Jerusalem: Zulfiqar Sheth, a doctoral fellow from Aligarh Muslim University, has become the first Indian to be elected to represent overseas students at Israel's prestigious Hebrew University Student Union.
Zulfiqar, a madrasa-educated Gujarati Muslim from Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district, is currently a Visiting Research Fellow (VRF) at the varsity's Rothberg International School (RIS), where some 2,000 students from 80 different countries are enrolled.
He told a news agency that his Muslim background was "never an issue" in the polls and that "he has never felt discriminated in any form on the university campus and has been very well treated by everybody around".
"This (his election) is testimony of functioning democracy in Israel as well as broad mindedness of the global community. I also urge Muslims to realise that there is enough space for secular and liberal Muslims even today," he said.
Barely two-and-a-half months on the campus since joining the programme, the AMU doctoral student has emerged as a very popular figure on the campus.
"He is a very friendly character who easily opens up with people around. I saw him reaching out to students and staff during an India Day deliberations on the campus and it all looked so natural," said Brajesh, a post-doctoral fellow from India.
Asked what made him throw his hat in the ring despite being new to the university, Zulfiqar said "contesting elections was not in my plans but when I learned that not a single Indian student has been elected for this position till date, I thought its time for India now".
He is all praise for his Vice Chancellor back home who he credits for inspiring him to take up new challenges and explore better opportunities.
"Professors at AMU and specially Vice-chancellor Lieutenant General Zameeruddin Shah has encouraged me to come here for research. Mr Shah's vision to make AMU the No 1 University inspires students like me to be no 1," he says.
The Indian researcher specialising in economics is also highly appreciative of the educational standards at the Hebrew University and feels the knowledge gained here would be helpful in his career ahead. Zulfiqar's campaign was centered around the idea of integrating foreign students in Israel with the local community which was very well received by RIS students.
"I have planned several activities that would help close interaction between foreign students at the university and the local population which will help us better understand the society here", he says.
Zulfiqar is not new to taking up leadership challenges and has also been Senior Hall Student at AMU and a proctorial monitor (one of the highest administrative post held by any student in the university).
During a brief scholarship programme at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) in 2011-12 he was adjudged the student of the year and awarded SEAL for exemplary performance in Service, Excellence, Academics and Leadership.
"I have also established Indian Student's Association at NOVA and became its founder President," he points out.
When US President Barack Obama presented his budget speech at NOVA, Zulfiqar says he had the rare privilege of sharing the dais with the American leader with a small group of students.