Young Ismaili Achievers: An Interview with Zul Kapadia

Mrs. Seema Kapadia and son Zul, in his younger days, pictured with President Obama when he was not yet in the White House. Photo: Sadruddin Noorani.

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. 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. The interview with Zahra was published recently (see link below). The following interview is with Zul.  He was born in Chicago, Illinois, on November 19, 1990. His heritage includes roots from both Pakistan and India. He is currently a Sophomore at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he is majoring in Political Science and Chinese Language and Culture.

Noorani: Tell us something about the role of your parents and family in your upbringing and attitude to life?

Zul with his dad and mum, Dr. Kapadia and Mrs. Seema Kapadia

Zul: My parents and family have given me the foundation that I stand on. My father is a genial, charismatic, and honest man who lives a care-free life. All of his life he’s been working for the community, even before he, himself, had settled down completely. From day one, he’d offer free medical care to anyone. I remember sitting down for family dinners at Pizza Hut, and his patients would come up to him and not once did he complain. I can only hope that some of that just rubbed off on me. My mom is fierce and dedicated, while at the same time loving and supportive. She pushed both my brother and I to work hard. She used to joke that either we study or we make “roti” with her. She doesn’t know it, but she’d put us in quite the logical paradoxes, to the point where it wouldn’t make sense for us to do anything but study. And my brother, Sameer, has always been my companion and fellow-schemer. When I was a child, he would take me to all of his friends houses because he never wanted to leave his younger brother alone; this becoming complicated especially with our 4 year age difference. 

Noorani: What are some of your major accomplishments?

Zul: My accomplishments, outside of community service, include my extracurricular activities like tae kwon do, football, sailing, speech and debate, to name a few. I started Tae-Kwon-Do when I was 5 years old, where I currently hold a black belt. For football, I was on the A team every year. In sailing, I attended the Junior Olympics tournament with my high school team. But the dearest of all activities was speech and debate, where I was fortunate to be nationally recognized multiple times. I was the captain of my high school team when we were bestowed the honor of the best debate team in the Nation at the national final tournament. Academicaly, I have won many honours including being named an Illinois Scholar and winning acclaim in the National French Contest.

Zul Kapadia and President Schapiro of Northwestern University. Photo: Kapadia family

Now at Northwestern, I have made the Dean’s List for every quarter that I have been here. Last year, I took 3rd place at the Chinese Speech and Talent Competition. I most recently won a best attorney award at the National Silver Mock Trial tournament, continuing my interest in Speech. To bring it full circle, I was also selected to be a Posner Fellow where I was able to combine my academic interests with my service work.

With this fellowship, I worked on a cross-national immigration study looking at how institutions integrate different minority groups into society in the areas of politics, health, education, and law enforcement. For my work helping different communities, I was given the community service award by the Asian American Coalition.

Noorani:  Tell us something more about your attitude to faith.

Zul: I was born an Ismaili, Muslim, I was educated in Catholic and Jesuit Schools, I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, and some of the most inspirational mentors of my life have been Hindu and Buddhist. While in the world at large, many see these different religions as factions that are diametrically opposed to each other – all of these faiths are a part of me in one person. Faith is about living a good life and trusting in God. In this life, we have everything we need to do good; this is one goal.

Through faith, I believe we are trying to find some connection to those around us. To find some who understands our struggles and to come to the ultimate conclusion that we are not alone. In Chinese, this philosophy is called zhi. However, the idea that faith is a way to connect to others is manifested in every religion. Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tartovsky, in his film Nostalghia, has one of his characters pose the question, “What does 1+1 equal?” Naturally most are inclined to say 2, but that is wrong. 1 + 1 equals a bigger 1. Think of two droplets of water, if you add them, they make a bigger one. This is what I think faith is about, its about becoming a part of something bigger than yourself. My attitude toward faith and life is to work to bring people together, to work for our own unification for our own benefit, and to be closer to something greater than ourselves.

Noorani: With Facebook, Twitter and texting, how do you manage your time, and how or where do you draw the line?

Zul: I haven’t ever been really that big on Facebook or texting, and I don’t have a Twitter account. I’ve always enjoyed person-to-person interactions, talking, and meeting people. I always prefer a phone call to texting or a Facebook message, and I’d always rather meet someone than a phone conversation. I guess I’m old-fashioned.

Noorani: What about socializing and friends?

Zul: I think socializing and making friends is what makes everything we do special. I want to share my work and time. I always try my best to collaborate with others and get tons of outside input. So, I’d guess I say that it’s a priority.

Noorani: In the wake of new realities that we find today – social networks, technical advancements – what is your advice to the Ismaili youth?

Zul: Live a balanced life. We are in this material world, but never forget the wisdom of our elders. For example, in my own life my grandparents and Dineshbhai have been instrumental in teaching me ethics, values, and moral from their own lives. It is from their wisdom I have begun to understand bits and pieces of my role in the world.

Do good, live a spiritual life, and live with compassion. Our accomplishments mean nothing if we do not share them, or they are earned at the expense of someone else. Simply, work hard not only for your immediate goals, but in developing your relationships and even yourself.

Noorani: What do you wish to accomplish in life and what are your career aspirations?

Kapadia's recommended movie, "Nostalghia," is the poetic expression of the spiritual soul

Zul: I hope in life I can work with people and be a part of a community that does good. The career will follow that goal. Right now I’m open to learning and just understanding the world around me. In essence, I aspire to be the best person that I can be.

Noorani: Tell us one book and a movie that you would recommend everyone to read and watch? What about our sports teams in the NBA, NHL, the football and baseball leagues? Any heroes, in particular?

Zul: A book that I really enjoyed is Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater. As for a movie, I’d recommend Andrei Tartovsky’s Nostalghia. For sports, I hope everyone watched the cricket World-Cup semi-finals between India and Pakistan. Whether you are interested in cricket or not, this was definitely a match to watch.

Noorani: Thank you very much and many congratulations for the recent award. Any final thoughts?

Zul: Just one. The awards would not have been possible without the support of my mom. I want to dedicate all of my accomplishments to her because she really deserves it. I’m very happy to have her by my side.

Date reading posted on Simerg: April 12, 2011


Next: Serena Taj

Also please see: Young Ismaili Achievers – An Interview with Zahra Lalani


About the interviewer: Mr. Sadruddin Noorani is 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 fund raising events. Full profile in interview with Zahra Lalani.


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5 thoughts on “Young Ismaili Achievers: An Interview with Zul Kapadia

  1. Ya Ali Madad

    The Kapadia family is very pleased with you. Keep it up and may Allah fulfill all your wishes.

  2. Ya Ali Madad,

    My name is Raheel from Dhaka. Many many congratulations to you, keep it up! You are an inspiration to Ismaili youth. May Mawla bless you. Amen.

  3. That’s like my Ismaili bachaa– keep it up and make your parents, the Imam and the community proud!!!!!

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