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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Dr. Ahmadullah Siddiqi: Nerves of Steel and Iron Will

With nerves of steel, iron will, and unwavering determination, you can weather any storm and safely sail through to your destination. Of course, you may carry scars on your soul and wounds on your heart, but you hide them behind a smiling face to remain loyal to your ideals. He believed Islam is a source of peace and mercy to human beings because the Creator is Peace and Compassion. He remained committed to this ideal throughout his life, regardless of his internal or external challenges. He lost his young daughter in a car accident and never complained. His second daughter, an autistic child, was her dearest until she left the world. His first wife, an Islamic scholar whom he married in the sacred vicinity of Kaaba in Makkah, left him for her change in ideological orientation, and he remained steadfast to his mission. With his son and daughter from the second marriage, he leads an exemplary life without discussing the past. He wanted to be a physicist. He enrolled in a Ph.D. program at one of the prestigious universities, the Muslim University of Aligarh, for a bright academic future waiting for him. Yet, he decided to switch from Physics to Mass Media because that was the need to serve his community better. He founded one of India's most visionary youth movements for social justice and peace. He led the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations (IIFSO), yet he stepped down when asked by the board to remain loyal to them instead of the cause. During his tenure as acting secretary general, he embarked on producing a library comprising essential Islamic books for young visionaries in more than 20 world languages, yet he did not claim its credit. He taught media and communications at a prestigious US university after completing his Ph.D. from Temple University, Philadelphia. After completing his Ph.D., Dr. Siddiqi joined Western Illinois University, WIU, in 1987. He developed media training workshops and conducted hundreds of workshops and seminars on media relations throughout North America and in many countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia. In 1997, his book, Islam, Muslims, and Media: Myths and Realities, was published and served as a resource manual for Muslim communities in North America and the journalists in the mainstream media. In 1986, he became a life member of the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), served on its governing council for a couple of years, and, in 1998, established the Islam and Media Working group within IAMCR that continues to attract Muslim media professionals and scholars to IAMCR. Dr. Siddiqi was also a member of the Public Relations Society of America, PRSA, from 1991 to 2015, when he retired from the university. At WIU, he was the faculty advisor of the PRSA’s student chapter for over two decades and helped hundreds of students join professional public relations firms. During his tenure at WIU, he received excellence in teaching, research, and service awards. The University honored him with its most prestigious Distinguished Faculty Lecturer award in 2015. He is one of those few Muslims in the US honored by the Martin Luther King Junior Foundation through induction in the Interfaith Hall of Fame for his contribution to peace and justice. All his academic and social work did not prevent him from initiating a world Muslim organization with his mentor, Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan, to develop dialogue with other faiths. At 70, he is still running the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relations, hoping his community would one day understand the true worth of working with other faith communities for peace and justice. Humble, humane, and friendly as he is, Dr. Ahmadullah Siddiqi is undeniably an asset to humanity. Born in Gorakhpur, a district in India's Uttar Pradesh state, Dr. Siddiqi often looked at his uncle, the world-famous Muslim economist Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqi, as his teacher and guide. Under his leadership guidance, he joined the Aligarh Muslim University to pursue his studies in physics. It was a challenging time for Muslims and their academic institutions. The community was under attack for its beliefs, physically and socially. In these circumstances, he learned that the media was the key to challenging the stereotypical images of the world. Putting his career at risk, he decided to change his field of studies. Meanwhile, together with many other colleagues and mentors, he founded the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), an organization banned by successive governments of India for no reason other than its commitment to a self-respecting, vibrant, and peaceful Muslim community. Even when he migrated to the US and left his citizenship of India, and the organization's membership, the government of India, Hindutva organizations, and the FBI changed and hounded him under flimsy reasons. A Hindu organization labeled him as a world terrorist and asked its supporters in the US to get him removed from the Western Illinois University of Illinois, where he served until his retirement. The intelligence agencies visited him several times, probably at the instance of the government of India and Hindu organizations. They could not find a single statement or activity to substantiate their allegations against him. He knew his life was at stake, yet he showed nerves of steel to withstand the assault. He feels proud of his role as founding President of SIMI, a peaceful movement for social justice. Under his leadership, the organization never wavered from its goals and remained committed to the constitutional integrity of its country of origin. In those trying days, he formed an interfaith group in Macomb, IL, and opened the doors of the Islamic center to other faiths to interact with each other for a better society. He invited even those who secretly had sought his expulsion from the University. Dr. Siddiqi also laid the foundation of the North American Association of Muslim Professionals and Scholars (NAAMPS), with scholars like Dr. Fathi Osman and activists like Dr. Maher Hathout. He edited Contemporary Perspectives papers presented at the conference held in Chicago in 1993. Simultaneously, while teaching at Western Illinois University, he served as the honorary vice president of the Chicago-based American Islamic College. In 2009, Dr. Siddiqi joined the board of trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. In 2015, he was the chair of the Program Committee of the Parliament convention in Utah, with over 8,000 participants. The Utah convention was a revolutionary step in the theological world. A denomination, Later Day Saints or Mormons, considered outcastes in the hierarchy of religions, opened the city for world faiths to advance the cause of interfaith dialogue. The Utah governor staged the world's most excellent interfaith show in Salt Lake City, offering all facilities at the Utah Convention Center for one dollar, a symbolic payment. This convention saw many world religious leaders on the stage, including the Imam of Kaaba, whose speech on environment and interfaith harmony still resonates with conventions' proceedings. His career as the acting secretary general of IFSO took him to different parts of the world to understand the aspirations of Muslim youth. He found out that they lack a sense of direction and purpose in their lives. They must be fully versed in their faiths and relations with other faith-based communities. His team selected 20 books written by famous world-class scholars and got them translated into more than 20 languages. Several leaders of the present Muslim world were once active members of IIFSO. However, when he realized that the organization was shifting from a cause-based group to an elite culture, he left the organization. His association with stalwarts like Dr. Ismail Farooqui, Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqi, Professor Khursheed Ahmad, and Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, and many others made him a genuine activist who combined his professional skills with his faith in serving humanity. He leads a simple life without pretension and devotes his energy and resources to building the interfaith movement, the planet's future. He believes that world religions must live in peace and not in conflict, and work together to address challenges in all aspects of global life. He asserts that people of faith can pool their intellectual and material resources to uplift humans from poverty, illiteracy, prejudice, and hatred. He advocates for a hate-free world and hopes the world will enjoy love's fruits one day. He is a role model for those who see a bright future for the world despite its challenges. Against all odds, how to fight and remain focused on one's ideals is the essence of his life.

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