Shah Family Gifts Bolster the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Shah Family

Front row: Salim and Francoise Shah. Back row (L to R): Hisham Foad, Ahmet Kuru, Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, Khaleel Mohammed, Glen McClish, Farid Abdel-Nour, and Dris Soulaimani.

About Salim and Francoise Shah

The year was 1960. Salim Shah arrived in the U.S. from Mumbai, India, as a student in search of a graduate degree program. He found one at Marquette University where he earned a degree in radio and TV broadcasting. His goal was to assist his mother and stepfather with their movie studio business (his mother was a movie star in India from 1936-1943). His television industry plans in India, however, were dashed due to the government's decision to allow only public sector television broadcasting at the time.

Shah turned to a new area of study with the decision to earn another master’s (an MBA) at Marquette. It was there, at an international student club function, that he met his future wife, Francoise, a piano student from Paris. They married in 1968 and moved to San Diego in 1983. Shah was in the research department of the trust division of Security Pacific Bank which moved the business to San Diego that year. Shah spent 41 years in the banking and financial industry.

Inspiration in Establishing the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies (CIAS)

In San Diego, Shah said, “One of my close friends, who worked with Paul Strand, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (1977-2005), approached me to lend support to their goal of establishing an institution on campus dedicated to better understand the countries encompassing a large portion of population who practice the Abrahamic faith of Islam.”

The Shahs’ enthusiasm and interest in building this new center was piqued. They held fundraisers in their home and found community support, which made it possible to establish the center. The goal was to create not only an academic program, but a hub for community outreach.

The Shahs point to the fact that CIAS is unique in that it offers undergraduate courses in both Arabic and Islamic subject matter, along with many public lectures by nationally recognized speakers. Student and community engagement are at the core of the center.

Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, CIAS director said, “This center has provided invaluable language and cultural courses to SDSU students who have gone on to join the U.S. State Department, made films, engaged in social activism and education around Islam and the San Diego community. One of our students received a Fulbright fellowship to Morocco.”

Khaleel Mohammed, religious studies professor added, “Arabic and Muslim students at SDSU feel valued and that their university cares about their identity and needs. For other students, this area of study offers ‘insider’ training which is really effective in producing good scholars for international relations and conflict resolution.”

Professor Farid Abdel-Nour, former CIAS director said, “Students from all backgrounds have had the opportunity to interact with members of the Arabic-speaking and Muslim communities in San Diego through the events organized by the center and partly supported by the Shahs.”

About their most recent gift to CIAS, Shah said, “As we approach the 20th anniversary of the center’s founding, we saw it fit to expedite the pledged gift to be given now rather than from the estate. Also, in the current polarized environment with rampant Islamophobia, it’s important for people to have a chance to hear an objective source for truth.”

Shah added, “Our hope is that students, especially the ones from overseas, get a chance to share their experiences with American students with support of the center’s activities. We hope CIAS will continue its balanced exploration of issues pertaining to its mission. To remain a beam of cultural understanding between the people of the regions of Islam and the U.S.A.”

Abdel-Nour said, “Our guiding principle throughout, and Salim and Francoise shared it with us upon opening the center 20 years ago, was always to raise the level of debate about Muslims and Arabs. Salim and Francoise support us as true, loyal friends, who attend our events, meet our speakers, and at times host us in their home.”

He added, “They were with us every step of the way. Without them, it would not have been possible.”

The Shahs’ support has been crucial in not only establishing CIAS, but continuing the legacy, so that students have access to library resources, public lectures, and cultural events, ultimately providing a unique academic opportunity in the classroom and beyond.