When I contacted Mohammed Labadi, Islamic Center of DeKalb
president, to ask whether I could interview a local Muslim family,
so I could learn how they live here and are accepted in the community,
I knew little about their religion or how they would respond.
Then I was invited into the home of the Alkarzon family
in the 500 block of Normal Road and spent a pleasant afternoon
talking with the patriarch, Awni, and his wife, Manal, along
with three of their five children, Nour, Hend and Bashar.
Being interested in finding out how they have adapted to
life here, which must be drastically different from their homeland
the Gaza Strip in Palestine, I hardly knew where to begin.
The Alkarzon family gathered in their living room
for an interview last week. From left are Nour, Manal, Awni,
Hend and Bashar. Two other children not present are Mohammed
(Barry Schrader photo for ShawMedia)
Awni and Manal both have their Ph.Ds, his first one earned
in India in American literature, then a second Ph.D. in higher
education at Northern Illinois University. She finished her Ph.D.
in instructional technology last May.
He works in the Division of International Affairs at NIU,
marketing the university to foreign students who are seeking
an education in American colleges. I was surprised to learn there
are more than 1,500 foreign students now at NIU. Before coming
here, he was director of the Palestinian American Cultural Center
in Palestine. Now, he and Manal have become U.S. citizens.
Talking with their children, I found that two of them graduated
from DeKalb High School and are now in college Nour, a
junior at NIU, and Hend, a freshman at Kishwaukee College.
Their one son, Bashar, is a junior at DeKalb High School,
and his sister, Maha, who was attending a Bulls game in Chicago
that day, is a freshman.
Their other son, Mohammed, attends Jefferson Elementary
School, where they told me most of the foreign families send
their younger children. That school, plus DeKalb High School,
have English-as- a-second-language programs, which are a great
help to kids entering school after moving here from abroad.
There is so much I wanted to ask them, so I started with
how they are treated and accepted in the DeKalb community. They
all cited positive experiences they have encountered, friendly
outreach from the Network of Nations where they were first
greeted upon arrival and no problem renting a house, shopping
and getting acclimated to life in a small college community.
Awni explained it is so different from the violence and
crowded conditions on the Gaza Strip, which has a population
of 2 million living on land the size of Washington, D.C. They
really have appreciated the open spaces here the trees,
the spacious green lawns and parks, which dont exist where
they lived in Palestine.
There is so much more I want to share about them and their
religious practices. Questions about the womens head scarf,
called a hijab, and how they are able to pray five times a day
while in school. So this will be covered next week in a second
Correction from last weeks column: The email address
for Sarah Moses is firstname.lastname@example.org.