Frank F. Islam
Empowering Indian Muslims through Education and Pivot Points for Building a better India
India Islamic Cultural Cenetr
Mr. Sirajuddin Quereshi; Distinguished Guests; Friends; Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you for your warm welcome. It is truly a privilege to be asked to speak at the Islamic Cultural Center.
Thank you Neelofer for bringing all of us together.
Before I get to the hearts of the matter, let me say few words on Sirajuddin Quereshi. I admire and appreciate his leadership, his passion, his values, his vision, and his commitment to the India Islamic Cultural Center. He provides the example and sets the standard. He is inspiration to all of us. we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with him for the vison we share and the values we cherish and nourish. He is doing the God’s work. Let us give him big round of applause.
It is wonderful to be here with all of you as we are linked by common goals, common commitment and common values and bonded by shared history, shared heritage, and shared background.
The title of my speech is very much consistent with vision, mission, goals, and objectives of Islamic Center. As a result, I have titled my talk “Empowering Indian Muslims through Education and Pivot Points for Building Better India”. In it, I will
- Highlight my own experience – what education has meant and done for me
- Share my thoughts on why the education of Muslims in India is so critical for their future and the future of India
- Provide some ideas regarding the education and empowerment process
- Provide pivot points for building a better India
There is no topic on which I am more passionate about than educational empowerment – especially for Muslims and others who come from socio-economically disadvantaged circumstances.
Education is a powerful equalizer. Education enriches and empowers us. Education is a gift that keeps on giving and demands that we give back in return. The only way to move forward out of poverty is to begin with education. It is opportunity creator and bridge to the future. Education empowers the mind and uplifts the soul. Education gives self-confidence, dignity, and self-esteem. Education, employment, and inclusive opportunities can help prevent conflict and promote lasting peace. Education is the best investment we can make to create next generations of leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and problem solvers. Education frees the human mind from the shackle of ignorance. Education can create higher aspirations and higher aspirations propel individuals and moves the nation forward.
Education provided me with the essential foundation for attaining the American Dream. Let me tell you a little about my educational empowerment.
Frank Islam’s Educational Empowerment.
When I talk about education, I am not speaking just about what goes on in the classroom – although that is a big part of learning and development.
I am talking about education in the broadest sense. My own educational empowerment began here in India and continued after I moved to the United States.
Growing up in India had an enormous impact and influence on the person I am today. It’s here that I learned lessons from this country, my faith, my family, and Aligarh Muslim University.
All of those forces shaped and influenced me during my formative years. Let me tell you how.
My country: I love India. I love this country because I was born here and because of its art, history, music, culture and rituals. But most of all I love India because it stands as an international beacon of democracy, diversity and peacemaking.
My faith: I treasure my faith. Our faith firmly believes in equality, dignity, compassion, tolerance, justice, peace and respect for other faiths.
My family: I grew up in a middle-class religious family. My parents taught me to: Treat people in the way that you want to be treated. Give dignity and respect to others. Work hard and aim high. Do what you can to serve your community. In the neighborhood where I grew up, all of us from different backgrounds and different faiths learned to work side-by-side because we were bound together in the service of others.
My university: Last, but not least of course, is Aligarh Muslim University. My days at A.M.U. have had a profound effect on me.
A.M.U provided me with the basic building blocks to become a successful entrepreneur, to assume serious responsibilities, and most importantly, to become a passionate leader. Aligarh provided me with an excellent education.
More importantly, it instilled core values that have served me in good stead throughout my adult life. They include:
- A love for education
- Eternal optimism about your hopes and dreams
- Being collegial and candid towards all
- Keeping steadfast to your standard of excellence
- Living in peace and harmony by being tolerant & respectful toward the dignity of each person.
These values continue to be my guiding principles.
The Need for Educational Empowerment of Indian Muslims
As those of you in this audience know, there are many Muslims here in India who have not been nearly as blessed educationally.
I am certain that you know the statistics as well as I do – probably better. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to review some of the facts and background to ensure a shared understanding of why the educational empowerment of Muslims remains such a critical need today.
Most of you are probably familiar with the Sachar Committee Report of 2006 which disclosed a “development deficit” for minorities in many areas and resulted in the creation of an across the board program for the development of minorities.
