BURLINGTON, MA—In a speech to the 25th annual gathering of the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin, Indian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank Islam urged Indian diaspora to: “Do Well Here, To Do Good There.” He was also honored with AFMI’s prestigious “Pride of India” award. A close confident of President Obama, Mr. Islam donated $222,000 in May this year to Aligarh Muslim University in India. This is part of his $2 million commitment for the construction of a new management complex at the university.
Below are excerpts from his inspiring speech:
“Indeed, as I look around this room at those of you who have supported AFMI and its initiatives, I see the richness and fullness of the Pride of India.
I see fellow soldiers and comrades in the fight to make India and the world a better place for Muslims. And, I am proud to be a partner with you in this sacred mission.
Therefore, it is my distinct honor and pleasure, to accept his award not for myself but on behalf of the community of American Muslims of Indian origin who are embarked on this journey with me.
So I guess this is the point where I have to sing for my supper.
In all honesty, I can’t carry a tune – so you definitely would not want that.
Seriously, I would like to share my thoughts with you about an extremely important topic that I know is near and dear to all of us. That is what we can continue to do in order to improve the situation of disadvantaged Muslims in India.
As you all know, a silver jubilee is held to recognize staying together and being in existence for twenty-five years…..
You all richly deserve that standing ovation. Because no matter whether you’ve been involved with AFMI since it started or have recently joined the fold, you are now engaged.
Getting engaged – that is what I will talk about today. The formal title for my speech is Civic Engagement: The Key to Promoting Educational and Economic Opportunity for Indian Muslims.
That’s the formal title. It’s a mouthful.
I don’t care if you remember that title. What I do want you to remember is the theme for my speech which is “Do Well Here, To Do Good There.”
Let me repeat and amplify upon that. We, as Indian American Muslims, should do well here in the United States so that we can do good over there in India.
We should do this because the need is great and those of us who have connections to India have a moral obligation to provide a helping hand to empower those Muslims in India through better access to educational and economic opportunities.
I will address that need, why we Indian Americans are so qualified to meet it, what I mean by civic engagement, and getting engaged through AFMI in my speech.
I must emphasize at the outset that I recognize that in addressing this topic here with those of you in this audience that I am preaching to the choir. Some times though – even the choir and the preacher can benefit by coming together to renew and reaffirm their belief and commitment to a righteous and common cause.
The Nature of the Need
That said, why is extending a helping hand – a hand up – to Muslims in India so critical? Here are some sad facts:
The 2001 Census Report showed that the literacy rate of Indian Muslims was 59.1%. The rate for Muslim males in urban areas was much higher than in rural areas. The rate for females was substantially lower in each.
A study released by the U.S. India Policy Institute at the end of 2013 states that since 2006, and I quote, “…the literacy level and the quantum of improvements for Muslims were modest compared to other populations.”
That same study showed that only 11% of Muslims in India pursue higher education compared to a national average of approximately 19% and that participation in the “general category of Muslims in higher education” had actually declined by 1.5% for the period studied
These are devastating findings that frame the critical nature of the need and present the challenge and opportunity for Indian Americans – and most especially for those of us who are Indian Americans of Muslim origin to participate in solving this problem.
Because of what we Indian Americans have accomplished in the United States, I absolutely and firmly believe that we are up to meeting this challenge.
The Status of Indian Americans
Here are some statistics on Indian Americans:
In 2013, there were 3.1 million Indian Americans comprising about 1% of the population of the United States. According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2012 and released in 2013, 10% of the respondents reported that they were Muslim.
That means the Indian Muslim population in the United States today is only around 300,000. Given this small number, I would say that we Indian Muslims hit way above our weight.
So, do all Indian Americans. Listen to this data carefully.
The Pew study disclosed that economically and educationally Indian Americans outperformed those in other Asian-American subgroups and the U.S. population in general. The median annual household income for Indian Americans was $88,000 compared to $66,000 for all Asians and $49,800 for the U.S. population.
