Submitted by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed
Since 9/11, the social and political environment in America has noticeably turned antagonistic to Islam and Muslims. Most Americans just do not know the significant contributions made by Muslim Americans to the cultural, artistic, scientific and political life of the country. As a service to the community, the Encyclopedia of Islamic History invites nominations of prominent Americans of Muslim faith, past and present, who have made a difference to American life. The nominations should be brief, not more than one typewritten page and should be about men and women who have left their imprint on the American society at large, not just the Muslim community.
We are starting here with the first few nominations that have been received.
An Inspiration to all American Youth
This is truly an American story, indeed a human story, of daunting courage, determination and triumph against heavy odds.
What makes a person an inspiration to an entire generation? Is it scholarship and knowledge? Is it service to fellow man? Is it achievement in the sciences, the arts or public life? Is it saintly character? Is it courage? Is it perseverance? Indeed, we extol all of these virtues in human beings and when a person distinguishes himself in any of these areas we hold up such a person as an example for others to emulate.
Do you know any American Muslim who is ranked with John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Nelson Rockefeller, Elvis Presley and Howard Hughes? Atif Moon, a young man of 22 is not a billionaire like Rockefeller. He does not head up a major corporation nor is he close to a president of the United States. Yet his life is a profile in courage, every bit as inspiring as the life of John Kennedy or Howard Hughes. In 2009 he was named one of the ten outstanding young Americans by the United States Chamber of Commerce. This puts him squarely in the company of these illustrious Americans.
Atif lives with his parents in Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. As an infant, at the tender age of one month, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the spinal cord and was given no chance of survival. A series of surgeries saved his life but left him paralyzed from the waist down. Further surgical procedures when he was 13, 15 and 16 stabilized his spinal cord but the paralysis of the lower part of his body persisted.
Atif’s father, Munir Moon, an American of Pakistani origin, did not give up hope. Neither did his supportive American born wife Helen, who is well known in the Los Angeles area for her selfless service to the community. Determined that their son should live as normal a life as possible, they encouraged Atif to learn and to take up sports. At the age of 5 he entered a 5 K wheelchair competition. With the encouragement of his father, he took up tennis and excelled in it. Undaunted by his handicap, Atif practiced, improved each passing day, week by week, month by month, year after year. He won a major tournament at the age of 10 and is currently ranked among the top seven Junior Wheelchair Tennis players in the United States.
Atif attended the excellent schools in the Palos Verdes Peninsula and then went to study at the University of California at Los Angeles, earning a BA in Business Economics. His perspicacity, determination, perseverance, positive attitude, and dynamic ebullient personality made him a star employee at some of the major corporations in America. He worked for NBC in a position similar to one occupied at one time by the likes of Ted Koppel. He was an intern at the White House and has worked as a promotion manager for the Los Angeles Kings hockey team.
As a co-founder of the Center for Global Understanding, Atif Moon has provided stipends to young Muslim men and women to take up internships with the US Congress and the White House so that they understand the dynamics of American politics and become contributing leaders of a resurgent America.
Atif Moon has been the recipient of numerous awards. His recognition as one of the ten most outstanding young Americans by the US Chamber of Commerce is only one of them. The award is noteworthy because it is one of the oldest and most prestigious awards in America for promising young men and women.
Cancer did not get Atif down. Paralysis of his lower body did not get him down. Recurrent surgeries did not get him down. Even though he sits in a wheelchair, he stands tall, towering like a giant, in the minds of aspiring men and women. The Encyclopedia of Islamic History salutes him as a model of courage, determination, and triumph in the face of adversity as an outstanding model for young men and women everywhere. He is our first entry for 100 Muslim Americans who have made a difference and have contributed to American life. And we salute his parents, Munir and Helen Moon for their dedication, forbearance, patience, and loving care of a son who was given little chance of survival at birth but who has now blossomed into an inspirational figure for persons with disability all over the globe.
Dr. Fazlur Khan
An engineering legend, father of the Sears Tower (Chicago) and the World Trade Center (New York)
Can you name the engineer whose work made possible the construction of skyscrapers like the Sears Tower in Chicago, the World Trade Center in New York, the Jin Mao building in Shanghai and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai? Would it surprise you that it was an American Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, Dr. Fazlur Khan, who was the brain behind the structural engineering that made possible these buildings? Indeed, Dr. Fazlur has been called the “Einstein” of structural engineering, “the most innovative structural engineer of the twentieth century”. He was the man whose innovations made possible the erection of skyscrapers that literally talk to the heavens.
