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From Food Scientist to Philosopher - 2002-06-19

English Programs Feature #7-36430 Broadcast June 24, 2002

Today on New American Voices you’ll meet an immigrant from India whose career in the United States took him from food scientist to financial manager to author of a recently published book on Sufi philosophy.

One of the definitions of Sufism is: it consists of abandoning oneself to God in accordance with God’s will. Another definition says that as a Sufi you should not possess anything nor should anything possess you. Yet John Ishvaradas Abdallah is a successful financial planner who has just published a book entitled “A Sufi’s Ruminations on One World Under God.”

“A lot of the ideas presented in the book may seem to be contradictory to what I am doing in regular life, in other words in my financial planning practice. It was difficult for me, for myself to reconcile the two, for a long time. So I have come to an understanding… you know, all the things the Sufi is talking about, they’re not going to happen for another hundred, two hundred years, maybe even a millennium. But unless these ideas are talked about, nothing is going to change. If we want to change the whole world, then we need to work on giving these ideas, making them at least discussed and considered.”

John Ishvaradas Abdallah came to the United States as a 23-year-old student in the early 1960s. He grew up in Hyderabad, south-central India, in an Urdu-speaking Muslim family. He attended college there and graduated with a degree in agriculture and biological sciences. Here, at the University of Wisconsin, he received a Masters’ degree in food sciences, and started working for a food manufacturing company.

“My original idea was to go back, but it never happened. Because I got caught up in a lot of things that were going on over here, and I fell in love with this country.”

After working for some years in the food industry, Mr. Abdallah became a certified financial planner. He says that this career change was not as dramatic as it might seem.

“When you go into management – and this is what happened, I became the director of quality assurance and research in a small food company, and when you do that you don’t do any research or any quality assurance or anything scientific. You become a manager. And in the management you start to plan for the company, and you say this is how things should be done, and it becomes a sort of financial planning for the company. And so the transition was actually not as drastic as a lot of people think it was.”

As a financial planner Mr. Abdallah advises his clients, individuals or companies, on what they need to do to be financially successful. His practice involves both risk management, which includes various kinds of insurance, and investments. From the vantage point of his profession, he has a good perspective on what it takes to be successful in this country.

“I think the most important thing to become successful is, of course, hard work. And to find a niche. I have a lot of different kinds of clients, and the people that I find the most successful in whatever they’re doing is the people who really love the things that they do.”

For John Ishvaradas Abdallah, writing his book was a labor of love. In the book the Sufi, a mystic in the Islamic tradition, answers the questions of a fictional American named John who is perplexed by the role of religion in today’s politically volatile world. Mr. Abdallah says that the idea for the book grew out of a spiritual experience he had some years ago, which led him to believe that all religions are good, and that there’s only one God - although there are different paths to him.

“The main theme of the book is – if God is love, then we ought to be loving God, and if we love God then we love our neighbor and we should not have any violence. And the Sufi says you cannot have love without peace and freedom, and vice versa. In other words all three are so intertwined, that you cannot separate them.”

Mr. Abdallah lives in California. He is married to a woman born in Japan. Although they have an Indian father and a Japanese mother, Mr. Abdallah says that his two children – who are grown now - feel themselves to be culturally and ethnically American. He believes that this interweaving of different cultural strands into an American fabric is one of the great strengths of this country.

“America is a very enlightened country, I think. I’ve always felt this way, that somehow the best ideas come out of this country. I think because of the influx of different cultures, the new blood coming in from other places. It does seem to happen over here. I love America, it’s a great country, I would never want to live anywhere else in the world.”

Now John Ishvaradas Abdallah is about to make another career shift. While not quite giving up his financial planning business, he plans to spend a lot of his time promoting the book, traveling and talking about the Sufi’s ideas about how to achieve a harmonious, peaceful world.