Convention Allows Alumni to Renew Ties with Aligarh University


The Houston organizers of the 14th Annual Convention of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations along with featured speakers, and their wives. From left: Ishrat Afreen, Ayesha and Shumsheer Sheriff, Director of Rajya Sabha in India; Federation President Perwaiz Jafri; Houston President Irfan Jafri; Pro-Vice Chancellor of AMU Syed Ahmad Ali; Padma Shri Prof. Akhtarul Wasey; Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish and Houston coordinator Latafath Hussain.
Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: Usually held by rotation in different cities in North America, the Bayou City was fortunate enough to once again be the host to the 14th Annual Convention of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations after an absence of just one year.

“It’s usually held according to city where the Federation president is from,” explained event coordinator Latafath Hussain, “and it just so happened that Perwaiz Jafri of Houston was selected this year.” The president for the 2013 convention was Houstonian Dr. Tahir  Hussain.

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Houston Association President Perwaiz Jafri receiving a momento photo of Strachey Hall at AMU from chief guest Pro-Vice Chancellor of AMU Syed Ahmad Ali

This year’s convention once again was held at the Crowne Plaza Houston River Oaks on the Southwest Freeway at Kirby and featured dinner catered by Mezban restaurant. The entertainment for the closing night featured ghazals by Monidipa Sharma, a well-known artist based in Torrance, California who flew in for the occasion and was appreciated by a rapt audience after dinner. She has sung before for the New England and Atlanta associations’ annual functions too.

Nearly a hundred delegates from across the city and the country attended this year’s event from June 12 through 14 and during the three days they discussed the state of each of the associations in the 15 cities in the US and Toronto, Canada. Conventioneers then heard reports on advancing educational opportunities for girls and women and  empowering women and establishing educational institutions for the underprivileged in India, spearheaded by a featured guest and speaker Padma Shri Prof. Akhtar Wasey, the Commissioner for Minorities in the Indian Government.

Activities for Saturday, June 13 ended with a banquet dinner followed by entertainment, when the delegates and guests heard from Wasey, the Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish and the chief guest, the retired Brigadier Syed Ahmad Ali who was elected as Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University three years ago by the University Board after he retired in 2012.

Ali is the second former military commander elected to the AMU leadership: the Vice Chancellor is retired Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah who attended the convention in 2013. “Since we have to be good administrators in the military,” explained Ali, “being recommended for the administration spot at a university is a natural fit.”

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Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish was a featured speaker at the closing night

The AMU was founded by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a reformer and Indian nationalist, who patterned the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College in 1875 after Oxford and Cambridge universities, in tune with British education but without compromising Islamic values. The MAO College became the AMU in 1920 and is now funded by the Government of India. Akhtar Wasey, who is a fiery orator, expanded on the secular vision of Sir Syed and how he had been ahead of the times in focusing on interfaith dialogue, even writing a commentary on the Bible.

AMU is spread over 1,180 acres; has 108 departments and 12 faculties and 38,000 students, 2,000 teachers and 7,000 support staff. “AMU is one of the largest universities in India and is the cheapest,” declared Ali. “It has been declared a Center of National Importance, along with Benares Hindu University and Delhi University.” AMU was the alma mater of India’s third President Dr. Zakir Hussain and has also generated other global political leaders. Ali continued that AMU has MOUs signed with four American universities: Mercer in Atlanta, Ohio State, South Carolina and Moorehouse and has some exchange students there.

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The closing night of the convention featured ghazals by Moni Dipa Sharma who flew in from California

“My one regret is that I didn’t study at AMU,” lamented Ali in his speech, “but it was a great feeling that I went there a week after I retired. We must take AMU to number 1 in India and into the top 20 universities in the world by 2020 and you can play a role in this.” He added that AMU offers women students great freedom of movement and study and will continue to promote their role, echoing the sentiments expressed by Vice Chancellor Shah two years ago.

Harish started his speech in Urdu, expressing his appreciation to the FAAA, later switching to English. He elaborated on the great capital India has invested in their educated class – engineers, doctors, technology graduates – who have immigrated to the US, saying over 30,000 come every year and only a few go back. He implored that established professionals, especially engineers, take a few months sabbatical from work to go and teach at the universities in India, which are short staffed.

The evening concluded with Lifetime Achievement Awards handed out by Ali to Shakeel Ansari, Habib Zubari, Latafath Hussain and Moosa Dakri. Dakri is the founder of Wallis State Bank who has donated generously for building a museum which bears his name at AMU and houses artifacts that were once scattered around the campus.