Fazlur Khan was born in what is today Bangladesh in 1929. After earning a Bachelor’s degree from the Bengal College of Engineering, he proceeded to study at the University of Illinois from where he earned a Master degree in Structural Engineering, as well as an advanced degree in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics and a PhD in Structural Engineering in 1955.
Dr. Khan was the inventor of the tubular design for skyscrapers. In non-technical language the problem is this: skyscrapers are limited in height because of lateral loads (shear loads) from wind pressures and ground movements due to earthquakes. The issues are similar to that faced by engineers who designed the space shuttle. The acoustic loads (due to the ‘noise’ of the launch) generate enormous stresses in the skin of the spacecraft. To accommodate the loads, the skin thickness must increase, which in turn makes the spacecraft enormously heavy. Similarly, in a tall building, support structures are required to take up the loads due to winds, which in a hurricane can be as high as 200 miles per hour or more. In the older, rigid frame constructions, interior steel bracings were used to carry these loads. This in turn, increased the weight of steel used and consumed internal space that could otherwise be used for business and residence. This was the design used in the construction of buildings such as the Empire State Building, completed in 1931.
Dr. Khan’s innovation was to use a tubular design to carry lateral loads. In a tube structural system the outer walls of the buildings are reinforced and used to carry the lateral loads, thereby reducing the requirements for internal bracing. An analogy is that of a bamboo tree. Prior to the introduction of reinforced concrete structures, bamboo was widely used as construction material in earthquake prone regions of the world, such as Japan. Bamboo is an excellent material because the outer walls of the bamboo are naturally reinforced by overlapping fibers both in the circular and longitudinal directions (called orthotropic material in engineering language) and the length of the bamboo is further reinforced by periodic natural “knots”. Theses natural reinforcements enable a bamboo tree to withstand enormous loads. For instance, it is not uncommon for a bamboo tree that has a trunk of no more than four inches diameter to grow to a height of more than fifty feet. This gives an impressive length to diameter ratio (L/D ratio) of more than 150.
In a similar manner, in Dr. Khan’s tubular design, the walls of a skyscraper are reinforced so that they carry the loads to wind and soil movements during earthquakes. Each floor becomes analogues to the “knots” in a bamboo tree. A skyscraper can then be built up like a stack of tubes one on top of the other, much like a bamboo tree, each tube acting like a cantilever to take up the lateral loads. The amount of steel used in this type of construction is less than half that in the older, rigid frame steel constructions.
Dr. Khan invented many variations of the tubular design such as bundled tubes, trussed tubes and framed tubes. These concepts enabled the construction of some of the tallest buildings in the world including the Sears Tower in Chicago, John Hancock Center in Chicago, US Bank Center in Wisconsin, the World Trade Center in New York and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. As an example, the amount of steel used in the Burj Khalifa which is currently the tallest building in the world is only half that was used in the Empire State Building. In addition, Dr. Khan’s innovations took the design of tall buildings from engineering to art, opening up vast areas of further research for structural designers and architects. If Shanghai presents a more “modern” look than say, London, the credit goes in no small measure to the innovations advanced by Dr. Khan. The landmarks and the landscapes of some of the major cities of the world are defined by Dr. Khan’s architectural concepts.
Dr. Khan was honored by his colleagues for his contributions. In 1973, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In 1972 he was named the Construction Man of the Year. He was honored by President Obama when the President referred to Dr. Khan’s contributions in his address to students at Cairo University in 2009. Dr. Khan passed away in 1982.
Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr
If there is one scholar in the contemporary world who has been consistent in explaining the spiritual dimension of Islamic learning in the context of its dialectic with western thought and the physical sciences, it is Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr. He stands in the scholarly lineage of Allama Iqbal and Dr. Ali Shariati. Whereas Ali Shariati was a philosopher of protest and Allama Iqbal was a philosopher of reform and reconstruction, Professor Nasr is a philosopher of understanding and reconciliation. He is as American as he is Iranian and Muslim; indeed he is a universal man, respected around the world.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr was born in Iran in 1933 to a family of scholars. His father Seyyed Valiallah Nasr was a physician to the royal family of Persia. The name Seyyed connotes that his blood line relates him to the Prophet’s family. The title Nasr means helper and it was conferred upon Dr. Nasr’s grandfather by the royal family for his helping, healing and curing of “an-Nas”, the common people.
