Far more than next-gen drones and Stealth bombers, America needs heroes like scholar Nouman Ali Khan and maths genius Salman Khan

Once upon a time, I used to be a movie buff. First day, first show type. But I gave up this addiction many moons back. When Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s blockbuster movie “My name is Khan” hit the cinemas in 2010, I was tempted to watch because of its subject: treatment of Muslims in the post 9/11 America. Despite my best effort, I could not. I read in reviews that it was about an Indian Muslim, Rizwan Khan (played by Shahrukh Khan), who faced hostile treatment in the US. And at some point he delivers a famous dialogue: “My name is Khan. And I am not a terrorist”.

But that was just a Bollywood thriller with a happy ending. In reality, since 9/11, many Khans are harassed at various US airports and elsewhere just because of “Muslim names”! So was Shahrukh Khan – both in his reel life and also in his real life. Besides, there are other Indian Khans/Muslims including senior ministers (and a former President of India) who are humiliated at various US airports for bearing Muslim names.

Over-commercialization of everything, including education, together with rapidly diminishing moral values are the biggest threats to our societies. But there are two American Khans – one originally from Pakistan and the other one having roots in Bangladesh – are adding enormous value to the US society and beyond. Both are true superstars in their own ways.

Nouman Ali Khan, originally from Pakistan, is bringing spirituality and morality back into the American society through his Bayyinah Institute. And Salman Khan, the son of a Bangladeshi father, is doing wonders by making math/science tutorials FREELY available to millions of American students through his Khan Academy. It is a co-incidence that the two Khans formally launched their respective projects in the same year – 2006.

Far more than next-gen Drones and Stealth Bombers, America needs folks who could replicate and scale-up the efforts and projects of these two Khans. If they had “commercial” bent of mind, the Khan duo could have easily earned hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. But selflessly serving the American society is at the heart of their efforts and projects.

Son of a senior Pakistani diplomat, Nouman Ali Khan was born in Berlin, Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall. His father’s job took him around the world including a stint in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Nouman Khan finally decided to study and settle down in the “land of big dreams”. He was a self-proclaimed atheist when he landed with his father in New York. But unlike other immigrants, his dream was never to make big-bucks out of America’s unlimited capitalist opportunities.

After leaving a well-paid Information Technology job and turning to his faith, Islam, Nouman Khan’s focus was to bring back religion-based ethics into American life. And he found the Book of God – The Qur’an – as the basic source for achieving his mission.

Nouman Khan founded Bayyinah in 2006, after serving as a professor of Arabic at Nassau Community College. His courses started reaching hundreds of millions, through YouTube, inside and outside the United States. More than 10,000 students have directly benefitted from his courses.

Bayyinah does not rely on ‘fund raisers’. Khan is confident that his school is good enough to sustain itself. “I want top notch,” he said in an interview to a Gulf daily. He pays his fulltime instructors salaries at par with those in Harvard, NYU or Columbia. Khan believes that if a program is good enough people will pay for it and it will continue to improve.

Nouman Khan believes, “Islam is not a set of rules. It’s a way of seeing life and the world.” In his view, people do not incorporate this concept into their children’s education. Children memorize ‘duaas,’ [supplications] ‘surahs’ [Qur’anic chapters] and learn what’s ‘fardh’ [obligatory] and what’s ‘haraam’ [prohibited]. This distant and uninvolved relationship with Allah is not enough. We must transform their personalities.” Obviously, the Wall Street has no interest in religion or even ethics. This is why, this Khan and his esteemed venture have not been valued in billions!

Nouman Khan argues that “the way we introduce Islam to our families needs a fundamental change. We must teach them morality, courtesy, responsibility. We are not empowering our children with these principles. Doesn’t matter whether you are living in Saudi Arabia or America; the opportunity to do the wrong thing is there, but so is the opportunity to teach the right thing.”

Nouman Khan has widely travelled across the world for his lecture series. The fifth edition of The 500 Most Influential Muslims listed this American Khan as one of the most influential Muslims in the world. Bayyinah Campus was founded in 2010close to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on a leased space of over 11,000 square feet. Bayyinah TV is the latest offering from this brilliant American Khan.

The other American Khan – Salman – aims at “changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” Born on 11 October 1976 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Khan earned an engineering degree from MIT and MBA from Harvard, working initially at a hedge fund. But since 2006 he has been using the power of technology to educate our coming generations without charging them any fee. With his outstanding academic credentials and superb scientific mind, this Khan could have easily used his talent and knowledge to produce Drones for killing innocent civilians around the work – and pocketed billions on the way. But he did not. Because he is not a terrorist!

Although Salman has truly and massively revolutionized the way we provide education to our coming generations, I have slight disagreement with his “free” claim. Sure, it is free for the users of his services – which is awesome. But there is nothing free in life. Someone, somewhere is paying for those services.

Recognizing the outstanding social service (and value) of Salman’s work, Khan Academy’s financial supporters include Google, Bank of America, Bill Gates and a dozen more. They are footing the bill of those “free services”. This funding support does not, in any way, diminish Khan’s path breaking educational initiative.

Salman Khan has produced more than 4,800 video lessons from a small office in his home teaching a wide spectrum of academic subjects, mainly focusing mathematics and the sciences. As of 23 June 2014, the Khan Academy channel on YouTube attracted 1,797,365 subscribers and videos have been viewed over 413 million times. In March 2011, Salman Khan was invited to speak at TED by Bill Gates who says he uses the Khan Academy Exercise Software to teach his own children.

In 2012, Time named Salman Khan in its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Forbes magazine featured Khan on its cover with the story “$1 Trillion Opportunity.” This is where Khan is quite un-American! If he was a Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Jan Kaum (WhatsApp) he would have been rolling in money (and Lamborghini or Bugatti). But his objective is purely to earn the “highest social return that one could ever get”. This is where probably his faith overtakes his nationality! He is a Khan. But he too is not a terrorist.

Postscript: There is another Indian Khan whom I happen to know for a long time. He has less than 1% of Nauman Khan’s morality and knowledge; and less than 1% of Salman Khan’s intellect and brilliance. But three years before these two American Khans launched their commendable ventures, this unknown Indian Khan endeavored to combine and institutionalize the vision of the two American Khans.

Consequently, a modest effort in a small Indian town has been underway since 2003 The objective of this initiative is to produce world-class professionals (scientists, entrepreneurs, technocrats, lawyers etc.) who are also expected to have strong ethical grounding embedded in Islamic values. This is the world’s lowest fees IB World School; and this is Eurasia’s first Islamic-IB continuum school. Since I personally know this Khan well, I can confirm two things: (A) there is no Google or Bill Gates or any other third party funding for this not-for-profit school and (B) he too is not a terrorist!

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