New Delhi, 27 Dec 2015: “I have received many awards. But, this award is extra special because it comes from my homeland. Uttar Pradesh is where my journey began,” says Azamgarh-born Indian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank F. Islam on the announcement of Uttar Pradesh government to confer state’s highest civilian award Uttar Pradesh Ratna on him at the UP Pravasi Diwas in Agra on 4th Jan 2016.
Excerpts from interview with IndiaTomorrow.net :
What was your reaction when you heard of your nomination for the Uttar Pradesh Ratna award? What significance does UP hold for you?
When I heard I was nominated, I was humbled and honored. I have received many awards. But, this award is extra special because it comes from my homeland. Uttar Pradesh is where my journey began. It shaped my story and determined my destiny. UP is where I grew up and spent the formative years.
Could you tell us a bit about your time in your place of birth, Azamgarh? How long did you live there?
I was born in Azamgarh. I lived there till I was 10 years old. I never lost my love of Azamgarh. This city has been my home. It remains an inseparable part of my life and my journey. I still cherish and nourish and nurture the fond memories of Azamgarh. This city has helped shape my life. This city has inspired and influenced me. I treasure the city of Azamgarh. It is there where I learned about the richness of different religions and respect for other religions.
When was the last time you visited Azamgarh? If you have visited it, what difference did you observe?
Last time I visited Azamgarh when I went to India in January 2015 with President Barack Obama as a part of US-India CEO Summit meeting in New Delhi.
I observed that the new generations are strong and vibrant and they are well educated and well informed.
Today, thanks to a lot of bad press and unrestrained stigmatization led by right-wing forces, Azamgarh is branded as a hub of terrorists. How do you perceive the situation?
I perceive it from a distance of thousands of miles and with no personal or direct knowledge. It dismays me, however, to read and hear bad things about the place of my birth.
My memories of Azamgarh are fond ones of a happy and special place. Azamgarh’s current negative notoriety is hard to comprehend. Still, it appears that there are serious problems that need to be addressed.
What message do you have for Indian Muslims, particularly those living in UP, where the community is not only victimized through targeted violence and biased treatment, but also used as a tool of politics?
I have spent a fair amount of time advocating here in the United States and on my frequent visits to India advocating for improved conditions for Indian Muslims. I place a special focus on education for all and most especially higher education as the means to advance the economic and social mobility of Indian Muslims.
This advancement can only occur through public-private partnerships and with the support of honorable individuals and groups in India and Indian Muslims from around the world.
As for a message to Indian Muslims, I would say, “Keep on keeping on. Don’t give up. Do well but do good.” I would also say to Indian Muslims: Your best days are ahead of you not behind you. I also tell them no country and no religion and no race has monopoly on wisdom. Wisdom belongs to all who are willing to work hard and aim high. I also tell them you must never be frightened of the future but you need to build your future. I tell them when you are successful invest in others by sharing and by giving back. There are many people of good will who understand your plight and are willing to work in combination with you to bring about the changes that will be necessary to correct decades of neglect.
How do you look at the recent political hate campaign against Muslims in the US?
In spite of the current xenophobia being stoked by a few of the candidates to be the Republican nominee for President, the United States remains a good place for Muslims in general.
I came here from India to achieve the American dream and was able to do so.
I know many other immigrant Muslims from India and other countries who were able to do likewise. I believe this level of achievement would have been impossible in almost any other nation in the world.
That’s not just my opinion. In a recent interview with Michael Fallon, U.K. Defense Secretary, Judy Woodruff of public television opined that, “I think it’s widely accepted that there has been a greater effort to integrate Muslims into U.S. society than there has been in European countries, including the U.K.”
Secretary Fallon agreed with Woodruff. He responded, “The United States is a great open society, and you have found a way of embracing different faiths and different immigrants from different countries and making them all Americans. And we need to work harder than that – about that in Western Europe and avoiding the kind of ghettoization of different groups that can lead to these tensions, and make it more difficult to challenge extremist behavior later on.”
The United States is not perfect. But, it sends the standard for other countries to emulate.
A brief about Frank F. Islam:
Frank Islam, an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, came to the United States in the early 1970s to study at University of Colorado. He founded an information technology company, the QSS Company, in 1994 with him as the sole employee. He built the company to more than 2,000 employees and sales of $300 million before he sold it in 2007.
Islam is a well-known philanthropist who has supported a number of civic, educational and artistic causes and institutions. Earlier this year, the foundation started by him and his wife, Debbie Driesman – the Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Foundation – pledged $2 million to AMU for the construction of a new school of management at the 140-year-old institution. Other institutions and organizations that have received the support of the Foundation include University of Colorado, Montgomery College, and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, USIP and Brookings Institution, among others.
Islam is a recipient of dozens of national and international awards. In January this year, he became the first South Asian American to receive the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award for International Service. Other award he received include the Tie Legends Award (2014), the American Bazaar Philanthropy Award (2015), Ross Masood Lifetime Achievement Award (2015) and the Pride of India Award (2015).