Citizen of Humanity

Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope.

Our Story today features Shehla Mushtaq, a founding Chair and former Board Member of AshaUSA.

As a woman who has traveled the globe, Shehla identifies herself not only as a citizen of Minnesota, but as a citizen of humanity. “No religion is greater than humanity”*, which sums up Shehla’s character and the way she moves through life, to care for others in her community and in the world.

*Pakistani philanthropist and humanitarian: Abdul Sattar Edhi

A Citizen of the World

Shehla was raised in Pakistan and received her formative education at a Catholic Convent, St. Joseph High School. She has always cherished the time she spent there, recognizing the importance of values learned! Her global experience of other world religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, having grown up in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, combined with the values from her Catholic school education, combine to make her who she is today.

At the age of 19, she arrived in the US to obtain her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Electrical Engineering at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. She was struck by the individualism she saw in the U.S., in comparison to the strong family and community values in Pakistan. After a societal tug of war between going back to Pakistan to get married or pursuing further academics in the US, she gave in to pressure and went back to Karachi.
She spent a few adventurous years working with her elder brother at ‘Next Hardware Shop’, that they jointly founded, driving all over Karachi to pick up ailing hardware and repairing computers. Eventually, after getting married she returned to the US, and had her first child, a girl, shortly before the infamous Minnesota Halloween storm of 1991. Her three grown up children Saher, 32 a security consultant lives in London, Nadya 30, is a technical data analyst in Chicago, and Aadil 27, is a software engineer living in the Twin Cities.

Shehla with Saher, Nadya and Aadil

Shehla believes in, and promotes the power of ‘Connecting’ and ‘Serving’ at the most fundamental level…as a thinking and feeling human being. This is illustrated in the interconnected paths of her life story featured below: The Poet, Citizen of Humanity and Business Person.

The Poet

Shehla’s father was an author and journalist of some note, and studied at Columbia University in New York and the London School of Economics. He passed away in 1998, having published over fifteen books. In Karachi, he was also the editor of the English newspaper: The Morning News and contributed regularly as a columnist for another English periodical: ‘Dawn’ still in circulation in Pakistan.

An array of Shehla’s Father’s Books

Following in the footsteps of her father’s literary achievements, Shehla is a poet and novelist of some note herself.

Her book of poems called Barsaat Ki Khushboo (The Smell Of Rain), has been published in two editions. (Shehla’s second book Barsaat Kay Khanay is in English and features her favorite recipes inherited from her mother and friends, with a few of her own). Shehla uses ‘Barsaat’ as her alias, a reflection of her love for the rains. Growing up, she went to Bombay each year during the monsoons, to be one with the rain and rejuvenate herself with its cleansing power.
Her book is available at

Three of the poem’s titles and stories are featured below.

Kaheen Dair Na Ho Ja Aye: (Don’t let it be too late). This poem is about using the present moment to tie loose ends, especially with relationships. Do it now, or else time may pass and it may be too late. Connect with those with whom connection has been broken for whatever reason, especially loved ones

Woh Dost Bun Ja O: (Be your best friend). This poem is about getting to know yourself. We are constantly in search of that friend who understands us, the one we want to pour our heart out to and hang out with. Don’t look too far and wide, the friend is right with you: learn to be your own best friend.

Idhar Ya Odhar: (Here or there): This poem is about the tussle between the pull of two homes. One where Shehla was born and spent the early years of her youth, and the other in the US where she has lived for almost 4 decades. Both are her homes, with their own charm. 

Shehla’s poem on the Pandemic ‘O Mankind’, also featured in the book is translated from Urdu and can be visualized using the link below:

O Mankind

Man asks me, are you upset with me?

(I say) Tell me, in every century, what haven’t I done for you?

You have plundered my beautiful earth

In front of my very eyes you have chopped down trees

You uprooted trees and left my forests bare

Yes, I am upset with you!

With garbage you filled my blue seas

You polluted my environment with poisonous gases

Yes, I am upset with you!

Showing no mercy, you slaughtered my poor animals

You plucked the flowers from my beautiful gardens

Yes, I am upset with you!

O Mankind, you have been given this one chance

Recognize that this is the time to now mend your ways!

Citizen of Humanity

The time Shehla spent working in the UK, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela contributed to her growth as a citizen of humanity. She has served on many Boards, a consistent theme the celebration of women; social enterprise; and connecting humanity.

Vice Chair: Honoring Women Worldwide; Board Member: Women Leading in Technology; Vice Chair: Shift (organization provided support to those in mid-life work transitions); Chair: AshaUSA; Founder and Board Member: Karsaz (local arts and culture organization creating awareness of South Asian culture); Board Co-Chair: Social Enterprise
MSP (; President: Interfaith Circle; Vice Chair; Minnesota Multifaith Network

She considers her most important contributions to have been in building connections, bridges and community, through conversations, dialog sessions and events.

