Aligarh gave all of us a “purpose driven education”: Frank F Islam

Remarks By Frank F. Islam To Washington DC Aligarh Alumni Association On the Occasion of Aligarh Scholarships Fundraiser

Thank you for that kind introduction.

Let me begin by thanking the members of the Washington, DC Aligarh Alumni Scholarship Committee for inviting me to speak at your annual fundraiser.  It is a privilege to be invited back to be with you in this Zoom Room – although I must admit I would rather be with all of you in person.

I also have to admit that when I first got the invitation to speak to you on April 1 – which is referred to as April Fool’s Day – for a brief moment I thought it might be a joke.  Then, I realized quickly that it was neither a joke nor a day to celebrate fools.

Instead, because of who you are and what you are doing this in this season of Ramadan, a month of deeply spiritual time of reflection and recommitment and a special time for giving. It will be a day to celebrate adding new branches to our Aligarh family tree through the Association’s scholarships.

Adding those branches is always important.  But, for two primary reasons, it is more important now than ever. Those reasons are:

  • the need for higher education for Muslims in India has never been greater
  • higher education is becoming increasingly pivotal for ensuring both the success of the individual and society.

A report from the All-India Survey on Higher Education reveals that the enrollment of Muslim students enrolled in higher education decreased by 4.6% compared to the prior year.

Those numbers tell the statistical story on why our being here today for this fundraiser is so important but they do not tell the human story of so many of our Muslim brothers and sisters in India. The human story of those in need there is even more compelling.

The human story is one of those living in adverse conditions and poverty.  Poverty limits opportunity. Poverty fuels frustration.  Poverty crushes hope.

That is difficult for anyone in any place. It is even more difficult because, as we know and have witnessed from afar. Indian Muslims continue to experience persistent inequality, hostility, and prejudice.  This significantly inhibits their access to education and employment.

Add to this condition, the fact that these times world-wide have become more trying and autocratic.  They have become more confrontational and contentious.  They have become more divisive and difficult.

All of these factors make the need for a quality higher education more essential and relevant than ever.  Higher education is a powerful equalizer opening doors for those in poverty.  It empowers the mind and uplifts the soul.  It is the best investment that can be made to build the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and problem-solvers.

A quality higher education provides the avenues for participation in the 21st century workforce and careers, the competencies to compete in a global economy, and the capacity to contribute to lifting fellow Muslims and those in the weaker sections out of poverty.

An Aligarh education does this and more.  I can say that without hesitation because the evidence supports it.

Each of you in this zoom room fundraiser today are difference makers.  And, you are here to help make more of a difference back in India, by contributing to the support of scholarships for students at Aligarh.

The Aligarh Alumni Association of Washington, DC has given out more than several hundred AMU scholarships since 1976 when it began making awards.  Among others, those awards have helped educate the future generations of: doctors, dentists, nurses, computer scientists, IT specialists, lawyers, and teachers.  The list could go on and on.  You have also supported feeder programs and applications for thousands of students to go college at other institutions of higher education in India.

You have done all of this because like me, you have experienced and benefited from the Aligarh difference.  That difference was not only learning but developing the core values that would carry you through your life.

In a phrase, Aligarh gave all of us a “purpose driven education.”  Our paths have been different but the common and transcendent bond that unites us has been a belief in and a commitment to equal justice and a shared humanity.

This combination of technical expertise and moral rectitude has empowered us to make our marks in the world and to serve as positive role models for others.  We have come together at this fundraising event to provide the dollars for scholarships to help future students gain the advantage that we had in order to make their own marks.

I look at this, and I ask you to do the same, not as an act of charity or generosity but as an investment. The return on that investment will be exponential.

In closing, let me leave you with this thought.  In my opening remarks, I said we are here to “add new branches to the Aligarh family tree”.

At the founding of Aligarh in 1875, Sir Syed said “

…from the seed which we sow today 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…

Years ago, those of us here today were those saplings.  We are now branches of the mighty Aligarh family tree.

The scholarships we supported in the past have added to spread of that tree.  This year’s scholarships will do the same.

Sir Syed would be pleased – as should we be.  We should be pleased but not completely satisfied.

We should remember that near the end of life, Sir Syed said “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 at this fundraiser to keep Aligarh’s light shining brightly against the darkness for generations and generations of students to come.

t has been my pleasure and privilege to share my thoughts with you.  Thanks for listening to me and for your generous contributions to keep the Aligarh light shining and the family tree growing.

May God bless each and everyone of you.


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