Ali Hasan Carries on the Family Tradition
By Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui
When the Industrial Revolution swept England, the nobility did little to promote education. Members of the Royal Society scoffed at the idea of expansion of schools as its members felt the common man would begin to “despise his lot” if education was imparted on a large scale. Thus the masses’ lot hardly improved as “black satanic mills,’’ abhorred by William Blake, began to dot the English landscape and generated bountiful wealth. England had to pay a heavy price for ignoring education at that critical period of its history.
The US policy on this score was quite to the contrary. As the fledgling nation embarked to conquer the vast American continent, it did not fail to give due importance to education. Schools and universities proliferated at a staggering pace across the length and breadth of the country and college graduates from the glimmering Ivy and state universities were in the forefront to play a catalytic role in transforming the country. Handsome results ensued, and a wholesome change took place. The trend sustains its momentum to this day. So does the US ascendancy in high-tech, microelectronics, genetic engineering and nuclear medicine to name a few challenging fields.
Indeed, education and progress seem to have acquired synonymous connotations in the new millennium. Thanks to abiding interest in education, the Hasan family has made enviable strides in the States. In the short span of a quarter of a century, the Hasans have made their mark in different fields.
Dr. Malik M. Hasan, a neurologist who emigrated from Pakistan in the early 70s, is a well-known figure in the US health care industry today. As CEO of Health Net, the health maintenance organization he founded, Dr. Hasan didn’t care for profits alone. Even well before he founded his company, he was the only neurologist for 100 miles around his new adopted home, Pueblo, in Colorado. He began to practice at a time when almost 50% of the local population did not have indoor plumbing! Traveling to rural areas weekly, Dr. Hasan often treated those whom he knew could not pay him. He also took the most difficult cases. He later brought this concept of micro-management to the health care industry. Said a grateful patient to Mrs. Seeme Gull Khan Hasan, his wife: “Your husband changed the health picture in America,” and rightly so.
Together the husband and wife team set up the The Seeme and Malik Hasan School of Business at the University of Southern Colarado, also in Pueblo, which stands as a testimony to their commitment of promoting education. Both have always felt a compelling urge to give back to the country and community that opened their arms to them when they first moved. Hasan’s wife, Seeme, is a community activist who supports arts and sciences with exemplary verve. She has become very popular among the local population of Hispanic, German, and Italian-descent Americans. “Treat me as a family,” she told her neighbors and friends. Proud of their Pakistani identity, the Hasans demonstrated little reservations in blending with the locals.
The “family’’ grew, as for years Seeme hosted a now legendary and defunct Eid party annually on the eve of Eid al-Udha. She was further endeared to the community by her founding of the Colorado Music Fest, a summer-long festival of music including free or low-cost concerts and music camps for children. No wonder, a gubernatorial candidate ungrudgingly blurted at a campaign organizational meeting, “If Mrs. Hasan supports us, we will get lots of votes.” Seeme has been successful in convincing her American friends that Pakistanis and Muslims are good individuals. Her interest in her strivings is genuine and spontaneous. A letter from the entrancing Pakistani heroine Faryal Gauhar, routed through Pakistan Link, received an instant response and a few words of encouragement.
The Hasans’ oldest daughter, Aliya Gull Hasan, is a medical doctor. She reminds one of Jane Eyre, Bronte’s famous heroine, who embodied a sturdy spirit in a frail frame. Aliya is a fine doctor, and her words have a soothing effect on the ruffled mind of patients. She also wields a facile pen and used to write a weekly health column for Pakistan Link. When we met in the Link’s spacious office in Irvine sometime back, Aliya informed us of her grandmother’s insistence on the completion of her education before marriage. Schooled in the philosophy of her phoopi, Mrs. G.A. Khan. a minister in President Ayub Khan’s cabinet, Aliya’s grandmother was fully seized of the importance of education in a girl’s life. She had her roots in Ludhiana and belonged to a politically active family with associations first with the Congress and later with the Muslim League. Aliya’s grandmother was constantly reminded that she could have accomplished immeasurably more if she had received better education. Aliya is also a gifted musician who plays the piano and the guitar and sings as well. She is married to Rehan Anwar, an attorney.
Daughter Asma Gull Hasan, a graduate of New York University School of Law, earned fame at the young age of 27 as the author of an illuminating book. “American Muslims: The New Generation” was widely acclaimed, especially in the post-September 11 period. Critics called it ‘groundbreaking’, in recognition of its easy-to-read introduction and graphic portrayal of Islam in America. Some of her most ardent fans are young South Asian Muslims like herself. Says Sana Saeed, a teenage reader, “The entire book kept me hooked. For me, it was an Islamic class, a history lesson, and a Muslim American Seventeen magazine advice column - all in one.” Asma, who had a propensity for writing from early age (she was editor-in-chief of her school newspaper and began writing for Pakistan Link when she was just 17), does not talk diffidently as she appears on Fox, ABC, and other media to espouse Islam’s cause. She weighs every word, sounding neither contentious nor argumentative, as she rebuts the biased opinions aired against Islam on various networks. Unlike mother Seeme who speaks in the clipped British accent, thanks to her education at a convent school in Pakistan, Asma has the typical American accent. Uunderstandably so. She was born and brought up in America in the wild West of Colorado where the family settled as Dr. Hasan made his practice as a neurologist. Though Asma hopes to eventually settle in Colorado, she will spend some time in the East Coast working for a large Wall Street law firm as a litigator in New York City. Asma is emerging as the future spokesperson of Muslims in America.
Like sisters, like brother. So could be said of Muhammad Ali Hasan, who attended college in the Los Angeles area. Because he created his own major which is a combination of film-making and urban policy studies, Ali made a feature length film as part of his final school project. Bright and ebullient, he gave a fine account of himself as a Muslim American while appearing on Bill Maher’s ABC program ‘Politically Incorrect’ along with three other Muslim students in the immediate post-9/11 traumatic period. His fortrightness testified to his generation’s forward plod, and the quartet did furnish ample evidence that, politically, Maher’s perspective was incorrect in more ways than one.
Interviewed a few years back when President Bush was at the helm in Washington, Seeme felt the Pakistani government was “un-helpable” at that time. The embassy “does not seek out outstanding Pakistanis, those who have made contributions in this country. It never projects outstanding Pakistanis.” The situation seemed paradoxical. The Hasans had good relations with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. According to Dr Hasan, President Bush wanted to do something for Pakistan “from the bottom of his heart.” He made a candid observation as he remarked, “If you look around, the Americans are much more consistent with Islamic values than us. I built a $10 billion company without any serious impediment. There was not one instance when any functionary asked me for a kickback. My success was on the basis of merit.” His Health Net offered “a better value in terms of better quality and price.”
Dr Hasan’s advice to Pakistanis who are up and coming is: “Mix with the mainstream, be a part of the political process rather than a bystander, show people how good you are, find a way of interacting with the decision makers, and take interest in the upbringing of the children.” He continues, “We should export meritocracy to Pakistan instead of biradari,” adding, “America is a wonderful country. Its success is not by an accident but by a governing system. There is nothing in DNA that makes someone corrupt or successful.” True. To him, among the three Abrahamic faiths Islam was the most progressive and took him through his dark days as a child displaced from his ancestral homes in India to Pakistan.
Dr. Hasan does not agree with the maxim ‘Behind every successful man there is a woman.’ “Success comes to a team. Seeme is not behind me but beside me. We have a shared credit.” True.