Arabs–From Fascination to Hatred to Tolerance

Arabs–From Fascination to Hatred to Tolerance

Arabs–From Fascination to Hatred to Tolerance
Jason George, Chicago Tribune, 12/8/05,1,3971159.story

It was 112 years ago that an Egyptian Muslim climbed the stairs of a newly constructed minaret along the Chicago lakefront and sang out “Allah Akbar” to a crowd of enchanted, and puzzled, spectators.

Islam’s Arab emissaries were an uncommon sight when they appeared as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Bedouin camel boys, the Algerian theater and the scandalous “danse du ventre” (belly dance) only heightened the fascination with the Middle East.

How much has the understanding of Arabs and Muslims in Chicago advanced since then?

According to some, not far enough. Interviews show they feel as though they are under suspicion by large parts of the public, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

And it’s no different nationally. According to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken in July, of the 1,006 adults polled, 53 percent said Arabs, even those who are U.S. citizens, should undergo more-intensive security checks when boarding an airplane in the United States. About 46 percent said that Arabs and Arab-Americans should carry a special ID.

Other observers said that there is great acceptance of Muslims in Chicago, which just finished celebrating Arab Heritage month.

In interviews, Arabs have expressed frustration, ambivalence and gratitude toward this city. Here are four of those voices.


When Manar Kandil arrived at the University of Illinois at Chicago in August, she came bearing traditional freshman worries like: How far is my dorm from my classes? Will my professors be tough?

Kandil, an 18-year-old Egyptian-American, had another question: Would she find anyone like her?

“The first thing I did was try to go everywhere and look for Arabs,” she said of her first days on campus. “Every person I saw with a scarf on, I was like, OK, are you Arab?”

Find them she did. “Within two weeks I met so many Arabs,” she laughed.

But she met two groups, she said.

“There is always going to be a group of Arabs that are proud to be Arab, and they try to uphold the Arab culture. And then there is that group that they try as much as they can not to associate with being Arab,” she said. “Initially it was kind of frustrating to see people who are like, My name is Mo, not Mohammed.”

Sitting in the university’s student center, Kandil said this experience has made her faith stronger.

For Kandil, that means no dating or alcohol. Prayer time comes five times a day. It also means decorating her dorm room and acting like an average teenager.

“My father continually tells us take the good from both cultures,” she said. “They wanted us to strike a balance. . .”


Dr. Abdulgany Hamadeh counts his blessings.

His three healthy children not only have friends at their Islamic school in Bridgeview, they also go to neighborhood birthday parties and play sports near their Burr Ridge home. And the hours the physician puts in at a successful pulmonary and sleep-disorder practice allow them to enjoy the finer things.

Such a life was not even a dream 24 years ago, when Hamadeh emigrated from Syria.

“When I came here, my main goal was to get the best education I can get,” said Hamadeh, 45. “Later on, I decided to stay here.”

He is a proud Arab-American who argues that integration is key to Arabs’ being accepted here. “I think it’s wrong for communities to stay together and just stay enclosed, because it gives that wrong impression. The Arab communities should come out,” the physician said.

He’s trying to help further this by working with local Islamic and Syrian organizations that do community outreach. He’s also part of a group of suburban Muslims who plan on building a new mosque, far from Chicago’s Arab neighborhoods.

“We live in this society, and we are a part of it, and we have to act in a way that’s responsible,” he said.