Q1: Can you tell us about your journey to the United States?
I am Palestinian, but was born and raised in Qatar, basically with a refugee status – we carried a refugee travel document issued by Egypt. It was not how we envision refugees today, because we lived a close to middle class lifestyle. But we were just residents of the country – you are not naturalized by birth, you don’t get citizenship – you’re a resident. This means you don’t have the full rights of the citizen. To move to Qatar, my father had to be sponsored by someone, so his company sponsored him to come and work for them. If his employer were to decide it was done with him, there is a little bit of a grace period, but if he couldn’t find another employer, we’d have had to leave the country. He couldn’t own anything, he couldn’t have a business in his name, we were just there as residents. We still got other benefits of course – free public school, public health – but we did have to face our own set of circumstances.
I’m the youngest of five – my parents were both high school graduates and they instilled in us the importance of a university education, because that meant you had a ticket to go somewhere and establish a life. All of us are first-generation college educated.
In ’96 after high school, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go. My brother had just graduated from dental school at Case Western (Reserve University) in Cleveland and I thought of joining him there, but my parents were trying to get Canadian citizenship at the same time. So a few months into it, they told me I was moving to Canada. I lived in Canada for three years, I got my bachelor’s in biology, got my Canadian citizenship, moved to the U.S. in 2000 for pharmacy school and really haven’t looked back since. I’ve lived various places in the U.S. since 2000.
Q2: Tell us about your experience as an immigrant in North America, especially if there is a difference here versus in Canada.
There is and there isn’t (a difference), but you’re asking about something in which there is a 20 year difference between the two experiences. Moving to Canada at 18, I had rights for the first time. I had the right to freedom of speech, I could own something. One of my fondest memories was when I was returning from a trip to Qatar to visit family. I came back and I was a landed immigrant, I wasn’t even a full citizen yet, and the customs officer greeted me with “welcome home…” and I thought wow, that’s a great feeling. There was obviously a lot to adjust to with the culture shock and everything, but I wasn’t made to feel that I was different because I’m Muslim or Arab or an immigrant or anything. But that also was 1996 or 1997. Coming to the U.S. in 2000, I didn’t feel anything, of course at that time I was a Canadian student coming to the U.S., so I didn’t feel any discrimination, but that was also prior to Sept. 11, prior to the Trump administration, etc. It’s a completely different ball game. I can’t say that in 23 years I haven’t had blatant discrimination – I have, but it’s not been too drastic.
Q3: How did your career path lead you to Manchester University?
I was in Maine before I came here, working as a hospital pharmacist, then I was with a new startup school of pharmacy at Husson University where I helped them start their college of pharmacy. After my second child was born, we wanted to move closer to family. My wife is from East Lansing, Michigan, my brother and my sister with their families live there and we moved my parents there a few years ago. We were looking to move closer and this opportunity popped up eight years ago, so I applied and here I am.
Q4: What sets the pharmacy program at Manchester apart from other universities?
Our mission statement – the focus on the infinite worth of every individual. I saw a lot of good foundational elements with the focus on a more advanced approach to pharmacy practice and education in the pharmacy program when it was started about eight years ago. With the university as a whole, I appreciated its culture, vision and mission statement. And I felt that I could grow with the program, a lot more so than other places where I may have been pigeonholed into a particular role – that doesn’t fit my ADD. He laughs.
Q5: You’ve lived a number of places (Ohio, Washington, Maine, Ontario), what do you like about living in northeast Indiana?
Living here has been the longest amount of time I have lived in one place since leaving Qatar. I love the family atmosphere, the family feel to it. We love the parks and the nature around us. We’re not a tv-watching family, we’re more the jump around in the backyard or go out on the trails type of family. I like how welcoming the Fort Wayne community has been. I’ve always been involved; I was active as a college student and as a professional in whatever interfaith dialogue, minority discussions, panel discussions, etc., but I’ve never been as active as I have been here. And I credit that to the community wanting to know more, wanting to learn more, wanting to engage in these conversations, so I appreciate that about Fort Wayne.
Q6: What do you and your family like to do for fun?
We definitely like to be outdoors. From YMCA soccer where I coach my kids to taking our bikes to Foster Park. We live by the Parkview YMCA so the Salomon Farm Park trail is close. We like the Pufferbelly trail, walking, hiking, riding our bikes. My kids are always climbing things that they probably shouldn’t be climbing. We do get up to see our family in Michigan. It’s nice sometimes to go up in the morning and come home at night. It’s close enough to drive but not so close anyone just shows up. He laughs.
Q7: Do you serve on any boards?
I’ve been on the board with the United Way of Allen County for four years now. I’ve been chairing their advocacy committee for over a year. The advocacy committee looks at how we can advocate for the population we care for, and we focus on what’s called the ALICE population (asset limited, income constrained, employed). The committee is made up of members of the community and members of the board, and we look at the policies that may impact this population. For example, we work a lot with the On My Way Pre-K program.
I’m also on the board of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. I’ve been on various other boards in the past, like with the local mosque in town as well as the statewide board for the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. I do also give a lot of talks. My primary talk is about caring for the Muslim patient. I used to bring a lot of nursing, OT, PT, health care program-related classes and give a talk about Islam and caring for Muslim patients. That has spun off into different trainings on Islam: I’ve done one with the Fort Wayne Police Department and the local FBI unit. I’ve done a talks at the 122nd Fighter Wing — there were troops deploying, not to active combat but to a Muslim area, and they wanted counsel on religion and interactions with Muslims.