The United States promises tremendous opportunities for growth of American Muslims despite recent election rhetoric on part of some candidates as Muslims are a well-integrated community in the country’s fabric, says prominent entrepreneur Frank Islam.
“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,” Islam, who achieved American dream by excelling in business, told Views and News in an interview.
He did not name any Republican candidates while discussing the issue but the 2016 election primary season has seen a spate of anti-Muslim statements by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, which received widespread criticism from progressive voices and faith leaders.
Islam, who is an influential figure and interacts regularly with policymakers and top political leaders, explained his point by citing his own example.
“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 alone,” he added.
He also referred to a recent interview with Michael Fallon, U.K. Defense Secretary, when 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: “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.”
Islam noted the United States may not be perfect but “it sets the standard for other countries to emulate.”
On what is the best way forward for American Muslims amidst this unprecedented focus on them, Islam said:
“As for what Muslims can do here to achieve further success, I say you are in a great place and a great space. Just keep on keeping on.”
Frank Islam termed the American election season as “wild,” with the possibility of the remaining phase until November 8 poll becoming even wilder.
“In terms of participation, 2016 will always be known as the year of the uprising of the populists in both parties. Populism occurs in elections when outsiders combat the Party elite or establishment because they believe their voices and values are not being heard.”
He was referring to the fact that the populists in the Republican Party came out in droves for Donald Trump and those in the Democratic Party came out for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
“I believe that the populist influence that I have just discussed will influence the platforms of each party.
“I am confident that will be the case for the Democratic Party. It now appears that Hillary Clinton will be the presumptive nominee for the Democrats – and even Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders differ on means they have both advocated much more progressive positions than the more centrist positions embraced by the Democratic Party over the past quarter of a century.”
Islam is not quite as clear where the Republican Party would come out on its platform because of the huge differences between the Party elders and Donald Trump.
“The bottom line I believe is that no matter who wins in November the voice of the populist and the concerns of the “average American” will be more central to public policy-making and laws going forward. As they say, the times they are a changing.”
In the wide-ranging interview Islam also told his story. Here is what he had to say on some other subjects:
Q-Would you like to tell us something about yourself, about the journey from Azamgarh to Washington start?
Frank Islam: I was born in Azamgarh in the State of Uttar Pradesh. I have fond memories of my homeland. It helped to shape my story and my destiny.
I recently had the opportunity to return there and to receive Uttar Pradesh Ratna award. As part of that visit, I talked to school children about my humble origins and my belief that any thing is possible for them. It was inspiring to share my thoughts and to hear theirs in return.
I left India at the age of 15 to come to the United States to pursue the American dream. I got two degrees in science and information technology at the University of Colorado, went to work in two technology firms in the DC area for about a decade, started my own firm which became quite successful, and then sold it to Perot Systems. This preparation and perseverance along with the assistance of others – and a little luck – enabled me to achieve the American dream.
Q- You have also been engaging in some philanthropic work?
Frank Islam : I look at my philanthropic involvement as an obligation and an opportunity.
President John F. Kennedy famously said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I fully agree with that saying.
I look at my philanthropy as the opportunity to make an investment in the future of others. In return, I would hope that when they are successful they will add philanthropy to their portfolio as well.
My wife Debbie and I concentrate our giving in the areas of arts, education and world peace.
A point I want to make is that philanthropy is not the province of anyone nor is it purely financial. Youth give money and engage in philanthropic acts as do numerous citizens of limited means.
The fact that I am wealthy means that I can give more than many others. It does not mean, however, that my contributions mean more. All support to groups and organizations that deserve it counts – no matter the amount.
My initial gifts to local charitable and educational organizations when I had much less money than I have today were important for me and for those groups I supported.
I am blessed to be able to give more today than when my business was in start-up mode or in its early years. How much one gives does not matter – giving back and paying it forward is what matters. It is a reward in itself.
Q- We have also read about your attention to educational causes like support for the Aligarh University. Would you like to share with our readers your work in this area?
Frank Islam :One of my major areas of philanthropic giving is to my Indian alma mater, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). I have hosted several fund raisers in the United States for AMU alumni to raise dollars for this fine institution.
My wife Debbie and I through our foundation have contributed $2 million to AMU to build a new school of management there with an emphasis on management and innovation. We see that contribution as an investment that will generate exponential returns in the future for thousands of people in and from the UP.
We were in India earlier this year where we laid the foundation stone for the Management Complex. At the foundation stone ceremony, I said that I was confident from this building would come the future leaders who would make India and the world a better place.
I said I was confident about that because the building itself is designed and will be constructed with a sensitivity to both the heritage character of AMU and in accordance with the best practices of modern architecture for higher education facilities.
I also stressed that while the bricks and mortar are important, far more significant, however, – in terms of my confidence in my prediction – is who will be in and what will go on in this setting.
This will be a home for Aligarh business faculty and students. It will be a place for the sharing of information and the imparting and development of knowledge. It will be a space where faculty and students can collaborate on innovative projects. It will be an educational empowerment zone.
Q- Turning to South Asia, what do you think are the benefits of a peaceful region, particularly India-Pakistan relations?
Frank Islam : The benefits of a peaceful South Asia are incalculable and finding an India-Pakistan common ground will be crucial to creating a peaceful South Asia.
Having said that – what should or could be done to build the bridge between India and Pakistan and the role that trade and arts might play in advancing the ties between these two nations is way beyond my expertise. I’ll defer that question to someone with more regional and local expertise.”
Q- What makes a successful entrepreneur?
Frank Islam: I think what distinguishes a successful entrepreneur is recognition of his basics – an assessment of his or her standing and the fact that no matter how small or big your company is the entrepreneur knows that leaders are made not born. By that I mean, hard work, focus and consistency.
Q- Thank you Mr Islam for giving us the opportunity.
Frank Islam : Thank you, and Views and News. The magazine is playing a significant role in offering readers “fair and balanced” articles and news stories. Thank you for doing such an important job.