Masarrat Ali Runs as Texas Democrat

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

masarrat ali(1) Son of a poor tailor is Democratic candidate in Texas elections

An Indian-American is standing in American state-level elections. No big deal, it’s happened before. The elections are in Texas. Not much of a big deal either. Texas has politicians from immigrant families.

Now consider this: The Indian-American is Masarrat Ali, a biotechnologist-entrepreneur and a first-generation immigrant, son of a tailor from the village of Jhansi, UP, the eldest of nine siblings, all who got their first schooling in a run-down establishment that used to be part of Rani of Jhanshi’s kotwali. When you add to this the fact that Ali is the first Indian-American and the first Muslim to get a party ticket in Texan elections, then his case becomes special.

Masarrat Ali is the Democratic candidate for District No. 122 (in San Antonio) for the Texan House of Representatives (the lower house). San Antonio is no backwater—the second largest city in Texas and the seventh largest in the US. Ali’s rival for the Democratic ticket for District No. 122 was Art A. Hall. But on January 15, Hall dropped out and endorsed Ali’s candidature. The elections are in November and Ali has a tough job. District 122 in San Antonio, Texas has been held by Republicans for 18 years. Texas is a Republican-leaning state and Ali is a newcomer to politics. But, as Ali says, “If Obama could happen, why not Massarat? His (Obama’s) victory has given hope to all minorities.”

Win or lose, though, Ali’s is already a remarkable story.

It started in Jhansi, in the Bundelkhand region of UP, then as now, a place development has passed by. Ali was born to a tailor, Haji Maqbool Ali. Ali Senior says he used to stitch suits for “commissioners, collectors and ministers”. But the money wasn’t enough for his large family of nine children, of whom Masarrat was the eldest. They lived in a narrow lane crowded with old houses. The neighbourhood is called Gandhigarh Tapra. “It was a typical mohalla with little sense of education. It was full of eighth-class fails. The highest qualification there was high-school-fail,” Masarrat said.

The lane is still the same. But Ali’s house has changed — a well-constructed, three-storey building, marble floors, modular kitchen and modern furniture. “The house got renovated just a couple of months back,” said Ali’s mother Rasheedan Ali.

The school Masarrat attended—the Urdu-medium Wakf Board-run Islamia primary school —is just a stone’s throw from his house. “During my days, it had no chairs, no electricity, no bathrooms and just two-three teachers who never cared,” Ali recollects.

Today, it’s almost the same — a decrepit building whose plaster is peeling off and whose wall has ‘I love you’ scribbled on it at many places and posters of local politicians pasted on it. The school is on a single floor and the building that houses it was a kotwali during the time of Rani Laxmi Bai, according to Ali’s younger brother Zaheer , a local businessman. “When Masarrat was a kid, there was no power supply for homes in Jhansi,” the father recalled. “He would study with a lantern. Though he loved studying, he had no career ambition. When you are busy just trying to survive, there’s little time to think about lofty things such as ambition,” Ali recollects.

But the father—who also attended the Islamia school and didn’t study further —made sure that his children at least aspired to get an education that would make them fit for white-collar jobs. So, he didn’t let them mingle with other children in the neighbourhood; they had enough siblings to play with at home. “Without his efforts, I would have been lost in the galis of Jhansi today,” says Masarrat. But the father takes no credit. “Sab Allah Miyan ka diya hua hai. It’s god’s gift,” he said.

Ali’s education progressed from the Islamia school to the Hindi-medium Government Intermediate College and then Aligarh Muslim University. Everything Masarrat did after graduation, Masters in Biochemistry from Aligarh in 1977, PhD from the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, in 1981, post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Paris, France (where he was research assistant professor till 1984), the Louisiana State Medical University in New Orleans and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, (together, he spent 10 years there) was on scholarship.

The tailor’s eldest son set the example for his younger sons — one is an MBA, the other is an IT professional and a couple others are graduates and running local businesses in Jhansi such as a pharmaceutical distributorship and a ladies’ clothes store. His daughters are either high-schoolers or intermediate-pass, which according to Ali, is “a great achievement” as women in his family had previously never attended school.

Masarrat Ali traded academics for entrepreneurship after he moved to his current residence, San Antonio, in 1993. That year, while he was doing his research on breast cancer at the University of Texas Health Science Center, his thesis supervisor, also an Indian, told him that research published only in papers or journals was “meaninglss”. That prompted Ali to do a “crazy” thing. He quit his comfortable job as an assistant professor, and started the Alpha Diagnostics International (ADI). ADI sells biotechnology laboratory equipment. Ali says it’s a success. ADI has a centre in San Antonio and one in Shanghai. How much is he worth? Ali won’t get into specifics.

And how did politics happen? Always a Democrat voter, in 2004, Ali was among those who founded the Texas Muslim Democrat Caucus, a body that, Ali says, voices Muslim political concerns within the Democrat party and also works to get Texan Muslims to register as voters. Masarrat is currently the Caucus’s vice-president. His ambition is to convert the caucus into a national affair and it has now been rechristened as American Muslim Democrat Caucus. San Antonio has 30,000 Muslims and Texas, about 5 lakhs.

