INTRODUCTION: Three Ismaili Youth with roots from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India were recipients of a prestigious Award in the State of Illinois, USA, for their academic achievements and community services. The Award event, which was organized by the Asian American Coalition of Chicago, has been held for several years and is traditionally regarded as the single largest organized annual event in Chicago’s Asian American community. This year’s gala, held on February 26, 2011, at the Hyatt Regency, Rosemont, Illinois, had the theme of “One Vision, Many Voices,” and was attended by a large number of Ismailis and members of the Asian community. State and diplomatic guests included Jesse White (Secretary of State), Judy Baar – Topinka (State Comptroller), the Hon. Consul Generals of India and Pakistan in Chicago, Mukta Tomar and Zaheer Pervaiz Khan respectively.
I. ZAHRA LALANI
Simerg asked Mr. Sadruddin Noorani of Chicago to interview Zahra Lalani, Serena Taj and Zul Kapadia about their motivations, faith, aspirations and interest as well as to reflect on Social Networking and other topics. We begin with (Ms) Zahra Fatima Lalani, 16, Senior, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire, Illinois. She was the recipient of the Pakistani American Community “Youth Who Excel Award.” Zahra was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Amiruddin and Shariffa Lalani, originally from Pakistan.
Noorani: Tell us something about the role of your parents in your upbringing and attitude to life?
Zahra: My parents have influenced me in many ways, both spiritually and academically. Academically, they encourage me to work diligently and strive to be the best. Both my parents were educated in the United States and in Pakistan. Knowing the value of education, they want both my sister and me to get the best education. They always emphasize to me to take the most out of every opportunity that comes my way. Thus, my parent’s involvement in my life is my constant motivation. They are always cheering me on at badminton tournaments, band concerts, and provide support in all my endeavors. I have a sister, Salima, who is a role model. She works hard to achieve her goals. I consider myself truly blessed to be born and raised in such a positive environment. I have always heard my dad say that “one person can make a difference.” These words have stayed with me from a very young age and have inspired me to become an elementary school teacher.
I became involved with Jamati activities from a very young age, which has helped me realize the importance of service to others. I attended the REC (Religious Education Center) every Saturday so that I could learn more about my faith and enhance my religious knowledge. Every Sunday morning, my family would have discussions about various religious topics; my parents would discuss topics that would enlighten me to explore my faith more and to find answers to many of my questions. My parents have taught me to have a balanced life, to always try to attend Jamatkhana regularly, to never take my faith light-heartedly and to lead an ethical life.
Noorani: What are some of your major accomplishments?
Zahra: Some of my biggest accomplishments include winning the State Science Fair competition two years in a row in junior high school, becoming a Ginan class teacher at age nine, and winning various awards through my involvement in sports and the school band. I was on my junior high school’s volleyball and basketball teams, and in high school, became a part of the badminton team. Last year, I had an undefeated record playing as the number one singles player on the Junior Varsity team. I also won 1st place at the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board Regional and National Sports Tournament 2010, for Women’s Badminton Singles. I am also involved in many extra-curricular activities in school, such as being in the Marching Band, Student Council, and Interact Club. Currently, I am the President of Interact Club, which is a community service club at my high school. Also this year, I received the “Youth Who Excel Award” from the Asian American Coalition of Chicago, for excellence in my studies and community service efforts.
Noorani: You mentioned earlier about the importance of leading a balanced life. Tell us something more about your attitude to faith.
Zahra: My faith has played a key role in my life, both academically and spiritually. I believe that without my faith I would be nowhere. I turn to my faith in times of happiness and in times of trouble and consider it to be a guiding light. As an Ismaili, I follow my Imam’s guidance, who asks us to work hard in school, take part in physical activities, and follow the ethics of Islam. Also, volunteering has been a part of my life since a very young age. I began volunteering when I was 6 at Northlake Jamatkhana as a uniformed volunteer, where I served water to elderly jamati members and worked at the shoe stand. My volunteering efforts expanded as I grew older. I joined service clubs in high school, and eventually became the President of Stevenson High School’s Interact Club by my junior year. For the past few years, I have been receiving the Presidential Service Award for completing over 100 community service hours a year. Volunteering is a great way to spend time with friends and meet new people through different activities. It also feels great to help out the community and know that you’re making a difference in the world, whether big or small, affecting thousands of people or just one. It is an importance facet of the ethic of my faith.
Noorani: With Facebook, Twitter and texting, how do you manage your time, and how or where do you draw the line?
