When Shariq Siddiqui graduated from the University of Indianapolis in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in history and theater, he made a deal with his parents. He would take a year after college to save the world, and if he couldn’t do it, he would do whatever they wanted — which most likely meant Siddiqui, like his father and grandfather, would become a doctor.
During that time, Siddiqui worked with some of his college friends to start the Jefferson Institute with the goal of helping high school students graduate and go on to higher education. That helped fulfill his gravitation toward nagging social questions about how to make the world a better place, and it launched a career in philanthropy.
Some 23 years later, Siddiqui is the inaugural director of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative (MPI), part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. MPI will collaborate with the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy to better understand the ways underrepresented people interact with philanthropy.
“It’s exciting in one way because it’s uncharted territory,” Siddiqui said of being the first director of MPI, which started a couple years ago. “… It also makes me nervous because you don’t want to mess it up.”
Amir Pasic, dean of the School of Philanthropy, said Siddiqui emerged from a pool of about 15 candidates the search committee seriously considered because he had the most successful track record. Siddiqui founded the Center on Muslim Philanthropy in 2014 and serves on the board of the Islamic Society of North America. He has a master’s and doctorate in philanthropic studies from IUPUI and a law degree from the McKinney School of Law at IU.
Tayyab Yunus, executive director of the Islamic Society of North America, said Siddiqui’s recommendations and insights on the board are “transformative” because he brings knowledge and expertise that average people who make up a board of directors just don’t have.
“When you’ve got someone like Shariq on the board, you have instant access to high quality information and insight,” Yunus said.
The uncharted territory Siddiqui is now venturing into will have a lot to do with using research and data to better understand Muslim philanthropy.
Siddiqui said while American Muslim philanthropy isn’t that different from other groups and religions such as Catholics, there are some differences that are important to understand. For example, Muslims do a lot of their giving during the holy month of Ramadan, which corresponds to the ninth month of the Islamic calendar but changes each year on the standard Gregorian calendar. Nonprofit leaders who don’t know this risk missing out on that charitable giving and lose an opportunity to connect with American Muslims. (Ramadan this year is May 5 through June 4.)
Siddiqui, who has been an assistant professor at the school since 2017, said his plan for MPI falls into three categories.
First is doing research to simply learn more about Muslim philanthropy. Second is to do trainings for Muslim philanthropic initiatives, a sector Siddiqui said is “heavily under-resourced.” That training could also be for non-Muslim nonprofits that want a higher profile with Muslims. Third is to have those efforts combine to have more Muslims engaged in philanthropy, whether that’s on the nonprofit side or the giving side.
Siddiqui said his role as director of MPI will help him expand what he’s already done in philanthropy, and it will allow him to tap into those passions he explored as a young leader trying to save the world.
“This was just an alignment of all those ideas,” he said. “How can I bring better value by training people? Then as a professor I can help people make lives better in different ways and empower students.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.