Indian Americans also excel as high tech entrepreneurs. A recent research study found that immigrant entrepreneurship which has been a major contributor to the growth of the high tech sector has been stagnant recently.
In contrast, the study found that the rates of Indian and Chinese start-ups increased. The increase was most notable for founders of startups from India with an increase of 7% over the prior comparison period and a full 33.2% of all start-up companies being Indian.
The research that I found did not specifically break-out the economic and educational characteristics of Indian Americans. I would hypothesize based upon my own experience and exposure and looking at the successful Indian Americans in this audience here today that, in general we resemble other Indian Americans.
The bottom line is that Indian Americans of all religious beliefs are doing well – very well – here in the United States. That means we – especially those of us who are Indian American Muslims who are doing well – are in a position to do good. Civic engagement provides us with the basis for doing that.
The Nature of Civic Engagement
Civic engagement provides us with the basis for doing that. Let me explain what I mean by civic engagement.
Some times when I say civic engagement people mistakenly think I mean political engagement. I do not. Political engagement is a form of civic engagement – but just one form.
The best definition of civic engagement that I have seen comes from a collection of readings titled Civic Responsibility and Higher Education.
That definition states: Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.
As Muslims, the concept of civic engagement is central to our belief system. AFMI provides a perfect vehicle for expressing those beliefs and making a difference on behalf of less fortunate Muslim brethren in India.
AFMI and Action
AFMI’s mission and vision for Muslims in India is transformative.
Through the years, it has built a strong track record with its bottom-up strategy of supporting educational projects at the primary level. More recently, it has focused on expanding to higher grades of school and supporting the establishment of computer centers.
In an article that I wrote and in a speech accepting the community service award at last year’s annual convention, I recommended that AFMI add specific support of higher education as a priority in its agenda. I still think that additional focus makes sense.
Those are not idle words. I am putting my money where my mouth is.
I have underwritten the building of a new school of management with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation at Aligarh Muslim University. We are uniquely blessed. We embody the American Dream. With that thought and spirit in mind, my wife Debbie and I have committed $2M to support the building of Frank and Debbie Islam School of Management. We are reminded and guided by the phrase: To whom much is given much is expected. We see our contribution not as a charity but as an investment that will yield exponential returns in the future for thousands of Muslims in India.
I have also pledged to provide considerable financial support to develop a technical training school for women so they can be empowered through higher education.
The truth is higher education matters for the future of Muslims in India. Higher grades of school matter. Primary grades matter. They all matter.
But, what matters most is civic engagement from Indian American Muslims through AFMI. Targeted civic engagement is the key to promoting educational and economic opportunities for Indian Muslims. Education is the gift that keeps on giving. It is a powerful equalizer opening doors to all Muslims to lift themselves out of poverty.
Many of us came here from India to pursue our dreams. Most of us have achieved them.
We have done well. Now, in return, we should do good
All of you can have significant and sustainable impact and influence on the lives of Indian Muslims. All of you can make a difference and all of you should make a difference.
We must invest in AFMI’s programs. By doing so, we will empower Indian Muslims to achieve their aspirations and their dreams. When they succeed, we succeed. When they succeed, India succeeds.
I began my comments today recognizing those of you in this audience for the contributions that you have made to AFMI and its silver jubilee.
As I look ahead, I see many more jubilees for AFMI – diamond, ruby, gold. I also see that in the audiences at those future jubilees will be many new Indian American Muslims who have emigrated from India to do well here in order to do good there.
That is not only my dream. It is my expectation. Civic engagement makes all things possible.
Please join me in this journey so that we can together weave into the fabric of our society a sense of hope and a sense of positive energy and a sense that we are all in this together. Let us together build the noble mansion so that our children can dwell and so that our children can prosper and so that our children can have bright future. Remember it is the future that beckons to us.
Let us together change the face of Muslims in India. One life, one family, one village at a time.
Thank you for listening to me and for all that you are doing for Muslims in India.