Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Holy Land Foundation and the American Dream

Mufid Abdulqader: “A Life of Significance, not Success”

“I am the American dream.”

“In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, and so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui is… [We must develop] …those principles of virtue and goodness which will make [us] valuable to others and happy in [our]selves…” Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his daughter Martha, May 21, 1787.

The first time I met Mufid Abdulqader, I thought, “This guy is overwhelming.” My friends (academics, clergy, internet technology specialists, and so on) make it a virtue not to talk about themselves. At least not directly. Mufid has no such scruples. He wants me to know. To know him, not the facts of his life. He tells me the facts (the facts of his life are, of course, easy to find in a Google search: born in 1960 in the West Bank village of Silwad [near Ramallah], emigrated to the United States in 1980, earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in civil engineering from Oklahoma State University at Stillwater, married another graduate student in engineering—a bright-eyed, soft spoken “American” woman—and made for himself a career as an engineer first for the State of Oklahoma and then for the City of Dallas).

Energy. Too much energy for a 47-year-old man. That’s my lasting impression. The kind of energy one might expect from a “rock star,” which is what some media accounts have called him because he sings, performs, entertains and inspires. When Mufid talks about music, he brightens, exudes the joy and the deep pleasure (and, yes, the self-confidence without which a performer would fail) every successful musician has in his work—work that he began when he was eight years old. If he is a “rock star,” he is an exuberant one, a “rock star” not frittering away his talent but sharing it, intent on living life to the fullest, dedicated to inspiring everyone he comes in contact with to live positively and with joy. He has, I would guess, never known the “ennui” that Jefferson says would be “our own fault.” Mufid has developed “those principles of virtue and goodness which [make him] valuable to others and happy in [him]self.”

The ways he has been “useful” are both plentiful and well-documented. For example, he served as Project Manager for the restoration of the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff, which the editors of The Dallas Morning News have said is one of the "Ten Things Dallas Can Brag About" - along with the Nasher Sculpture Garden and Turtle Creek. Energy. That’s what it took. And the ability to inspire and manage the efforts of many people. Ask Laura Miller.

The pictures of Mufid standing next to the former city councilwoman (and mayor, of course) a few years ago emanate joy and pleasure—a public servant receiving accolades from the political “establishment” for a job well done—obviously (even in pictures) an effusive and irrepressible man, somewhat unkempt black hair and bushy black beard. A smile as broad as his face. His appearance has changed. He’s more subdued, his hair and beard salt-and-pepper and neatly trimmed. (Does the stress of an indictment always grey one’s hair?) But his energy and zest for life have not changed. Nor has his sense of obligation to his beloved adopted country, his community, his family.

He teaches. He teaches high school students to believe in themselves, to live life fully. He teaches co-workers to think through projects, to plan and organize: he has written training manuals for software used in planning civil engineering projects, and organizational outlines for managing civil engineering projects. His management skills—his ability to work with and inspire others to cooperate in finishing those projects—have brought him recognition from political leaders and governmental department heads. His energy—energy driven by deep pride in every job well done—has made him one of those rare public servants who never does only what is required of him but does whatever is necessary to complete assignments and fulfill the trust placed in him. He hardly knows what “full-time” means; he thrives on “over-time.”

Mufid wants to make sure I understand why he is who he is. He is direct, his intense eyes unflinching as he tells me. Faith. A faith that sustains him and informs his relationships with all people. It makes him generous, non-judgmental. “Why should I judge you if I don’t know what has happened to you?” Because he does not judge, he is generous with his time and resources, a friend to anyone in need.

Mufid Abdulqader’s value to others and his happiness in himself are guided by faith and an indomitable sense that a life of significance is more important than one of success. Although by any standard, he has had much success: he has lived the “American dream.”