Mohammed Ali Shihab: An inspiring journey from orphanage to UPSC

By Shafeeq Hudawi,,

“What is your strength, Ali?” asked the discerning panel during the interview round of the UPSC exams in 2011. The answer would change the life of Mohammed Ali Shihab forever.

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“I come from a remote village in Kerala’s Malappuram district and I was brought up in an orphanage. Having accommodated with 150 children, I led a social life even in my sleep. The orphanage lent me tolerance, patience and leadership quality along with other several merits needed for an ideal civil servant,” Mohammed Ali Shihab replied.


It was an answer that helped Shihab clear the last hurdle and achieve a dream seen by millions, achieved by few: the orphan who grew up in Mukkam Muslim Orphanage in Kozhikode district had achieved Rank 226 in the list of candidates selected for UPSC.

The civil servant, who is currently the deputy commissioner in Mon, the eastern most district of Nagaland, is all set to take over another task: of demystifying the myth around the IAS exams in order to draw hundreds of aspirants towards the highest tag of civil service.

“Despite being an underprivileged student who lost his father at an early age, I could become an IAS officer. Remember, my dream was to become a teacher in an orphanage primary school as teachers were my heroes during my orphanage days,” he told

“Ours is a country where a man can clear the IAS exams only with his degree. There is no discrimination and things are quite transparent. But even now, for most of our students, clearing the Civil Service Examination remains a mission impossible owing to their mindset. I am looking to fight this syndrome through raising awareness and encouraging such students,” says 35-year-old Shihab.

What made Shihab’s achievement even more exemplary was that he wrote his mains in Malayalam, as he studied in Malayalam medium schools.

It is no wonder, then, that every time he comes back home for a vacation, he spends a sizeable chunk of his time in schools, colleges and orphanages, where he holds interaction with students.
“Believe me, I had to spend 29 days with students in various institutions when I visited my home last time for one month,” Shihab says.

\Shihab’s efforts to crack the IAS despite the challenges he had been facing received recognition in 2009, when New Delhi-based Zakat Foundation supported him by giving free Civil Services coaching.

Shihab says that his experiences in professional life helped him understand the challenges faced by orphanage students.

“After leaving Mukkam Muslim Orphanage I was a regular visitor there. Though several of the inmates were blessed with skill, there was no one to motivate them. When some of the alumni advice them they acted like working hard in their activities,” Shihab reminisces.

“I thought if I was an achiever I could easily motivate them. By the grace of God, I could become successful,” the young IAS officer says.

Sharing the most cherishing memory in his life the achiever says, “When I heard the news that I had cleared IAS, I visited my alma matter. A reception was accorded in a packed auditorium. I asked the children seated inside, what do you want to become?. They unanimously said IAS! Most of them don’t know what IAS stands for. Believe me, even the children aged three and four, seated in front row, were chanting IAS, IAS.” Shihab was upbeat as he turned a motivator for all of them and asked them to widely read and dream.

Now that Shihab has achieved elusive dream, he plans to send a sizeable amount of his time inspiring, educating and guiding others from marginalised and challenging backgrounds to help them achieve their dreams.


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