Farhan Ahmad: Startup Entrepreneur, 33
America's religious freedom, economic opportunity
Farhan Ahmad started taking computer classes at a nearby community college when he was still in high school in Michigan. It was the introverted ninth grader’s way of coping with the culture shock he experienced when he and his family moved from their native Pakistan to America in 1998. “I enjoyed programming and it was something I could relate to,” says Ahmad, who lost weight from the stress. “When I get thrown into stuff, I don’t complain too much. My approach is always to try to figure it out.”
Ahmad’s skills snowballed into the career that brought him to Madison to work for Epic Systems, then his work spun off into the startup community, where he has thrived. He and two colleagues started a tech consulting company that grew to employ 130 people in four years before it was acquired. He now works with another local startup. But it’s America’s religious freedom, even more than its economic opportunity, that Ahmad loves about this country.
“Even in Pakistan, there are plenty of different religions as well and a lot of times they don’t get along as well as you’d hope,” says Ahmad. “Whereas, because [diversity is] encouraged here, those groups tend to work [together] much better in [the] U.S.” Additionally, the spectrum of ethnic and cultural views found within America’s Islamic communities allows Ahmad to be more thoughtful about his faith. The way one worships (or chooses to at all) is not a given in the U.S., and that freedom of choice has served to deepen his intellectual commitment to the Islam that he says has always ruled his heart.
“The reasoning and logic that’s provided by [Islamic] scholars here tends to be much more fact-based than you would get in Pakistan, where it’s just like you’re expected to believe one way and there’s no thought besides it,” says Ahmad. “There should be more diversity in religion because then you get to see the other side and what everyone else is thinking.”
So, too, with politics, says Ahmad, who has made it a point to have deeper conversations with his Republican friends who voted for Trump. They tell him they’re concerned about rising unemployment affecting local economies, and he relates because he views unemployment and stagnant wages as contributors to corruption and instability in the Middle East.
Whether Americans or “radicals” from other countries, “if people are not kept busy and engaged, problems are going to appear,” says Ahmad. “Everybody wants to live. Everyone wants to be happy, right? But if that’s not happening, and if you don’t have a job, and you’re being made to feel miserable and everything else, people go crazy in those scenarios.”
Ahmad is now a husband and father, and he relies on his faith to guide him in raising his young son. “Just teaching him to be a good human being, really,” he says. “That’s where religion really helps, because that’s exactly what it tells you. To be a good human being.”
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