In the 1980s and 1990s, Nasif Kayed was an Arab businessman with a gift of the gab, and a passion for breaking the stereotype. He had already been involved with over 40 companies and ventures and was on way to taking his businesses to the next level.
Today, he calls himself inter-cultural consultant & inspirational speaker, and Middle Eastern cultural expert. Kuwait-born Nasif, son of an electrical contractor, was raising in the United Statesa family of seven, two from his wife’s earlier marriage, when 9/11 happened.
That proved to be the turning point for Nasif. He continued to believe that “one Nazi doesn’t represent Germany and one KKK doesn’t represent the white race”. However, he was now confronted with a different set of reality, what is now called Islamophobia.
Nasif was becoming more and more aware of the misconceptions and stereotypes that were leading to prejudices all around. Proud of his Arab and Muslim origin, he decided to do something about it.
He embarked on a journey that resulted in an organization called the Arab Culturalist, which, according to Nasif, “simply looks at the human race as the base for humanity”. Nasif is driven by one simple logic – culture is everything and everything is culture.
Rectifying the mess
“Throughout the 80s and 90s I was meeting and doing business with people in over 40 companies belonging to different nationalities. But, after 9/11 it was like ‘oh gosh! this is now a very serious business’”.
Understandably, rectifying the big mess became Nasif’s “24/7 dedication”. It was, in his own words, a sincere attempt to remove the misconceptions against Muslims and Arabs, a task to bridge the growing divide.
Nasif established programs in the US bringing people together and trying to start a discourse. “I got churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples, synagogues together… we established open houses,” he says. He was also volunteering and kept going to Islamic Center in North Carolina to even “clean floors, cook in the kitchen”.
The idea was to pick subjects we could work on – as opposed to topics of disagreement. But what brought the conviction? “A person who is affected with stereotypes and embraces it cultivates the opinion that others don’t deserve what they have,” he says.
Nasif was driven by a belief that free will should define choices we make as human beings and this necessitates “a better understanding of one another.”
He continues to conduct workshops on subjects such as “Islam, Faith and Practice”. Nasif is also the Chairman of the Outreach Committee of the Islamic Center of Raleigh.
When Nasif decided that his children needed to come back to the Arab world, the Dubai leadership’s “real vision” attracted him. “I was ready to embrace this new era and contribute to it”.
It started with a non-profit organization called Islamic Information Center and then the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding happened. By now, Nasif Kayed had become a sought-after motivational speaker, and famous for his repartee and light take on serious subjects.
Arab Culturalist as an organization was formally established a year ago. Yet Nasif already has his eyes set on his next target. “The next big idea is to duplicate what has been done by the Red Crescent or Red Cross – to help poor and unfortunate people”.
But before that he wants the idea of the Arab Culturalist to grow further. “I can franchise this concept…to encourage people to welcome others into their countries and have what you call an institution. You wanna make profit or not-for-profit doesn’t matter as long as it teaches people about our culture,” he says.
Travels across geographical boundaries appears central to Nasif’s idea of cultural assimilation. “I always joke, borders, flags, national anthems, passports, visas …who invented these? The British, right? Otherwise, we would be free to roam around anywhere and not judge one another”.
“After all, Christopher Columbus didn’t have travel documents.”