Palo Alto University names library after renowned Afghan librarian

Lisa Fernandez

Omar Seddiqui has traveled the world, handled precious documents and used to preside over the entire public library system in his homeland of Afghanistan.

Tonight, at a ceremony at the Stanford Faculty Club, Seddiqui’s name will be emblazoned on a bronze plaque for all to see.

The “Omar Seddiqui Library” sign will hang next to the library at the new Palo Alto University campus on Arastradero Road, formerly known as the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology.

“All the time, I’m with books,” Omar Seddiqui, 85, said Wednesday from his modest San Jose home. “This is very, very important for me.”

Having such a distinguished man’s name on the library is also an honor for the niche university of about 1,000 behavioral science students, said Palo Alto University President Allen Calvin.

“I have great admiration for the Afghan people and for what Mr. Seddiqui did there for his people,” Calvin said. “He brings a long scholarly tradition with him.”

Palo Alto is a long way from Herat, Afghanistan, where Omar Seddiqui was born.

He is the son of the late Mohamad Seddiq, a renowned scholar, professor, judge and collector of books. In 1955, Omar Seddiqui had a library in Herat named after his father.

Seddiqui’s eight children wanted to do the same for their father in their new home of Silicon Valley.

Fred Seddiqui is the eldest son and a “serial entrepreneur” who sits on the board of trustees at the Palo Alto University. Over the four years he’s been on the board, he donated tens of thousands of dollars to the university, plus a significant number of stock shares from two companies he founded: Sunnyvale-based Avantis Medical Systems and Mountain View-based Axis Surgical Technologies.

Nine months ago, he proposed naming the library after his father.

“My father has gone through much struggle, living in two different worlds,” Fred Seddiqui said. “He is a great example to our family. When he first came here, he did flea market work, which could have been demeaning to a man of his stature, but he did it so he could remain independent.”

At first blush, Omar Seddiqui appears unassuming, a slightly built man with a neat white beard and clear green eyes. Until he pulls out a stack of aging documents written in Farsi, papers that reflect a lifetime of awards and achievements.

Before the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and kicked him out of his post, Omar Seddiqui served for more than two decades in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture. For the last 10 years of his career, Seddiqui was director and president of the National Archives and Public Library, where he acquired precious documents, ancient poems and historic documents. In the 1970s, he was invited to Washington to visit the Library of Congress, and he was a frequent speaker all over the world.

Seddiqui has also been a prolific writer. He studied journalism and wrote a 400-page manuscript called “Escape From My Country,” which details his flight to the United States with his wife, Halima, in 1982.

Since living in San Jose, Seddiqui has remained active. Not only is he able to visit his eight children and 10 grandchildren, many who live nearby in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Danville and San Jose, but he also tries to attend every Afghan festivity.

“He’s a party animal,” joked Fred Seddiqui.

Most of his children have become entrepreneurs. None is a librarian.

“All of us like writing, though,” Fred Seddiqui. “We all write when we’re stressed.”

Even in his later years, Omar Seddiqui has penned articles on politics, religion and culture for the Los Angeles-based Afghan Mirror magazine, the Washington-based Omaid newspaper, the Alameda-based Caravan newspaper, and is a guest on the Pleasanton-based Noor TV. He also was president of the Afghan Center on Meridian Avenue in San Jose, where up to 100 Afghan-American youths come to learn Farsi and Pashto.

“My father has instilled so much in us,” Fred Seddiqui said. “It’s just nice to recognize people when they’re alive instead of when they’re gone. And a library, that’s something we’re connected by through the generations.”

Contact Lisa Fernandez at 408-920-5002.

Categories: Afghanistan

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