Bumper Crop

A Multicultural Diplomat in the Making
By Mark Eyerly

Adnan Zulfiqar, L’09 (second from left),
exults with his family (left to right): wife,
Hajira; mother, Shahla; and father, Arif.
To understand Adnan Zulfiqar’s, L’09, ability to bridge divides separating people and civilizations, you could ask him about where he’s lived (affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C., to Pakistan, Malawi and Syria); where he’s studied (New England and the Deep South to the Middle East and Africa); his areas of knowledge (Islamic law, American law, Urdu and Farsi poetry, English and Arabic); or about his stint as a legislative and personal aide to a U.S. Senator.

Or, you could ask this Alexandria, Va., native about his marriage to a Philadelphia girl.

“I had a Muslim wedding and we were all dressed in traditional Pakistani garb,” he recalls. “My cousin and brother get up to make their speeches, and they pull on Redskins jerseys.

So my wife’s family starts chanting E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles! I think some of the guests thought there was going to be a riot.”

Adnan and Hajira remain married and the in-laws still get along thanks, in part, to the diplomatic skills of this 2009 Penn Law graduate who is completing a Ph.D. at Penn in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Already holding a bachelor’s degree from Emory and a master’s degree in international affairs from Georgetown, Adnan arrived at Penn Law in 2003 not knowing that he would eventually pursue a joint J.D./Ph.D. But he was attracted to Penn Law by the ability to take a couple of courses elsewhere at the University as a way of integrating his legal education with other interests that began taking root at age 3, when his father moved the family to Nairobi.

“My father worked with the World Bank,” Adnan says. “He didn’t have to take positions overseas, but he was very keen on giving us different lenses with which to see the world.”

As his Law School classmates hustled to the Post Office to mail applications to law firms, Adnan mailed his own letters of application — to doctoral programs.

“I didn’t apply to too many places, because I was enthusiastic about being here at Penn,” he says.

Penn’s Near Eastern program is highly ranked, and two Penn Law classmates are scholars in the field.

Joseph E. Lowry, L’89, teaches at Penn; Khaled Abou El Fadl, L’89, at UCLA.

During the next half-dozen years, Adnan pursued his J.D. and Ph.D. studies more or less simultaneously, including a year off to study in Syria under a government fellowship. He and several other students worked with Penn Law Professor Paul Robinson to write a penal code for The Maldives that gave that Muslim island nation a synthesis of Islamic law, indigenous Maldivian law and international norms. The students and their professor then co-wrote an article on the effort for the Journal of Comparative Law.

Adnan anticipates completing his Ph.D. within the next year or two. Then, he hopes to teach law and serve in government as a top policy advisor. Elective office? Maybe. “I’ve been given a ton of opportunities in my life, and I consider them responsibilities,” he says. “What positive impact am I prepared to make in other people’s lives?”

One of his role models is former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a Vietnam war hero and triple amputee. Adnan spent two years working in the senator’s Washington, D.C., office on education, urban policy, immigration and foreign policy, and dividing time with five other staffers as Cleland’s personal aide.

“His schedule exhausted us, and we each only did it one day a week,” Adnan says. “For two years, I basically went where he went.

I got to be a fly on the wall. Meetings with President Bush in the Oval Office, meetings with Secretary of State Colin Powell. I was on the floor of the Senate on September 12, 2001.”

Among the lessons he would like to impart as a professor and public servant: “International law will never, ever trump Islamic law for the average Muslim, the same way that international law will never ever trump the American Constitution — which is our collective sacred text — for an average American. But that does not mean that Islamic and secular cultures must exist in opposition to each other,” he says.

“I often tell my friends, ‘You don’t know what it means to be American.’ And they say, ‘My family’s been here for generations.’ But when you’re an American of Pakistani heritage, when you live in Muslim countries and speak their language, you’re almost always in a posture of representing a side of America that they don’t know. My teachers in Syria could not get over the fact that my views about the war in Iraq were the same as theirs, even though I am an American and proud to say that I am.”

In his studies of Persian poetry, Adnan embraced a stanza that, in translation, basically means “every being, every object, is a jar full of delight, so be a connoisseur.”

“I really try to incorporate that into my life,” he says. “People are just interesting.”

Including, it turns out, football fans in Philadelphia. “I think I’m an Eagles fan,” he admits, “as much as I try to hide it.” PLJ

Law School CV
Associate Editor, Journal of Labor and Employment Law
Delegate, Penn Cuba Law Project
Presidential fellow, Salzburg Global Seminar

Mark Eyerly is Associate Dean for Communications at Penn Law School.