran, Arabic, and civics and American social studies.
I am also quite pleased that this Academy is an all-girls school. In my opinion, that adds to the potential for empowerment.
Too many schools across the United States and around the world have a strong male bias. An all girls’ school levels the playing field and provides a framework for accelerating the educational empowerment process.
Those are my thoughts on the Academy. In wrapping up, let me put the concept of educational empowerment of Muslim girls into a broader context.
Because of tragic events in the United States and around the world, for many the words Muslim and Islam evoke fear and hatred. You know and I know that those feelings are misplaced and misguided and have nothing to do with who we are or the religion we practice.
As it was stated in my introduction, I am a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in India. When he founded AMU, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan stated that AMU graduates “…shall go forth through the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large hearted toleration, and of pure morality.”
I am one of those graduates. Because of what I learned at AMU and my Islam faith, I understand and practice the concept of “large hearted toleration.”
My faith firmly believes in equality, dignity, compassion, respect, tolerance, justice and peace for other faiths. My faith keeps me calm and provides me with a sense of optimism that gives me peace. With my personal peace, I can work with others of different faiths and good will for peace.
I am confident that the graduates of this Academy are learning what I have learned and they are being empowered both educationally and spiritually. They will become ambassadors and role models for Muslim and Islam.
As stated in the Academy’s vision, these girls are also being groomed to be “active citizens” and to be “leaders in our communities and country”. This is an especially important commitment in these days and age.
When he was inaugurated on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Unlike many young people in our primary and secondary schools today where civics is not in the curriculum, the girls at this Academy are being taught
to ask that question. They are learning that along with their rights come responsibilities to stand and deliver for both their religion and their country.
Finally, on my last visit to India in February of this year, my wife Debbie and I dedicated the new Management Complex that we had financed at AMU. In my comments, at the dedication ceremonies, I predicted, “from this Management Complex will come the future leaders who will make India and the world a better place.’
Let me extend and change that prediction and apply it to Al-Qalam Academy. From this Academy shall come educated and empowered Muslim girls who will become women and be in the forefront of empowering other Muslim girls who will then educate and empower other Muslim girls – and the cycle will not be broken?
When that occurs, Muslim females will have realized their full potential and they will ensure their communities succeed and the United States and the world does as well. When they succeed, we all will succeed.
All of us will do well to remember that no religion, no race, no culture, and no nation has monopoly on wisdom. Wisdom belongs to all. But you need to work hard, aim high, get the right education, and then you can achieve your dream. All of you can make a difference. All of you should make a difference. Let us never forget the values we share: the belief that with education and hard work, and with sacrifice, we can give our children’s a better life. Let us dedicate ourselves to draw upon the values and spirit that have always defined the greatness of our community.
In closing, let me leave you with some thoughts on redoubling our effort to reject hate and bigotry in all forms. I firmly believe that inclusive and diverse society enriches a nation and ensures all people have an equal chance to succeed. It is our responsibility to continue to fight for a fairer, stronger, just, inclusive, and tolerant America. We need to step up, speak up, and speak out if our core values are threatened including human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and minority rights. We need to stand firmly by rejecting the voices that seek to divide us. We need to all stand together. We should never stop struggling. And, together, we can help shape a better future. We need to keep fighting the good fight as Hillary Clinton reminded us to “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can”.
Let me conclude my remarks by shedding some lights on Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from certain countries. This ban is shameful, wrong, divisive, immoral, and unconstitutional. It undermines our values. It is not who we are? This is against the character of our country. This is fear mongering. This reminds us of our darkest and ugliest past. We have entered into a dark and dangerous chapter in America.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak and be with you at this most important event.
God bless all of you.