Syed Zaidi ’12 was recently the subject of “The Bigger Picture,” a column written by Spencer Tulis, Finger Lakes Times photographer. Tulis wrote about Zaidi’s efforts to change people’s perception of the word “Muslim.”
“Getting an educated message out is hopefully being made easier for Zaidi by the starting up of a chapter of Project Nur at the college. He is co-president locally and is an outreach and Northeast coordinator nationally. It is a club with chapters nationwide that provides a foundation for the Muslim community and others wishing to learn more,” Tulis wrote.
He also noted Zaidi is involved in a number of other activist, outreach and cultural organizations on campus and off, including student government, internships and the Colleges’ Hillel club, of which he is vice president: “What I find interesting – and a great testimony to Zaidi’s commitment to the concept of Project Nur – is his choice to be an active part of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life.”
The full profile of Zaidi follows.
The Finger Lakes Times
The Bigger Picture
Spencer Tulis •columnist •April 19, 2011
Say the word “Muslim” to an American, and you never know what response you may get. Certainly it is a word that, for me, can bring out the ignorance in some people.
Trying to change that is Syed Zaidi, 20, a junior at Hobart College in Geneva. He is double majoring in International Relations and Public Policy.
Getting an educated message out is hopefully being made easier for Zaidi by the starting up of a chapter of Project Nur at the college. He is co-president locally and is an outreach and Northeast coordinator nationally. It is a club with chapters nationwide that provides a foundation for the Muslim community and others wishing to learn more.
The word “nur” in Arabic means enlightenment. The term “Muslim” is often more associated with religion than with culture.
Project Nur was formed to create an alternative voice: A civic identity grounded in pluralism, moderate thinking and action. It is a student-led initiative of the American Islamic Congress. The AIC was started after 9/11 as a non-religious, civic initiative to challenge negative perceptions of Muslims by creating a better understanding. The group believes in responsible leadership and civic engagement.The fundamental principles of nonviolence, equality and free expression lie in that.
Project Nur is open to people of all backgrounds who wish to work together on issues that affect everyone. It is an organization whose members choose to learn from each other while also emphasizing positive values and promoting social change.
What I find interesting – and a great testimony to Zaidi’s commitment to the concept of Project Nur – is his choice to be an active part of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life. He is a vice president of Hillel at HWS.
The Abbe Center serves as both a meeting place and a co-ed student dormitory for Jewish students and non-Jewish students interested in Jewish culture. He has been involved with it since freshman year. It may be because of the influence of his Pakistani parents who, while raising him in New York City, encouraged an appreciation and understanding of all cultures. He remembers going to a temple starting at age 9.
Zaidi seems to be on the right road in learning how to get his message out. Maybe politics might be in his future? He has gained valuable insight in the world of politics through his work as a summer intern in the 2009 Bloomberg for Mayor campaign, where he was responsible for leading the Students for Bloomberg initiative for the district of Southeast Queens. In the summer of 2010, he interned with the Democratic State Committee. Zaidi was also an intern for the Cuomo for Governor campaign. Yet another internship was with Congressman Charles B. Rangel, D-15 of New York.
Zaidi has also been involved with a non-profit organization called People Against Landlord Abuse and Tenant Exploitation (PALANTE) in Harlem. As a tenant advocacy group, PALANTE’s mission is to restore a respectable life for tenants in their apartment buildings.
He is on no less than six committees of student government at HWS. Zaidi says his ultimate goal is to help foster better and permanently healthy relations between Jews and Muslims in the U.S. and internationally.
I remember what I was doing at his age, and it had little to do with trying to make such a serious difference and impact in the world we live in. I will not be surprised to see his name in the years ahead making positive change for the country we live in and elsewhere.
Hopefully, when you hear the word “Muslim” now, Syed Zaidi’s work will inspire a more positive image, message and spirit.