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Why the Iowa City Named After a Muslim Hero Matters Today

Why the Iowa City Named After a Muslim Hero Matters Today


Author Nouha Zaabab by

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“Make America great again!” Mr. Trump says as he campaigns across the United States, selling fear and walking all over thousands of Arab and Muslim Americans whose courage, innovations, and contributions are part of the reason America is already great.

It’s an honor to be an Algerian-American living in a nation whose fabric is stitched with inspiring and lasting contributions from fellow Algerians of past, present, and, God willing, future generations.

Among those renowned Algerians is Emir Abdelkader al-Jaza’iri. If you’re ever driving through Clayton County, Iowa, you might pass through the city of Elkader, which was named in honor of the brave Algerian who led the fight for Algerian independence and protected non-Muslims from persecution.

In 1860 Damascus, Syria, Abdelkader saved the lives of thousands of Christians, including the staff of the American consulate, from pogroms. He even housed several in his own home. As a result, President Abraham Lincoln honored Abdelkader as a great humanitarian, praising his heroism and tolerance of all faiths as a valuable contribution to not only our nation but all of humanity.

Even while struggling with foreign occupation, imprisonment, and exile, his moral compass of compassion and self-control trumped hatred and intolerance; Emir Abdelkader’s story offers a powerful rebuttal to any notion that Islamic values are a threat to the Western World.

In 1883, the year of Abdelkader’s passing, The New York Times eulogized, “The nobility of his character won him the admiration of the world…he was one of the few great men of the century.”

This positive perception and acknowledgment from people in power and the media in the past is a detachment from present day fear-mongering of bigots like Mr. Trump and his followers, who attempt to poison the American atmosphere by spewing demagoguery and hate.

These bigots overlook present-day contributors like Dr. Elias Zerhouni and Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, who left Algeria to further pursue medical research and scientific knowledge in America, respectively.

As a result of his hard work, and determination, in December 2001, a few months after 9/11, President Bush asked Dr. Zerhouni to be the Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world’s largest medical research facility. He became the first immigrant to ever lead NIH.

Dr. Melikechi is a member of the Mars Science Laboratory initiative, NASA’s largest Mars exploration effort to date, also known as “Curiosity” rover, which landed on Mars August 5th, 2012.

In the words of Dr. Zerhouni, “That’s the wonderful thing about America; it recognizes merit, and it gives you a chance.”

I am a student at Georgia Tech. I work hard. I do my best to succeed and contribute to the country that adopted my parents and me. As a second-generation Algerian-American Muslim woman growing up in this age of radicalism and xenophobia, I look up with admiration to these individuals and their life’s work, which has contributed to building the very fabric of our nation.

Today, more than ever, Muslims and non-Muslims alike should remember the civility, moral courage, compassion, and intellect of Emir Abdelkader as well as Dr. Zerhouni and Dr. Melikechi, who are living proof that the American Dream exists. They also serve as a reminder to all Arab and Muslim-Americans alike not to shy away from being involved because in the end, participating and contributing will make a difference.

The legacy of Emir Abdelkader, Dr. Zerhouni, and Dr. Melikechi must not stop here. These individuals are a few examples of a long list of inspiring Algerian, Arab and Muslim men and women who have added value to the American and global society, paving a path for future generations to pursue their American dreams, find gratitude, and give back to our nation.

We have doctors, researchers, lawyers, journalists and other professionals throughout the nation in esteemed universities and career positions who are eager to serve the nation which has adopted us.

In the end, we can proudly say this: We are American. We are not going anywhere. God willing, we are here to stay.

Nouha Zaabab is a current first-year at Georgia Tech studying Industrial Engineering on a pre-law track. Nouha is a proud Algerian-American, passionate about meeting new people and collecting their stories, and finds it empowering to ask questions, shift perspectives, and enlighten minds when it comes to social justice and cultural awareness/acceptance.


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