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Revisited: A Profile of Arsalan Iftikhar

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In anticipation of Class of '91 alumnus Arsalan Iftikhar's upcoming September 13, 2017 visit and presentation, the Avery Coonley School is proud to share this interview with Arsalan from 2014, in which he shares some of his favorite experiences as an ACS student and talks about his work as a social justice and human rights advocate. 

Arsalan Iftikhar
ACS Class of 1991
High School: Downers Grove North
College: Washington University in St. Louis (A.B.)
Grad School: Washington University in St. Louis (J.D.)

Could you describe your work?
I am an author, journalist, and global media commentator as well as an international human rights lawyer. I also recently started as an adjunct professor at DePaul University teaching a class called the “Islamic Experience” in the Religious Studies department. Although I am a licensed attorney, almost all of my work involves writing and providing analysis and commentary in a variety of media outlets. I am a weekly contributor for National Public Radio (NPR) and serve as Senior Editor for The Islamic Monthly magazine. I am also the founder of and wrote a book called Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era. Over the last twelve-plus years, I have been interviewed by and contributed pieces to a wide variety of national and global newspapers, magazines, and news programs around the world.

How did your career begin?
Well, I was a second-year law student when 9/11 happened in 2001. As soon as the evidence began to show that the perpetrators were Muslims, I recognized the importance of condemning their actions and communicating the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. I wanted to make it known that Islam is inherently a religion of tolerance and peace, that the killing of innocents is never condoned, and that the actions of the terrorists could not and should not be labeled “Islamic.” I wrote an editorial right after the attacks and sent it off to all the major newspapers in the country, and within a very short time many responded, saying that they would be running the piece the next day. Since then, I have done hundreds of television, radio and newspaper interviews and my career has evolved from there.

Is your work fulfilling?
It is certainly a labor of love since I have probably received over 700 death threats in my life. I am definitely not doing it for the money or the security, but being a part of our global marketplace of ideas is something that I truly love and hopefully is my contribution to my humanity.

What are some of the things about which you are passionate?
Social justice and human rights for everyone. I am engaged in the global media and sociopolitical discourse because I want to represent the disenfranchised and those without a voice. It is a great privilege to be a part of the public arena and to be able to discuss issues that are important to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Were any of your career interests or passions formed while you were at Avery Coonley?
Sure. From a very early age, the strong sense of community at ACS was very important to me and the diversity of the student body helped to ingrain a sense of equality in me since my childhood. We knew each other so well – we knew each other’s parents and siblings – it was more than a community; it was a family. My parents immigrated to this country over 35 years ago and they wanted to send their children to a warm and nurturing educational environment. To this day, my dad still says that sending his kids to Avery Coonley was the best investment he has ever made for his children.

What are some of your favorite Avery Coonley memories?
Of course, the teachers and other extracurricular activities, like math team and the basketball team; Mr. Mickel was our basketball coach. The Thanksgiving program was always an annual highlight and looking back, I realize how important it was that we all knew that the food that we collected went to those who were less fortunate than us. I also really enjoyed the Third Group trip to Lake Geneva, and I remember finishing third overall in the Spelling Bee when I was in Fourth Grade. I misspelled the word “intolerant”, which seems pretty ironic now!

Also, my whole family were “ACS Lifers” since both my younger sister and brother also attended ACS since preschool. Our shared experiences – the teachers, projects, special events – formed much of our family experiences, both then and now.

What aspects of your ACS experience were most important for you?
The focused importance on forming well-rounded individuals, rather than obsessing about test scores and trophies, was very important. It was great that we had so many opportunities to explore our interests and try new things from a very early age.

Similarly, I also think that learning French from such an early age was also a very valuable experience. Being bilingual expanded my horizons from an early age and I have even done some work for the French Foreign Ministry since that time. But beyond that, this in-depth exposure to another culture really expands children’s worldviews and helps them to realize that there is a big world out there, with many different languages, cultures, and traditions.

Do you stay in touch with your ACS friends?
Yes, many of us are connected on Facebook – social media definitely makes it easier to stay in touch with people.

What advice do you have for today’s ACS students?
Follow your passions in whatever you do in your lives. Please do not do anything because of money or because other people tell you to follow a career path; do what you love! Try to contribute to the world and help as many other people as possible, in whatever way you see fit. Plus, don’t ever think you’re not good enough. We all go through struggles and tough times during our adolescence – try to remember that everything will be just fine. Don’t ever give up on yourself or on other people.

This profile of Class of '91 alumnus Arsalan Iftikhar originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of The Avery Coonley School Magazine

Creating the Future Lecture Series Presents: Arsalan Iftikhar takes place on Wednesday evening, September 13, 2017, 6:30-8:30pm (doors at 6pm) in the Avery Coonley School Performing Arts Center. The presentation will include time for an audience Q&A and will be followed by a book-signing. The event is all-ages welcome and open to the general public to attend. Registration is required and tickets are $10; attendees will also have the option to pre-order Arsalan's books, Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms, and Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.



Tags:  alumni  Arsalan Iftikhar  Creating the Future  diversity  inclusion 

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