Leadership, Education, and Civic Engagement
Distinguished guests, fellow Aligarian, friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you Jawed Akhter to be here tonight. Thank you for all you do to serve our communities.
I want to thank all of you for your warm welcome. Looking at you tonight I never felt so blessed.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Irfan and Tazeen Beg for inviting me to deliver this address. Let us give them big round of applause.
It is my distinct pleasure to be here with you this evening because like you I -am -an -Aligarian. I feel a personal connection as we are linked by a common cause, a common goal, a common vision and values, and a common commitment.
I also feel a common bond THROUGH shared history, shared heritage, shared background and shared belief. Our bonds are STRONGER than the differences that, too, often drive us apart.
I am humbled and honored to be given this award named after one of the greatest leaders in the history of Aligarh Muslim University.
Lifetime achievement awards are usually given to a person after he has died or in his later years. So, I hope that there’s not something that the award committee knows that I don’t. Seriously, centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton famously said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
I am here tonight because I -have -stood –on- the shoulders- of -giants. Those giants have been the founders and faculty of Aligarh, my fellow students – some of whom are in the audience here tonight, and the other alumni of our great university.
Therefore, I accept this award not FOR ME, but in recognition of ALL those Aligarh giants who have made a difference in society through their leadership, education and community and public service.
I understand that in addition to Aligarh alumni we also have many poets and artists in the audience tonight. I have lived my live in prose, but I have dreamed it in poetry. Those dreams have been my inspiration.
Therefore, I dedicate this award to them and ask that they continue to pen those words and phrases that captivate, motivate and educate.
Finally, thanks to the Committee for naming me as the recipient of the Ross Masood award and for all of you for being here to share this time with me.
I have been asked to speak tonight about leadership, education and civic engagement. In doing so I want to talk about a giant, developing giants and giant leaps forward.
Leadership: Ross Masood – A Giant
Let me begin with a giant. That giant is Sir Ross Masood. We all know and everyone knows much about his grandfather Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. But, little is known about Mr. Ross Masood.
Yet, he is as important as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who founded our precious university. This is true because, without his leadership and courageous actions, Aligarh Muslim University might not have survived.
It is said that managers do things right, but leaders do the right thing. Ross Masood definitely did the right things. When it came to Aligarh Muslim University, he was a true leader.
When he came to Aligarh to be Vice Chancellor in 1929, more than 50 years after the institution was established, it was in sad and sorry shape. There were administrative irregularities, academic deficiencies, and students were leaving in droves.
Ross Masood did not blink. He rolled up his sleeves, stepped up to the plate, and led almost a total overhaul of the university. His actions included
• Recruiting some of the finest talent in India for academic positions
• Leading the establishment and building of a “Science College”
• Insisting on rigorous research into history and the sciences
• Making Aligarh Muslim University the preferred destination for students of all backgrounds and belief
• Having Aligarh become the first institution in India to have students enroll in Ph.D. programs
• Implementing new protocols to ensure an improved quality and discipline in student life
• Putting the institution on a sound financial footing
• Getting Aligarh degrees equivalence status with those of all the other higher education institutions in the country
These actions of Mr. Ross Masood define the nature of leadership. True leadership is transformative and encompassing. It shapes the nature of things in the present and for the future.
Because of Ross Masood, Aligarh Muslim University not only has survived, it has thrived. Ross Masood was a giant. He provides the example, sets the standard, and provides broad shoulders upon which we can stand.
All of us have been enriched, enabled, and empowered by Ross Masood. He earned the leadership role by doing the right things. Doing the right thing is the essence of leadership.
Education: Developing Giants
Let me now shift focus to education.
Many think of Aligarh as being in the education business. But, I believe that it does more much than that.
Because of its religious beliefs and commitment to making India and the world a better place that was imbedded in the institution by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and those who have followed him, Aligarh Muslim University does not just produce graduates, it develops giants.
Those giants are engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, public service, poets, business people, artists – and the list goes on.
Aligarh is a unique institution. Aligarh remains an inseparable part of my life. I have fond memories of my stay at Aligarh.
Aligarh shaped India. India shaped Aligarh. It is a timeless treasure. It is timeless treasure. It is a precious possession. It equips its students to do well and to do good. In this regard, I would like to share with you what Aligarh means to and has done for me.
My Aligarh education gave me a strong knowledge base. It also instilled in me a sense of values. It gave me building block to be an entrepreneur.
For me, my 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.
My Aligarh education was empowering and enhanced my competence and self-esteem. It was a bridge to the future. It was an opportunity creator.
My Aligarh education prepared me for the remarkable journey from India to the United States of America. I came to the U.S. in pursuit of the American dream. I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to achieve the American Dream. And, with the help of others here I – achieved – it.
I am fortunate. I am uniquely blessed. My dream has come true. In large part, I owe this to my Aligarh education. Aligarh education shaped my story and my journey and determined my destiny. Aligarh education has GIVEN ME guiding principles.
I also owe to my Aligarh education the deep understanding that there is much more to life than one’s personal success. 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
- Be the best you can be
- Be a lifelong learner
- Never give up
- Exploit your fullest potential
- Dedicate yourselves to draw upon the values, ingenuity, decency, dignity, compassion, and spirit that have always defined the greatness of Aligarh education
- Invest in others by sharing and giving back, and
- living in peace and harmony, by being tolerant and respectful of the dignity of each person
I know that these same values and others have been imprinted on all Aligarh alumni.