Convincing Muslims in Texas to be politically active is tough, Ali says. Muslims from India are more willing, he says. Those from the Middle-East are the most reluctant. Two years ago, Ali was elected Precinct Chair for District 122, which required grassroots working like getting in touch with the voters and organizing them. The candidacy followed from that. Ali’s father, who visits his son in Texas every year, doesn’t have any particular views about his son’s political goals. But Ali Senior says, he “likes the Americans he met”. “My beard, my kurta-pajama, my topi don’t seem to be a problem when I am there,” he says.

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I39)

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

ISGH President Dr. Aziz Siddiqi at the Holocaust Museum

Picture P Holocaust Museum Houston invited the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) President Dr. Aziz Siddiqi at the opening reception of the Photographic Exhibition called “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust in Albania”. This Exhibition shows Heart-Melting Kindness and Righteous Determination of Muslim Heroes, who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The Exhibition started on July 17, 2009 and runs through to February 7, 2010.

After his welcoming remarks, Michael Goldberg, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Holocaust Museum, requested ISGH President Dr. Aziz Siddiqi to speak to the invited guests. Dr. Siddiqi welcomed the opportunity to talk to the guests and acknowledged a strong presence of Muslims in the exhibit reception.

Dr. Aziz Siddiqi said that throughout the Islamic history Muslims have always provided protection to the oppressed. Whenever persecution was carried out against Jews whether it was in Spain, Albania or anywhere else, Muslims were in the forefront to save the lives of innocent Jews. He also cited other examples of Muslims helping Non-Muslims from persecution in other parts of the world. He said, “Muslims practice what they preach” and quoted the Ayah (Verse) of Quran: “……………….And whoever saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the entire people…………..” Holy Quran, Chapter 005 Verse 032.

This Photographic Exhibition “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust Albania”, depicts about this European country with a Muslim majority, that succeeded where other European nations failed in dealing with Nazi Germany. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation – those of Albanian origin and refugees alike – were saved. In a five-year project, Colorado-based photographer Norman Gershman set out to collect the names of righteous, non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. He discovered that some of the names were of Albanian Muslims. He then began a quest to meet and photograph the Albanian rescuers or their descendents. During his interviews, when he asked why they had rescued Jews, the resounding response was “Besa” the code of honor deeply rooted in Albanian culture and incorporated in the faith of Albanian Muslims. As Gershman later would explain, “There was no government conspiracy, no underground railroad, no organized resistance of any kind – only individual Albanians, acting alone, to save the lives of people whose lives were in immediate danger. My portraits of these people, and their stories, are meant to reflect their humanity, their dignity, their religious and moral convictions, and their quiet courage.”

Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public. It is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline Street, Houston, Texas 77004. For more information about the Museum, visit www.hmh.org or call 713-942-8000.

The New Muslim Cool at ICNA Relief Iftar-&-Dinner

Picture O The Annual Iftar-&-Dinner organized by Islamic Circle of North America Relief (ICNA Relief) was held at Shahnai Restaurant Hillcroft, which was well attended.

Hamza Pérez, famously known as The New Muslim Cool, was the keynote presenter, who in a most emotional and motivational manner informed about the immense need and significance of humanitarian work at grassroots level in America, in which ICNA Relief is at the forefront. Present on the occasion were Ayub Badat, National Director of ICNA Relief; Haseeb Abdali, President of ICNA Houston; Saad Ansari, Director of ICNA Relief Texas; Dr. Aziz Siddiqi, President ISGH; Jaime Mujahid Fletcher, Founder & President of Islam in Spanish; Hashim Badat, Vice-President ISGH; Iqbal Badat Vice-President Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston (PAGH); and many others. A slide show of all the nationwide projects of ICNA Relief was presented with remarks by Ayub Badat.

ICNA Relief is one of the largest humanitarian services organizations of the Muslims, working solely in USA. At present in Baton Rouge Louisiana and Houston-Galveston Texas, ICNA Relief has received federal grants to provide services to those, who got affected by Hurricane Ike.

The major human and social services work of ICNA Relief at the domestic level in USA is being done only through the assistance provided by the Muslim Community of USA. It includes Emergency Financial Assistance (rent & utility bills assistance; family support; hunger prevention; immigration support and funeral services), Women Temporary Shelter Homes; Domestic Disaster Relief; Medical Clinics; Educational programs; and so on.

For more information and contributions, one can visit: www.ICNARelief.ORg

Rooftop Films has screened Jennifer Maytorena Taylor’s film New Muslim Cool, which chronicles the personal journey of Puerto-Rican American rapper Hamza Pérez. He ended life as a drug dealer 12 years ago, and started down a new path as a young Muslim. Now he’s moved to Pittsburgh’s tough North Side to start a new religious community, rebuild his shattered family, and take his message of faith to other young people through his uncompromising music as part of the hip-hop duo M-Team. But when the FBI raided his mosque, Hamza confronted the realities of the Post-9/11 world.

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