Famed High Point rug dealer Zaki donates his fortune to Pakistani children

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Amy Freeman, O. Henry magazine

During his 41 years in High Point, Zaki Khalifa has developed one of the nation’s largest Oriental rug distributorships and gained a reputation as one of the Furniture City’s most philanthropic business leaders. Now, Khalifa, the 73-year-old owner of Zaki Oriental Rugs, is moving into a new phase of his life. He donated his current space on South Main Street and his remaining rug inventory — which runs in the millions of dollars — to Pakistani nonprofit Akhuwat, which will reap the proceeds once the property is sold. Akhuwat works to reduce poverty through interest-free microloans and free grade-school education. Khalifa is packing his bags for Lahore, Pakistan, where he’ll spend eight months out of the year teaching children at Akhuwat schools.

“It was a difficult decision,” Khalifa says. “But I want to spend my remaining years impacting the lives of the maximum amount of people. This is an area where I can help thousands children. … We need education, these are the most desperate kids that have no hope for the future.”

Going above and beyond to help others isn’t new for the High Point resident. He and his wife, Rashida, have been big supporters of local charitable organizations and charities abroad. He gifted his former High Point showroom spaces to house the High Point Chamber of Commerce, the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau and High Point Community Against Violence. The Khalifas have contributed thousands of dollars and hours to the Al-Aqsa Community Clinic, a Burlington-based free health clinic co-founded by Rashida, and Friends of Aabroo, a Pakistani nonprofit founded by Zaki that provides a free education for more than 4,000 children.

Pakistan, wedged in South Asia between Afghanistan and India, is the fifth most populous nation with more than 212 million people. Nearly 39% of Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty due to lack of education and poor health facilities, according to a 2016 report from the country’s Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform.

“I’ve decided to donate around 80% of my net worth to charity,” Khalifa says. “I don’t have to have the biggest house or the nicest car. One is to live comfortably in life, but one should do what they can to help better society.”

Khalifa moved to High Point from Pakistan in 1977 and opened Zaki Oriental Rugs. The business now claims the largest selection of fine handmade rugs in the U.S., and boasts customers from all 50 states and 17 countries, according to Khalifa.

Khalifa has received numerous awards for his business and service endeavors, including the BB&T Distinguished Citizen of the Year and Small Business Advocate of the Year from the High Point Chamber of Commerce. He was selected as one of the top 50 Asian-Americans in business in in the U.S. by the Asian American Business Development Center, and  received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award from Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015.

“Zaki is a humble man who has demonstrated that diversity in America is good and that diversity in America makes us whole,” High Point University President Nido Qubein said when he presented Khalifa with an Order of the Long Leaf Pine honor in 2015. “He has been a person who has promoted the kind of values that are noble and precious to each of us, and that shows us what we believe in America is important and worthwhile.”

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