The serious situation for Indian Muslims reminds us how entrenched poverty in the Indian Muslim Community has become. The situation for many Muslim youths is desperate and heartbreaking. They share a city but not a community. They share a common dwelling but not in a common effort. They are smothered by the blanket of history and circumstances. It is lack of education that leads to lack of opportunity that in turn breeds violence and fuels frustration and desperation.
When I read the study findings, I was disappointed but not despairing. That was so for a number of reasons.
First, I believe the problem has been appropriately framed and attention is being devoted to it. Second, I can see that some progress is being made overall. Third, I know the Modi administration is working on a national education policy to address the current defect and deficiencies in India’s educational system. Fourth, I am personally aware of initiatives being undertaken by groups here in India and from other parts of the world to strengthen the educational system for Muslims and other minorities.
We need to focus like a laser beam on ensuring appropriate educational opportunities that brings Indian Muslims into the social and economic mainstream. The Indian Muslims must be active participants in shaping the future of India’s economic growth. They must be equal partners in India’s shared prosperity.
Ideas and Recommendations for Educational Empowerment
In my mind, India has come miles over the past decade in terms of the educational empowerment of Muslims but we have miles to go before we sleep. I have four ideas and recommendations to share regarding that journey of many miles. They are:
- Ensure a strong focus on literacy development in the rural areas and for females.
- Develop technical and entrepreneurial skills
- Place an increased emphasis on higher education
- Make connections and build coalitions both here in India and with Muslims around the world
Let me briefly address each of these in turn
- Ensure a strong emphasis on literacy development in the rural areas and for females. As I look at the educational landscape of India today, I still see these ignored islands –rural areas and females. Hope and empowerment must be brought to them if India is to achieve its full power and potential and become a leader in the world community.I have been and continue to have lifelong passion and commitment o improving girl’s access to education. We should make sure their voices are heard and they are not ignored. Their participation is pivotal for the future of individual family and for India. Education prepares the girls to become change agent. Too many girls are trapped in poverty because of lack of education. With her own education, girls who become woman and a mother can educate and equip her children to escape that trap.
- Develop technical and entrepreneurial skills. Around the world, we are finding that technological advances are occurring so rapidly that basic education and literacy, in and of itself, is insufficient for success in life. This is true in India as well. To be fully empowered, Muslims must have the technical and entrepreneurial skills to compete and also to create their own opportunities in the 21st century workforce.
- Place an increased emphasis on higher education. Higher education is the vehicle that brings citizens into the social and economic mainstream. Education in those areas provides avenues for participation in 21st century careers and competencies and the capacity to contribute to lifting fellow Muslims out of poverty and deprivation. To put it another way, higher education is the bridge that we must cross in order to build bridges for others.
- Make connections and build coalitions here in India and with Muslims around the world. As we have seen, the need for educational empowerment is great. The government can’t do it alone. No group can do it alone. But, together we can. We need to reach out to others who share our cause. If they are brought together, we will be able to create the level and type of educational empowerment that we need.
Those are my ideas and recommendations.
On my last visit to India, my wife Debbie and I, dedicated a new school of management complex known as Frank and Debbie Islam Management Complex that we financed at Aligarh Muslim University.
I told the attendees at the dedication of the management complex at AMU
“While the bricks and mortar are important, far more significant is who will be in and what will go on in this setting? It will be a place for 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.”
I say to all of you in this audience let us work together to make all of India an educational empowerment zone. Let us come together and join hands to give those Muslims who need it a hand up.
For India, education delivers on the promise of the largest representative democracy in the world. Central to that promise are equal opportunity and inclusive economic mobility. Education levels the playing field and make that promise a reality.
I firmly believe that through our” creeds, Deeds, and seeds”, we can build a better India. Let me elaborate briefly on each of these.
- Creeds– The faiths, religions, moral code and personal beliefs and values that guide our actions
- Deeds – the manner in which we actually live our lives and shape our environment
- Seeds– The plantings and actions that we take that impact future generations and the fate of humankind
Creed, seeds and deeds – I will share my thoughts in each of these areas in a minute. Before, I do so, let me state that I am sharing not as an expert but as a humble Muslim, Indian American business person, drawing upon my personal and professional experience, to extract insights that I hope may be of some relevance for each of you.
Our Creeds. (Pause) I stand before you a Muslim with the last name of Islam.
Think about that. Depending on who is looking at it given conditions around the world today, it might be said that I am either doubly blessed or doubly cursed.