Interfaith Circle

She is a founding member and President of Interfaith Circle ( which started out in Eden Prairie as an informal group in response to the unsettled environment after 9/11. Later, it was formalized and exists today as a program under the Eden Prairie Community Foundation, with structure and bylaws that are not under the umbrella of any specific faith organization.

Through the years, off and on, the organization has remained committed to promoting conversation and greater understanding of faiths, diversity and cultural differences. Multiple faiths: Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Native American and Baha’i are some of the many groups that have come together through Interfaith Circle’s programming.

The signature event of the Interfaith Circle has been a celebration at Thanksgiving time. The different communities come together to read, dance and sing, highlighting their faith traditions during this celebratory event. Over the years, the event has drawn 100s of attendees, up to 1100 one year.

As Shehla says “our goal is to ensure that the conversations between people in the community continue. We want people to embrace their differences and say: I want to have that conversation”.

The Interfaith Circle was honored with a 2020 ‘Excellence’ award for its documentary feature “Becoming One: The Power of Our Stories” by the Best in the Midwest Media Fest. The goal was to spark more thoughtful and broader consideration of the challenges of living and working in an increasingly diverse Eden Prairie.

Co-Producers Jeff Strate and Shehla Mushtaq with Co-Hosts Saleem Adam and Sarah Styles

Minnesota Multifaith Network Council

More recently, Shehla has become involved on a State wide basis with the Minnesota Multifaith Network and serves as Vice Chair of the Network Council. The two main functions are 1. To convene interfaith leaders, faith organizations and practitioners across the state and 2. To communicate opportunities and resources for interfaith involvement and learning.

Humphrey School Fellows

Shehla also serves as a host family for the International Fellows program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. She is in her tenth year of hosting these mid-career professionals, and has had Fellows from Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Libya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Macedonia and Morocco. Her hostess skills backed by a love of all things culinary ensure successful gatherings at her home.

50 over 50 Award

In 2020, she was one of 50 Minnesotans to be recognized for her work in the community. Shehla was awarded the ‘Community Cultural Cooperator Award’ from AARP Minnesota & Pollen’s 50 over 50, celebrating hope, resilience and the outstanding contributions that make Minnesota a better place.

Business Impact

Having lived in the US for 30+ years, Shehla has leveraged her IT and Business expertise with a variety of businesses such as NCS, Pearson Government Solutions, Vangent, Inc, General Dynamics and United Health Group.

Twice, Shehla was named a Technology All Star, recognized for Technology Excellence and Leadership by the National Women of Color in 2007 and 2012,

Six years ago, she entered into a business partnership called Collectivity and serves as its Chief Operations Officer. It is a consulting cooperative that helps non-profits and social impact organizations maximize their impact by making effective use of their people, processes and technology (
The work at Collectivity is rewarding for Shehla, as it brings many of her passions, both professional and personal, together in one place.


Shehla’s love of travel has taken her to many countries. She visits Pakistan multiple times a year to see her mother and family, keeping ‘all’ her connections alive.

One of her favorite stories is the ‘Connection’ she made with a young Somali girl whom she interacted with on her way home from tennis one day. She greeted the family with the traditional Arabic greeting. The young Somali girl was taken aback to hear Shehla, a woman not wearing a hijab, saying this greeting. The little girl then proceeded to ply Shehla with questions, seeking to understand this difference. Shehla patiently answered all her queries, using the opportunity as a teaching moment: that religion can be practiced on the individual level, accepting different versions, while sharing common values of charity, kindness and compassion.
Her new young friend, satisfied with their discussion walked away with a happy smile on her face.

Shehla often talks to young people about the Japanese philosophy of ‘Ikigai’. It is a concept that brings together ‘what we love’, ‘what we are good at’, what we are paid for’ and ‘what the world needs’. That point of integration is called ‘Ikigai’, Our Reason For Being.

Shehla is a seeker at heart and is currently studying the 13th century Poet ‘Rumi’s’ Persian work ‘Masnavi’. One of her favorite quote’s from that poem is “Let the beauty of what you love, be what you do”.

Garden at ‘Home’ in Karachi

DISCUSSION : Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your comments, either by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’’.

AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.

One thought on “Citizen of Humanity

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  1. Thank you for your wonderful piece on Shehla Mushtaq. I am privileged to know her as a friend and as a co-worker in some if her many activities. I believe you captured her essence with superb accuracy. She is such a wonderful example of the best in womanhood. Congratulations, and again, thank you! Shari Steffen


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