PSN member Siavash Saffari wrote the following in memory of our friend, Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi.
A Palestinian Citizen of the World
In the Memory of Ibrahim Abu-Rabi
It’s sometime in October 2008. We are organizing PSN’s first event on campus; a small workshop on the BDS campaign. We post posters and send out emails and wait to see what kind of response we get. There hasn’t been a lot of Palestine activism in Edmonton for a while, so we want a chance to get together with other people who are interested and see what can be done. A few days before the event, I get an email from Ibrahim Abu-Rabi. The message starts with “Dear _______,”. Formal but friendly. He introduces himself as a professor at the university; says that he is going to be in Germany (or somewhere else in Europe, I can’t remember) for a few days and will miss the event. He wants to meet when he returns, and would like to help if he can. I google his name and realize that he is the new Islamic Studies chair, a Palestinian from Nazareth, Galilee, with a long CV of work on interfaith dialogue.
A couple of weeks later, I get another email from Ibrahim. He is back in town and wants to meet. He invites me to see him at his office for a chat over a cup of herbal tea. At his office, he greets me with a big smile and some exotic herbal tea that he has brought back from one of his recent trips. He tells me about himself, asks about my research interests, and we end up chatting about Ali Shariati and Muhammad Iqbal for a while. He tells me about a friend in Karachi who is an Iqbal scholar and says if I intend on going to Pakistan he can put me in touch with the friend. Then we talk about Palestine, I tell him about PSN, the workshop, and future plans. He is glad to hear that something is happening. He tells me about his own hopes to get the Palestinian community in Edmonton more engaged and says he’ll help any way he can. We talk about meeting again, maybe this time over some Arabic food at his house.
Over the next two and a half years, Professor Abu-Rabi (or “Dr. Ibrahim” as many people in the community call him), spoke at several PSN events, introduced us to many of his friends and colleagues who were also committed to the struggle of the Palestinian people, and was a bridge that connected organizers to the Palestinian community in Edmonton.
The last time he spoke at one of our events was during IAW last March. We were organizing a panel discussion abut the Arab Spring and its impact on Palestine. Philip Weiss was going to talk about the effect of the uprisings on US foreign policy in the Middle East. Ghada Ageel was going to talk about the implications for the Palestinian refugees. We needed another speaker to contextualize the recent changes and talk about different movements across the region. Ibrahim was the obvious choice, and we were hoping that he could find the time between his busy travel schedule and hosting academic or religious delegations from other countries. He was just as comfortable speaking about his homeland of Palestine, as he was speaking about Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and many other places where he had lived, visited regularly for research, and took his students and people from the community for education tours.
Hamid Dabashi describes Edward Said as an intellectual who “cared deeply for Palestine,” and this care and commitment shaped his “politics and ethics of responsibility towards the rest of the world.” The Dr. Ibrahim that I got to know was one those people. A true “citizen of the world” (as a friend described him), with a deep commitment to the struggle of the Palestinian people against occupation and racism. In an IAW event in 2009, Abu-Rabi read one of his poems called “Who will weep for Palestine?” When I heard the news, I made a cup of herbal tea and listened to his words.
Greet our house for us; oh Stranger,
Kiss the stones of our backyard;
Embrace the leaves of our trees
That have shed so many tears since our departure
And take care of the animals too,
Who have gone hungry since we left
And do not forget to pray at the grave of my mother
For all the strength that I have, has come from her.
And greet Father for us
In the chaos of the night;
In the chaos of departure
He was left behind
And although we smell his presence all the time
He has disappeared from our sight
Do you remember the routes of our migration?
I was a baby then
And my mother forgot me hanging in the saddle of our donkey,
Who was shot for trying to return home.
Since that time I have been weeping
For the death of our beloved donkey
Who sacrificed his soul for mine.
You, who are coming from across the seas
Fortified with the claims of civilization
And the fake mission of peace
Take your civilization away
And leave us to our simple ways, to our fig and olive trees
Take your tanks out of our refugee camps
And take your snipers out of our hearts.
You have been asking us to stop
Our anger at dispossession
So that our Arab Emirs and Sheikhs
Can gamble away the wealth of the desert
Or that their American friends can suck out the oil
From the fossils of the desert;
And get drunk in the corridors of Washington and London.
You can exile us, strangle our kids,
And murder our neighbors.
But please be kind to our dreams, to our past
Do not murder our future together,
Because some day we must learn how to live together.
We, the humiliated and the defeated, have extended our hands to you
all this time, begging you to forgive us for the sins we had never
Begging you to drink our coffee with us
To eat our food with us
And even to sleep in our bed.
But you have refused
You wanted our coffee, our food and our bed without us.
You have thrown us into the nightmare of exile, into the abyss of agony.
You have broken the feet of a whole generation, gouged their eyes,
and left them to bleed to their death
And we are still begging you to be merciful; to be mindful of our plight
We still believe there is an atom of humanity within you.
How sad is it to walk the streets of cold New England
Holding the Departed Ones? hands
And how sad is it to think of your eyes
That are full of tears?
And how tragic that I am left alone after your departure from this life
Left alone, unprotected and unsafe!
Please take time from your place of rest to call on me.
Remember the aroma of coffee coming out
from many a chimney of sleepy villages
And the smoke coming out of the nostrils
of old men and women smoking the Huka?
Where do we go from here?
When we are burdened with our tragedy
When we are not left in peace alone
Where do we go from here?