The Nasr household was a veritable visitor’s gallery for the scholars of the age. Seyyed Hossein Nasr absorbed the wisdom and the intellectual vibrations from the many scholars who graced his father’s house.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr was sent to America in 1946 for his education. Completing his high school at the prestigious The Peddle School, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated with honors in physics and then obtained a Masters degree in geophysics. However, a deep thirst for inner knowledge of the truth beckoned him and he enrolled into a PhD program at Harvard University in the History of Science and Philosophy. It was here that the intellectual horizons of Dr. Nasr opened up. He studied with the renowned professors Giorgio Di Santillana, George Sarton, Bernard Cohen, Hamilton Gibb and Harry Wolfson. He was deeply influenced by the writings of Frithjof Schuon and Titus Burckhardt and the Singhalese metaphysician Ananda Coomaraswamy. While still a student he traveled widely through Europe and North Africa, receiving the blessings of tasawwuf from the Sufi saint Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi of Morocco. This unique exposure to some of the greatest metaphysical and spiritual minds of the age in the east and the west, on top of a basic training in the physical and positivistic sciences, prepared Dr. Nasr for his lifelong pursuit of an amalgamation of Islamic and western sciences.
While at Harvard, Dr. Nasr’s treatise, “Science and Civilization in Islam” which was the first scholarly work that demonstrated with historical evidence how spirituality was integrated with the physical sciences in the classical age of Islam.
Dr. Nasr returned to his homeland in 1958 and held several teaching positions at the University of Tehran and also taught at Harvard University and at the American University of Beirut. In 1972 he was appointed the President of Aryameher University. In this position, he worked tirelessly with well known scholars such as William Chittick, Sachiko Murata and Houston Smith to seek a synthesis of Islamic learning with the philosophies of the east and the west. He also wrote extensively on Sufism, Persian literature and Islamic art while attending discourses with traditional scholars at Qum.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 intervened. Dr. Nasr was forced out of his position and his vast collection of books, including several unique volumes he had inherited from his grandfather, was confiscated (only some of those books were returned years later to Dr. Nasr). Professor Nasr migrated again to the United States, finally settling down in the Washington, DC area as University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University.
Perhaps no other American scholar has written as extensively on Islamic metaphysics, spirituality and art as has Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr. From his first work, Science and Civilization in Islam, to his latest work, Islam and the Plight of Modern Man, Dr. Nasr has woven together a vast tapestry of knowledge, integrating philosophy, metaphysics, Sufism, art, culture and tradition with positivistic knowledge. He has lectured at renowned centers of learning around the world including Harvard University, Princeton University, Fordham University, University of Utah, University of Southern California, University of Toronto, Georgetown University, New York University as well as universities in Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia.
Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr is truly a citizen of the world. Despite his achieving scholarly heights, and perhaps because of it, he is a very humble, extremely personable human being, always accessible to his students and to aspiring scholars who seek him out. His is truly an inspiring American story. America would not be the same without him.
Sayed Amjad Hussain, MD, FRCSC, FACS
A perfect example of a renaissance man, Dr. S. Amjad Hussain has distinguished himself in such diverse disciplines as medicine, journalism, literature, art and photography. Through his philanthropy, his community involvement, and his social activism, he has made many invaluable contributions to the common good. He has been an effective and influential voice in familiarizing Americans with a progressive view of Islam as a religion of tolerance and peace.
Dr. Hussain’s distinguished medical career has earned him national and international recognition. Among the many honors he has received are the Distinguished Citizenship Award of the Medical College of Ohio, the Award of Distinction of the Toledo Surgical Society, the Lifetime Achievement Award of Khyber Medical College, and the Meritorious Gold Medal Award of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America. The University of Toledo has recognized him by naming a lecture series in his honor (The S. Amjad Hussain Annual Lecture in the History of Medicine) and establishing the S. Amjad Hussain Endowed Professorship in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. He has served as President of the Academy of Medicine of Toledo and Lucas County and currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Toledo.
Dr. Hussain is the author of 10 books — in English and Urdu, over 50 papers in medical and scientific journals, and over 400 newspaper and magazine articles dealing with history, religion, culture, literature, and art. He is an accomplished calligrapher and his photographs have graced calendars and magazine covers. Since 1995 he has contributed an informative and thought-provoking biweekly op-ed column to The Blade, and he currently acts as editor of Toledo Medicine: The Journal of the Academy of Medicine of Toledo and Lucas County. He serves on the Board of Trustees of WGTE Public Broadcasting and has generously supported many of its cultural and educational programs.
As a tireless advocate of inter-religious dialog, Dr. Hussain has been a most valuable voice in bringing about a better understanding of Islam. He was a major contributor to the building of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, served as its president, and participated in establishing its visiting scholars program. He also was a major contributor to a fund that established the Imam A.M. Khattab Chair in Islamic Studies at the University of Toledo and served on the search committee charged with filling that position. He is the founder and editor of The Alternate Voice, a publication that has greatly contributed to fostering an understanding of Islam as a progressive religion that embraces ijtehad and responds effectively to prevailing conditions.