Zahra: I only use Facebook for school purposes, in order to contact Interact Club members about upcoming service events, or communicating with my freshmen from the advisory that I lead. I know my studies come first, so I try to minimize my time on Facebook or email. However, during the weekends or during my free-time, I don’t hesitate to visit Facebook and chat with my friends. It is a great way to keep contact with people I don’t see often at school. My use of Facebook during the week decreases with the amount of homework I receive. If I have tests or quizzes the next day, I make sure not to go on Facebook. Like I said, studies come first; Facebook can wait until the next day. I don’t have a Twitter nor do I text often, so social networking is not too much of a hindrance in my daily life.
Noorani: Do your parents and family members get annoyed when you are texting while they are talking to you?
Zahra: My texting is very minimal. I don’t text when my parents and I are having a conversation. Having my phone around is a disturbance to our quality family time. Texting while my parents are talking is, to me, a little rude, and they deserve more respect than that. Nothing is SO important in a text that can’t wait until later, so why disrespect my parents and upset them at the moment?
Noorani: What about socializing and friends?
Zahra: I spend a lot of time with my friends. We see each other in school and occasionally meet up for lunch over the weekends. We do many service projects and fundraisers together, such as Relay for Life and Project Dance, two events that we have been a part of during our four years in high school. My friends know about Jamatkhana and my involvement in Jamati activities, and are very understanding about my commitments. We do many of our activities and have our gatherings during the day in order for me to still be able to attend Jamatkhana.
Noorani: In the wake of new realities that we find today – social networks, technical advancements – what is your advice to Ismaili youth?
Zahra: My advice to Ismaili youth is to get involved as much as possible. It’s great to try new things, and once you find out what you’re good at, go after it and excel in it. Whether it is in sports, music, art, or anything else, pursue it with all your effort and become the best at it. However, it is also important to keep a balance between the social aspect of life and the Jamati and religious aspect. My biggest advice to the youth: push yourself to the limit, because the happiness you will feel from achieving a difficult task is worth all the pain endured during the process. Also, get your parents involved in your life, be it academic, sports, extra curricular activities or jamati activities. A strong family bond has contributed to my success and I feel that it is an important aspect of my life.
Noorani: What do you wish to accomplish in life and what are your career aspirations?
Zahra: In the future, I want to pursue a degree in elementary education. I would like to start teaching in the United States, and after a few years, begin teaching outside of the country, Inshallah in the Aga Khan Academies. Working in one of the Aga Khan Academies is a long-term goal, however, I am willing to work hard in order to complete this aspiration. I also want to come back and teach REC after I receive my undergraduate degree. I will be able to put all of my knowledge and resources into REC and give back to the Jamati community.
Noorani: Tell us one book and a movie that you would recommend everyone to read and watch?
Zahra: One book I would recommend everyone to read is Paradise Lost by John Milton. Paradise Lost is a great book and it’s very engaging. It brings out a new perspective on the age-old story of Adam and Eve. A movie that I recently watched and enjoyed is the King’s Speech. It is an inspirational movie that reinforced the idea that determination and perseverance can take a person a long way.
Noorani: What about our sports teams in the NBA, NHL, the football and baseball leagues?
Zahra: I am a HUGE basketball fan. My parents and I support the Bulls all the way! We enjoy watching basketball at home and especially enjoy watching the Bulls games. We’re enjoying this season a lot more since the Bulls are on a winning streak. Hopefully, the Bulls will win the NBA Finals this year!
Date reading posted on Simerg: April 5, 2011
This interview for Simerg was conducted by Sadruddin Noorani (pictured at left), a member of the American Asian community in Chicago, Illinois, where he serves on a voluntary basis in community based organizations and government advisory councils. His services to the American Asian community have earned him recognition from the Cities of Chicago and Houston and other parts of the USA. Mr. Noorani is also an active member in the Aga Khan Foundation USA’s Annual Partnership Walk in Chicago. He served as its Regional Coordinator from July 1998 to October 2002 and has been a core committee member for the Walk and the Foundation’s Golf event since 2003. Professionally, he is a legal and medical interpreter; he speaks and writes in Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu as well as has undertsanding of numerous other South Asian dialects and languages. One of his major interests outside his professional and voluntary engagements is collecting stamps and First Day Covers related to the activities of the Ismaili Imamat.
Simerg would like to record the interest Mr. Noorani has taken in community affairs, especially the youth. His enthusiasm (and sincerity) in bringing to our attention the accomplishments of the three young Ismaili achievers in Chicago has been appreciated. We welcome similar initiatives from other individuals, wherever they may be located. Please write to us at Simerg@aol.com.
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