We are gathered here at a time when a “purpose-driven” education such as that provided by Aligarh has never been more important. Over the years, men and women from Aligarh have made significant contributions in all walks of life.
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. It HAS enabled them to be giants
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. An Aligarh education produces graduates – more importantly, it develops giants.
Civic Engagement: Giant Leaps Forward
In this final part of my speech, I want to call attention to the absolute necessity for an increased involvement in civic engagement from all of us who are concerned about the future of the United States of America, India and the world.
When Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar lander on the moon, he said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” I would daresay that none of us here today have been on the moon and don’t expect that any of us will be visiting there any time soon.
So, if we are to help in making giant leaps forward, our work will have to be done here on earth. Those leaps can be made through civic engagement. But, truth be told, those giant leaps may not come in one single bound but through a series of small steps.
My definition of civic engagement is:
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.
The concept of civic engagement is central to our belief system.
There are communities in desperate need here, in the United States and around the world. There are so many places in which a helping hand – a hand up – is critically important.
I would like to call our attention to one area that is important to me and one that I believe could be of especial importance to many of you here this evening. That is the ongoing educational plight of Muslims in India.
Before I give some sad facts. Let me say few words on recent religiously motivated killings and riots in India. Unfortunately there are some people in India whose voices of intolerance, prejudice, hostility, and bigotry are dividing India along the lines of faith or background. It is frightening as to why some people in India have become extremists and divisive. America and India share a lot of ideals and values including democracy and diversity and inclusiveness. These are the values and strengths and qualities that bind us together. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan expressed similar philosophy to the graduates of Aligarh Muslim University. He said: we shall go forth through the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free enquiry, of large hearted toleration, and of pure morality. With that thought in mind I firmly believe they need to find a common ground to restore peace and communal harmony. There needs to be a voice for understanding, cooperation, civility, and tolerance between faiths. India must uphold the right of every person. Indians should be united by a common hope for equal treatment and equal rights and equal opportunity and better tomorrow.
Now let me give you some sad statistics on THE literacy rate of Indian Muslims:
- The 2001 Census Report showed that the literacy rate of Indian Muslims was 59.1%. The rate for Muslim males in urban and rural areas was 76% and 62% respectively compared to the much lower rate for females of 63% and 43%.
- 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 the “general category of Muslims in higher education” had actually DECLINED 1.5% for the period studied.
These are devastating findings. They demand civic engagement both from those in India and to the extent possible from those of us Aligarian Indian Americans here in the United States. I specifically believe that a key intervention point should be in higher education because it is the great equalizer and path to social and economic opportunity.
All of you can have significant and sustainable impact and influence on the Indians especially Indian Muslims. All of you can make a difference and all of you should make a difference.
These are not idle words. I am putting my money where my mouth is.
I have committed $2M to support the building of a new school of management with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation at Aligarh Muslim University. I would not be the person I am if it were not for Aligarh education. Aligarh students have always been our best hope. They are strong, vibrant, and resilient. They are dreamers and doers. My investment in the School of Management is my way of saying thank you and keeping the hope alive. I strongly believe my investment will yield exponential returns.
I firmly believe women in India still lag in the educational area beyond high school. They need to develop 21st century skills in order to be successful and to make their fullest contribution to their families and India in the 21st century. This is why 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.
I am involved in other charitable – or as I prefer to call them – “investment” areas in the United States, in India, and in other places around the globe. The need is so great it doesn’t matter where or how we get civically engaged. What matters is that we do so.
I know that you in this audience, my fellow Aligarian and others here tonight, are already engaged. I know that I am preaching to the choir. But, I am asking you to join with me in committing to do even more.
I know that we are up to this challenge and opportunity because we are standing upon the shoulders of giants. From those shoulders, we can reach up and touch the sky and down to change the world in which we live.
It is a time for giants. It is a time to think giant thoughts. It is a time to develop giant talents. It is a time to do giant deeds.
The need is great. The stage is ours. The time is now.
It is a time for us to join together and to build the Aligarh Legacy. Let us carry the torch handed to us by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Let us work together to ensure his dream shall never die and his cause will endure.
In summary, let me say that all of us will do well to remember that no nation, no race, no religion, no civilization, and no culture has a monopoly on wisdom OR on human dignity. Wisdom belongs to all who are willing to work hard, aim high, and get the right education and pursue their dream.
With that thought and spirit in mind, let us extend our hand, hope, help, and heart to those who are less fortunate, who are socially and economically disadvantaged, and who are underprivileged and who are voiceless. That includes 200 Million Indian Muslims that we must empower – with education and economic mobility. When they move up the ladders of success, they will get ahead, they will stay ahead, and then they will change the face of the world.
India’s Muslims must be active participant in shaping the future of India’s inclusive economic growth. They must be partner in India’s prosperity.
When they succeed, ALL of us succeed, India succeeds, and the world succeeds.
Let us together change the face of India. One life – one family – and one village at a time
Thank you for your attentiveness. Peace, love, and god bless you all.