In addition to being a talented writer, he is a charismatic speaker who has participated in many forums dedicated to interfaith and inter-religious understanding. Dr. Hussain has been and continues to be a prime example of a devout Muslim who has devoted his many talents to the betterment of all human beings. His contributions to the common good will have a lasting impact on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed
Principal Engineer, Hubble Space Telescope
Is there is an American Muslim contribution to the Hubble Space Telescope? Indeed, there is, and a significant one.
The Hubble is arguably the most precise astronomical instrument built in the twentieth century. It looks at the very edge of the known universe in the visible to UV spectrum and gazes at stars of magnitude 8. The photographs it has taken of the heavens have been awe inspiring and have expanded human horizons, providing deep insights into the origins of our known universe.
The Hubble is a system of systems. Every system is state of the art. During its conceptualization and construction, each one of its systems required engineering innovation. No single person can take credit for this great human achievement. But there were engineers and scientists from many disciplines, most of them American, who contributed to it. Among them were some very prominent American Muslims.
Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, an American Muslim engineer of Indian origin, was responsible for the conceptualization, design, assembly and testing of the Secondary Mirror Assembly at the Perkin Elmer Corporation from 1979 to 1982. His ideas made possible diffraction limited performance for a mirror that was ground to 1/600th of the wavelength of light in the visible.
The Hubble is a system of mirrors, ground and aligned to unimaginable accuracy and precision, which looks at the heavens, collects light in the visible spectrum from objects of interests, and integrates it for 8 hours. The optical, structural, thermal, electrical and guidance systems that make this possible are the most advanced in industry. The grinding, support systems and figure control of the large 2.4m mirror are well known. What is less known is the polishing and support of the secondary mirror which is equally critical.
While the 2.4m primary mirror is polished to 1/70th of a wavelength of light, the 14inch secondary mirror is polished to 1/700th of a wavelength of light, almost ten times more precise than the large mirror. It is so precise that if a person walks into the room where this mirror is kept, the shape of the mirror changes just from the breathing of the person.
The scientific challenge was to support this mirror in the telescope assembly so that the stresses during the space shuttle launch and the variations in temperature during operations in space did not change the figure of this mirror. Dr. Ahmed was the scientist who designed, implemented, tested and installed this support system. Using flexures in a three point mount system and a secondary support structure at the back of the secondary mirror, he minimized the distortions induced in the mirror due to the support systems and achieved a performance not attainable with any proposed alternate systems.
Dr. Ahmed was also responsible for the advanced composites that were used in the metering truss and the focal plane structures. These large structures were fabricated at Boeing to the specifications developed by Dr. Ahmed. The technologies that he developed were so advanced that they were later used by the US Air Force in some of the systems which were still under development at the time.
As a brief introduction, Dr. Nazeer Ahmed was born into a very humble family in the princely state of Mysore, India in 1939. A brilliant student, he was the first rank in the entire state of Mysore and secured the Maharaja of Mysore Gold Medal. In 1961 he entered the California Institute of Technology as an Institute scholar, earning two graduate degrees, MS and AeE degrees in Aeronautics. While at Caltech he worked on the characterization of solid propellant rocket fuels. In 1964 and 1965 he worked in Huntsville, Alabama on the Saturn and Apollo missions as well as on the Lunar Land Rover. Later, he earned a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University and an MBA from Rider University. Over the years Dr. Ahmed contributed to many DoD projects of national importance.
Dr. Ahmed is a scientist, historian, legislator and philanthropist. He is the author of the Encyclopedia of Islamic History (www.historyofislam.com). In 1978 he was honored by his election to the Legislative Assembly in Bangalore. His two volume study, Islam in Global History, was published by Suhail Academy, Lahore, Pakistan and was translated and published in Urdu by the Urdu Academy of Bangalore. He has translated the Qur’an into American English, published by Salam Foundation, India. He is an inventor and holds 12 United States patents, many in advanced composites. The charities he founded, Rank Nazeer Saheb charities in Bangalore, India, have given out millions in scholarships to poor children and have built numerous schools, mosques, and Iddgahs, many designed by Dr. Ahmed himself, . He is also a successful businessman and the chairman of the Delixus group of companies based in California and Bangalore, India.
Dr. Ahmed’s story is an American story. There are many similar stories of American Muslims that have yet to be told.