I feel strongly that I am doubly blessed.
Being a Muslim has taught me many things – but the most important is that the whole purpose of religion is to provide justice and a path to justice for all of us.
According to the Holy Qur’an, God asked “Who will take care of all of my Creation. The mountains said the task was too great; even the angels declined to take on the challenge. But then Man jumped up and said ‘We will take care’. So, we made a contract with God to protect his Creation.”
I have learned as a Muslim to believe in the unity of all creation and that everything and everyone is a reflection of God on earth. Because of that I have also learned that there are just people and that just people do just things.
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 different creeds for peace and to build stronger communities.
Therefore, it is a joy for me to be with all of you at the Islamic Center who are tearing down the walls between various faiths rather than building them.
You are indeed doing God’s work. Not the work of your God or the work of my God, but the work of our God – our God as members of the same universal spiritual family.
We people of different faiths, of different creeds should be at communal peace here in India. We can accomplish this by interfaith dialogue.
I strongly believe in Interfaith Dialogue as it brings people together and it increases religious or cultural unity. Interfaith Dialogue allows us to build bridges, to break down the barriers, and to promote dialogue with various faiths and to promote as shared sense of community. India has long succeeded because it is diverse, inclusive and tolerant. I firmly believe that inclusive and diverse society is a strength because it brings people together and it enriches a nation and ensures all people have an equal chance to succeed. You need to step up and speak up and speak out by rejecting the voices that seek to divide you or limit your civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, and minority rights. Therefore, all of us need to continue to work together to build a fairer, stronger, just, and inclusive India with inclusive economic growth. We all need to stand together. And, together we can help shape a better future. We need to keep fighting the good fight. 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.
I ask all of you to remember fundamental acceptance of equality of other religions by not looking at the heaven and to the Gods whom we worship but by looking at the earth and people and family that we are. We need to strengthen the bonds that binds us a one family. There are a lot that unite us and there is a little that divide us. Our relationship should not be defined by differences but what we can do together by being a difference maker. Our bonds are stronger than the differences that too often drive us apart.
Let me move from our creeds to our seeds.
Our Seeds. Our best deeds plant the seeds for others and the future. Those plantings can take a variety of forms such as caring for the less fortunate and bridging the gap between communities.
Sir Syed recognized the central role of education in the generational growth and transformation process when at the founding of Aligarh Muslim University, he declared:
From the seed which we sow today there may spring up a mighty tree whose branches like those of the banyan of the soil shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous saplings; that this college may expand into a university, whose sons shall go forth through length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free enquiry, of large hearted tolerations, and of pure morality.
We are convened here in Islamic Center as the manifestation of and living testimony to the realization of Sir Syed’s vision.
Our creeds and our seeds lead to our deeds.
Our Deeds: (Pause) let me begin talking about our deeds by saying that we need to treat people in the way that you want to be treated. Give dignity and respect to others. Do what you can to serve your community.
People from different backgrounds and different faiths need to work side-by-side because they are bound together in the service of others.
The concepts of creeds, seeds and deeds are the bedrock of our existence and the essence of our being.
In closing, let me say that all of us will do well to remember that no religion, no race, no culture and no nation has a monopoly on wisdom or on human dignity. Wisdom belongs to all. But you need to believe in yourself and you need to work hard, aim high, get the right education and then you can achieve your dream. With that thought and spirit in mind, let us extend our hand, hope, help, and heart to those who are less fortunate and those who are socially and economically disadvantaged and those who are underprivileged and those who are voiceless and vulnerable. Let us make a commitment to making things better for them. Let us empower them with education and economic mobility. Let us help them through their darkest moments of their lives. When they succeed, ALL of us succeed. India succeeds. World succeeds. India cannot succeed, when Indian Muslims are held back. When they move up the ladders of success, and when they get ahead, they can change the landscape of India and the world.
Please join me in this journey so that we can together change the face of India: One life- one family- and one village at a time. But we need to stand together and stay engaged and we can together make a difference for our community. All of us can make a difference and all of you should make a difference. Let us never forget the values that our community shares: 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.
Let me leave you with some thoughts on redoubling our efforts to reject hate and bigotry in all forms. We should embrace the richness of religious diversity. We should rise above angry partisanship and heal the wounds of division.
Thank you for listening to me and for all that you are doing to make India and the world a better place.
Good luck to all of you