Endowed Chair for Islamic Studies at San Jose State University Seeks to Reach Funding Goal
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Since the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the AMA Foundation and San Jose State University in the summer of 2012 with the goal of establishing an Endowed Chair for Islamic Studies at this esteemed center of learning in the heart of Silicon Valley, the funding of this effort has continued. At the moment the required sum is one million dollars to get this project off the ground and to offer access to students in this part of California who are curious to learn more (beyond the headlines) about Islam, the second largest religion in the world.
Towards this goal a single donation of $500,000 has been committed by Dr M. Yaqub Mirza of the Sterling Charitable Gift Fund (SCGF) and a matching amount has to be raised by the American Muslim Alliance Foundation ( http://sjsuislamicstudies.org/ ). At the moment the AMA Foundation has raised over $300,000 and a shortfall of $150,000 has to be addressed very soon so that classes can be started at San Jose State on a regular basis. It is in this regard that a meeting was called by Dr Agha Saeed on Friday, November 6, 2015 at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark to discuss a fundraising strategy and to spread more awareness about this project.
The American Muslim Alliance (AMA) led by Dr Saeed, popularly known as “Agha Sahib” to his friends, has had a vision to get Muslims involved in the mainstream educational and political system of the United States for over 20 years now. Possibly the finest public intellectual that our regional community has produced to date, Agha Sahib has been fighting Parkinson’s disease for the last few years which has severely restricted his voice and physical mobility. But he remains a thinker, a doer, and a fighter. And although it is not possible to attend all of the meetings when he calls, this one in particular concerning the San Jose State project was important enough to attend. The days when Agha Sahib could deliver the finest speeches one could hear in at least three languages (English, Punjabi and Urdu) may be behind him but the fact remains that he is a man of brilliant ideas worth sharing and commands respect. The idea of this Islamic Studies Chair at San Jose State started with him and the community here in Northern California found it appealing enough to support it.
The evening started when Lisette Poole interviewed Dr M. Yaqub Mirza about this project and his book “Five Pillars of Prosperity - Essentials of Faith-Based Wealth Building” (White Cloud Press), a guide to doing business within Islamic parameters and principles. After a quick glance at the book one discovers many things including the wisdom imparted by our elders on how to live debt-free (as an example) while pursuing financial success. During his candid discussion we learnt that this is Dr Mirza’s 5 th location for the establishment of an Islamic Studies Chair, with four others already running and teaching students about Islam in North America. Offering his views on a wide range of subjects Dr Mirza had a clear answer for each issue and at times exhibited quite a sense of humor. He also comes across as a humble person, which is a refreshing trait in one who has been very financially successful. One wishes that he could be cloned because of his philanthropy alone, but it is his interest in spreading knowledge of Islam within the educational institutions in this country (and acting on it) which is nothing less than exemplary.
At the follow-up working dinner meeting a number of people expressed their views on how to best go about raising funds to make up for the $150,000 gap. It should be noted that $1,000,000 will establish an Endowed Chair for Islamic Studies program that will teach a few courses for a classroom and online audiences. $3,000,000 will get us to an Islamic Studies program and $5,000,000 a full Islamic Studies Department. Readers are encouraged to contact Lisette Poole at 510-754-1326 for more information. Donations made here http://sjsuislamicstudies.org/donate/ are Tax Deductible. A fundraiser is planned (date not final) at Chandni Restaurant in December where the community will be encouraged to participate.
To close here, few would argue that there is a pressing need for a better understanding of Islam in the United States especially within the mainstream community. And there could be no better way than to have the presence of programs on Islam in public universities like San Jose State. The American Muslim community has already been quite successful in building many mosques in this country where people can gather to pray. But it also needs to establish institutions where Islam is taught. One cannot afford to leave the dialog between civilizations to ISIS, Al Qaeda and the War on Terror which during the last 14 years has not succeeded in reaching a conclusion. Yes, there are programs already devoted to the study of Islam at universities in this country but there are still not enough of them. To increase that number our community needs to shift focus and make efforts like this project at San Jose State a reality.