Thank you for that kind introduction. I want to express my deep gratitude to Razi and Aftab for inviting me to speak with you tonight. Let us give them a big round of applause.
I want to extend best wishes to all of you a joyful and blessed Ramadan Kareem. May this Ramadan bring you and your loved one’s peace, happiness, good heath, and serve as a time of opportunity to come together. May you be guided by our faith, and shine with His divine blessings
Fellow Aligarh alums, I stand before you as a son of Aligarh, a brother of each of you, and an uncle to future Aligarh students. It is truly a pleasure and honor to be with you in this holy season at this Iftar fundraising dinner made even more important by the current climate in India and the fact that the national elections in India will end in less than a week.
I will keep my remarks brief because you did not come here this evening – especially at this late hour – to hear me speak but for the same reason that I did. That is to do all that we can to sponsor and support those new students who we will be welcoming into the Aligarh family – our family.
Because of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, our spiritual, educational and philosophical grandfather we are an exceptionally strong family. Sir Syed was not only one of greatest leaders in the history of India but also of the world. His accomplishments are legendary, multi-faceted and well acknowledged. I will not go into them in detail here.
I do want to share one of my favorite quotes of Sir Syed, however, because it is especially relevant as we meet to celebrate our shared heritage and linkage to Aligarh Muslim University the institution that Sir Syed founded as Muslim Anglo-Oriental College in 1875. At the founding of Aligarh, Sir Syed said,
…from the seed which we sow today there may spring up a mighty tree whose branches, like those of 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 throughout the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large-hearted toleration, and of pure morality.
We are convened here as the manifestation of and living testimony to the realization of Sir Syed’s vision.
We are seeds from the Aligarh family tree. We have gone around the world and across the United States and here to the DC metropolitan area. In the process, we have planted new trees and helped make this nation and the world a stronger, fairer, and better place.
We were able to do that because our Aligarh education gave us a strong knowledge base. It also instilled and infused in us a sense of values. I would like to talk about that education and those values and as I do I would like for you to reflect on your own Aligarh experience.
For me, the Aligarh education was a powerful equalizer opening the doors to opportunity. It was a gift that keeps on giving and demands that I give back in return. Because you are here tonight I trust that you feel the same way.
The Aligarh education was empowering and enhanced my competence and self-esteem It was a powerful engine for innovation and entrepreneurship that played a pivotal role in enabling me to create jobs and build prosperity for myself and my associates here in the United States.
The Aligarh education was a bridge to the future – my future and your future. It is a bridge that we must help to build for others. By building that bridge, we will be creating new bridge builders in a world that is in desperate need of new economic, social and community bridges.
Let me now turn to values. The values that Aligarh helped shape in me include:
- a passion and love for education
- eternal optimism about one’s hope and dreams
- being collegial and candid toward all
- keeping steadfast to standards of excellence, and
- living in peace and harmony, by being tolerant and respectful of the dignity of each person
I know that each of you carry these and other values that Aligarh has imprinted on you. We are gathered here this evening to do our part to continue to extend those values and expand the Aligarh family tree by contributing to support the education of the next generation of Aligarians.
We are gathered here at a time when a “purpose-driven” education such as that we received has never been more important. Over the years, men and women from Aligarh have made significant contributions in all walks of life – educators, politicians, poets, scientists, and engineers.
Their paths have been different but the common and transcendent bond that has united them has been a belief in and a commitment to equal justice and a shared humanity. This combination of technical expertise and moral rectitude has enabled the graduates of Aligarh to make their mark in the world and to serve as positive role models for others.
We are living in troubled and turbulent times. We are living in divisive and self-centered times. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that students receive an education that prepares them to be “servant-leaders”: Leaders who understand that working with others to solve problems and that what one gives back is more important that what one accomplishes individually.
An Aligarh education meets this test and more. You know that. I know that. We know that. And, that is why we are here to ensure that as many students as possible can benefit from an Aligarh education.
We are here to plant more seeds and to grow our family tree. To grow that tree, to paraphrase Sir Syed, “so that there are more sons and daughters who are capable of going forth across the land and around the world to preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large-hearted toleration, and of pure morality.”
In this regard, I was delighted to learn that in 2018 the DC chapter of the Aligarh Alumni Association sponsored 287 AMU scholarships, supported 700 students in feeder programs at 25 schools and coaching centers across India and through your India Scholarship program disseminated information to thousands of students. Those are impressive numbers.
I want you to know that over the past few years I have been doing my part as well. In 2017, my wife Debbie and I dedicated a new Management Complex named after us at AMU. We made this investment because AMU helped to make me who I am and for that I am deeply grateful. What is best in me, I owe it to AMU. I would not be the person I am if it was not Aligarh education. Aligarh students have always been our best hope. Our investment is our way of saying Thank you and keeping the hope alive and well.
This year in October we will be going back to India to inaugurate the Frank and Debbie Islam Entrepreneurship Center which will be a pivotal part of that Management Complex. On that trip, we will also be inaugurating the Frank and Debbie Islam Auditorium in the Department of Mass Communications at AMU.
We are supporting both of those sites because the evidence shows that despite some progress Muslims in India still need much help to escape the shackles of poverty and moreover hostility and prejudice towards Muslims has picked up in the past few years. No matter who wins the national election it is essential that AMU stay in the forefront – as it has always done – of empowering Muslims and improving and equalizing their status within the Indian democracy. Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Communications through a Free Press will ensure that AMU maintains its leadership position in advocating for our Muslim brethren.
In closing, I think it is most appropriate that we are at this fundraiser during Ramadan – a special time for generosity and giving. When I opened my remarks, I said I was here as a son of Aligarh, a brother to each of you, and an uncle to future Aligarh students.
In this season of Ramadan- a deeply spiritual time of reflection and recommitment and special time for giving, I ask you to join me in this journey as an Aligarian by giving as much as you can to support those future students. You have given generously in the past. I ask that you be even more generous this year.
I ask you to do this not as an act of charity, however, but as an investment in their future and the future of the world. I am confident that the return on our investment will be exponential. Let us extend our hand, our hope and our heart to those students so that they can shape their fate and future. Let us together provide them ladders of opportunities to succeed. When they succeed, all of us succeed. Aligarh succeeds. India succeeds. World succeeds.
If we plant enough seeds and nurture them properly, in ten years from now, we will be at an event like this for Aligarh – except it will have many more participants. Sitting alongside us will be many new alums here in the Washington, D.C. area whom we have supported becoming Aligarh family members and they will be present to add their support for the next generation of Aligarh students. To me that is a beautiful thought.
In addition, if we plant enough seeds and continue to plant them through Aligarh, we will have helped make the world a kinder and gentler place. To me that is an even more beautiful thought.
In closing, let me leave you with one final thought from Sir Syed. Near the end of his life, he said:
“ You have reached a particular stage and remember one thing that when I undertook this task, there were criticism all around against me, life has become so difficult for me that I aged before my age, I lost my hair, my eyesight, but not my vision. My vision never dimmed, and my determination never failed, I built this institution for you and I am sure, you will carry the light of this institution far and wide, darkness will disappear from all around.”
There is still much darkness all around and that is why we are gathered here at this fundraiser to acknowledge Sir Syed’s vision and to keep Aligarh’s flame burning “brightly”.
Thanks for listening to me and for your generous contributions to the future of Aligarh, India and the world.
I wish you all the best
God bless you all