Keynote Speech Given By
Frank F Islam
Aligarh Alumni Association Fundraiser
Distinguished guests, friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Good evening. How are you? Thank you all
Before I begin I would like to take this opportunity to thank Aftab and Dr. Abdullah and Razi and Rafat for inviting me this evening. They are source of strength for all of us. I admire and appreciate their leadership in serving the needs of the Aligarh Communities. Let us give them big round of applause.
A sense of humility brings us together as a fellow Aligarian linked by common goals and common cause and common commitment and bonded by shared history and shared heritage and shared background and shared belief. There are a lot that unites us and there are little that divides us. Our bonds are stronger than the differences that too often drive us apart.
I want express my deep appreciation for your warm welcome and your hospitality .It is my pleasure to be here to address you again at this Iftar fundraising dinner.
I guess they will keep asking me back until I get it right. (Pause for laughter.)
Seriously, I think the Association extended an invitation to me again because they know of my love and commitment for AMU. I am certain that all of you share those feelings as well.
That is why we are all gathered here this evening to raise funds to ensure that more deserving students can derive the tremendous benefits that an Aligarh education provides and become members with us of the Aligarh family.
In the closing to my remarks last time, I said “We are here to plant more seeds and to grow our family tree. To grow that tree, to paraphrase Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, ‘so that there are more sons and daughters who are capable of going forth across the world to preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large hearted toleration and of pure mortality.
In my opening remarks tonight, I want to emphasize why I think it is essential to grow that tree. Then, I will talk briefly about an initiative that I am supporting at Aligarh that I think will help develop new sprouts and expand the influence and impact of Aligarh both in India and around the globe.
It is essential to grow the Aligarh tree because Muslims in India still need substantial help. It is not a secret that Indian Muslims are socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged.
What is a secret or a surprise I would say, for those of us American Muslims who have invested time and money to try to help reduce that disadvantage, is the relative lack of progress that has been made for our brethren in India.
We must acknowledge the many struggles Indian Muslims continue to experience in the face of persistent inequality and injustice, hostility, open prejudice, and bigotry including barriers to equal access to education and employment.
India with all its promises and potentials and possibilities remains an island of prosperity in an ocean of poverty. Poverty drains institutions. Poverty fuels frustration and desperation. Poverty breeds violence. Poverty crushes the hope of people.
A study released by the U.S. India Policy Institute at the end of last year found that progress of Muslim Indians in the past decade in the higher education arena has been especially problematic.
The study showed that only 11% of Muslims in India pursue higher education compared to a national average of approximately 19%. Most significantly, the study revealed that “the general category of Muslims” in higher education has seen a 1.5% decline between 2004 to 2005 and 2009 to 2010.
These are disturbing trends and findings and in my opinion a call to action for me and I believe they will be for you as well. In my opinion, what we as Indian American Muslims and proud graduates of Aligarh need to do is to double down on our commitment to expand the educational opportunities available at Aligarh and for Muslims in India.
We need to focus like a laser beam on ensuring appropriate educational opportunities at the level that brings citizens into the social and economic mainstream. That level is higher education. Education is the gift that keeps on giving. Education empowers the mind and uplifts the soul. It is a powerful equalizer opening door to all to lift themselves out of poverty. Education is the best investment we can make to build next generations of leaders and entrepreneurs and innovators and problem solvers.
Education also provides avenues for participation in 21st century workforce and careers, the competencies to compete in a globally economy, and the capacity to contribute to lifting fellow Muslims out of poverty and deprivation.
Put another way, higher education is the bridge that we may cross in order to build bridges for others. I know how true that was for me personally and I assume, and am relatively confident, that it is true for the majority of you who are here tonight as well.
Muslim Indians need all of the assistance and support they can get in order to pursue higher education opportunities and complete that pursuit successfully. They need bridges built.
We can be bridge builders by contributing to Aligarh so that it can increase the scholarships available to go to school there and to expand those programs that will enable future Aligarh graduates to assist their fellow Muslims in India.
By being bridge builders ourselves, we will help develop the next generation of bridge builders from Aligarh. We can ensure that they get the knowledge, skills and abilities that they will need to be leaders in enabling and empowering all Muslims in India to become first-class citizens in the future.
The return for building that bridge and those bridges to inclusiveness will be priceless. Inclusive policies will no longer be issue then. Inclusive opportunities will be.
So, that’s why I think that supporting Aligarh and expanding its capability to do even more great work is so critically important. What am I doing about it? I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
My wife Debbie and I are uniquely blessed. We embody the American Dream. We are guided and reminded by the phrase: to whom much is given much is expected. With that spirit and thought in mind we have committed $2 M to support the building of the Frank and Debbie Islam School of Management at Aligarh Muslim University. The building will be dedicated in October of this year.
We deliberately decided to invest in the School of Management because of the emphasis it will place on entrepreneurship and innovation and preparing the students at AMU to become entrepreneurial leaders and engage in economic development activities that will create jobs and opportunities for thousands of Muslims people throughout India. We see our contribution not as charity or philanthropy but as an investment that will yield exponential returns in the future for both Aligarh and Muslims in India.
AMU is a true treasure and is a precious possession. Its leaders have shaped our history and our destiny. Its principles have always guided us during the time of calm or crisis. AMU has always been and continues to be the beacon of hope and aspirations and dream. AMU students have always been our best hope. My investment is my way of saying thank you and keeping the hope alive.
I am confident that you will want to join me in this journey by investing as well. In doing so, we plant the seeds and grow our family tree. But, more importantly, we build the bridges that will help transform India and the conditions of Muslims in our native land.
I think it is most appropriate that we are at this fundraiser during Ramadan – a deeply spiritual time of reflection and recommitment and a special time for giving. This is our chance not only be grateful for all the blessings we have been allotted, but an opportunity to give to those less fortunate.
Let us think of those who are poor, who are hungary and who are voiceless and who have no hope and who do not have means to break the fast. Let us extend our hand, our hope, and our help, and our voice. Let us together provide them ladders of opportunities to succeed. When they succeed. Aligarh succeed. India succeed.
In this season of Ramadan , I ask you to give generously in the memory of Sir Syed and to give back for what you have received from Aligarh and to pay it forward for those who are in need.
Let us together change the face of India. One life, one family, one village at a time
Thank you for attentiveness and ongoing support of this great institution.
God bless you all