Education A Powerful Equalizer, Only Tool To Empower Indian Muslims: Frank Islam

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Mumtaz Alam | India Tomorrow
New Delhi, Feb 9— “Education is a powerful equalizer. Education enriches and empowers us. The only way to move forward out of poverty is to begin with education. It is opportunity creator and bridge to the future.” These were the views of renowned Indian-American entrepreneur, civic leader and philanthropist Frank Islam at a special event here at the India Islamic Cultural Centre Saturday evening.

He was speaking on “Empowering Indian Muslims through Education and Pivot Points for Building a Better India” with Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University sitting on the stage and around two hundred eminent personalities below in the hall.

Highlighting the importance of education for Indian Muslims and their contribution to the nation building, Frank said: “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 move the nation forward.”

To bring home the point, Frank, who was born in a middle-class family in an under-developed district of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, narrated how education provided him with the “essential foundation for attaining the American Dream.”

Frank Islam’s Educational Empowerment:
“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,” said Frank who got primary education in Azamgarh and Varanasi before moving to AMU in the 1970s for higher education.

AMU’s Impact on Frank Islam’s Life:
“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.”

Educational Empowerment of Muslims Remains a Critical Need Today:
Referring to the findings of the Sachar Committee about the socio-economic and educational backwardness of Indian Muslims, Frank said: “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…When I read the study findings, I was disappointed but not despairing.”

“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,” he averred.

Four Ideas for Educational Empowerment:
In his powerful speech, Frank Islam suggested four ideas for educational empowerment of Indian Muslims.

“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: 1. Ensure a strong focus on literacy development in the rural areas and for females. 2. Develop technical and entrepreneurial skills. 3. Place an increased emphasis on higher education. 4. Make connections and build coalitions both here in India and with Muslims around the world,” he said and elaborated on these four points with much emphasis on technical and higher education.

Talking about the importance of technical and entrepreneurial skills, he said: “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.”

Frank Islam stressed on placing 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,” said Frank.

He also categorically said that the community should not sit idle awaiting government’s initiatives.

“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,” he said.

“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,” he added.

How To Make A Better India:
“I firmly believe that through our “Creeds, Deeds, and Seeds”, we can build a better India. The concepts of creeds, seeds and deeds are the bedrock of our existence and the essence of our being,” said Frank while stepping into the second part of the topic of his speech.

He highlighted how and what Muslims can do for the society they live.

“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. 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.”

Strongly advocating for interfaith dialogue, Frank said: “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.”

People from different backgrounds and different faiths need to work side-by-side because they are bound together in the service of others.

Frank Islam, who is known for his purposeful philanthropy and had recently donated two million US dollar to his alma mater AMU, stressed on helping the less fortunate.

“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,” said Frank Islam.

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