Introduction overview of Arabs of Chicagoland tour

Introduction overview of Arabs of Chicagoland tour

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Introduction overview of Arabs of Chicagoland tour

This was the outline of the tour that was conducted in Chicago from 1997 through 2004

The first is of Little Arabia in Chicago (Lawrence and Kedzie)
The second is of Little Arabia in Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs

(As a note: Most Arabs today live in Chicagoland’s Southwest suburbs. Many Chicago residents who speak Arabic, and constitute the majority of the community around Lawrence and Kedzie are actually Assyrian, which is a non-Arab Arabic speaking, Middle East community of Christians. (Also called Chaldeans in Detroit)

By Ray Hanania


Author, award winning journalist, standup comedian and radio talk show host Ray Hanania takes you on an introductory tour of Chicagoland’s Arab American community.

The original tour took guests by bus first to a Christian Arab Church in Chicago and a Muslim Mosque in Chicago also to understand the religious foundation of the community. This was followed by a visit to Chicago’s North Side Arab American community business center at Lawrence and Kedzie either for a drive through, a walking tour or lunch at one of the several Middle Eastern restaurants (depending on tour package).

The new tour takes guests to a Christian Arab Church in the Chicago Suburbs, St. Mary Church at 127th and Ridgeland, and to the region’s first actual Mosque, the Mosque Foundation in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview. This is followed by a discussion at an Arab restaurant in Bridgeview along the Arab Corridor on South Harlem Avenue (77th Street to 127 Street).

The Chicago Tour (First tour) was previously showcased in the City of Chicago’s popular “Great Faces & Places” tours of Chicago’s neighborhoods and sites, usually in mid-May. Hanania’s tour was voted the best in 2007 and was expanded from once to twice each day on Saturday and Sunday.

The Chicago Faces & Places Tour was supported by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. It was cancelled when the entire program was cut back in 2010. The following year,Rahm Emanuel was elected Mayor of Chicago. Mayor Emanuel has a hostile racism against American Arabs. During his first year in office Mayor Emanuel gutted the Chicago Human Relations Commission and ordered the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs to be closed.

(The Advisory Commission had years of partisan political problems under the authoritarian leadership of Human Relations Commission Chairman Clarence Wood, many in the community hoped new, more effective leaders would be appointed. Emanual’s actions had nothing to do with the growing dissatisfaction of Clarence Wood or the Commission’s failure as an organization.)

This is from my book, “Arabs of Chicagoland” Published in 2005 by Arcadia Press

Arabs of Chicagoland: “Plymouth Rock”

Many of the early Arab immigrants to America were, initially, Lebanese Christians, who fled persecution in their homelands. They came to America in the middle of the 19th Century. A conflict with the larger Muslim Druze community in 1860 resulted in the total destruction of the Christian village of Zahlah. Many of the Survivors fled to other Arab cities, such as Damascus in Syria, and then were more than likely to continue on to the United States.

Generally, Muslims and Christians had maintained good relations, and conflicts like the Zahlah massacre were rare. Some believed that the Ottoman Turks were involved in inciting this conflict. Nonetheless, the event did spark the first major wave of Arabs to come to America and Chicago at the end of the 19th Century.

This early Syrian-Lebanese community settled near 18th Street and Michigan Avenue, which soon became known as Chicago’s Arabic Quarter. Since almost all Arab-Americans to Chicago arrived there, it is sometimes referred to as the “Plymouth Rock” of the Chicago Arab American community. It continued to serve as the arrival point for new Arab and Muslim immigrants through the mid-1940s. In the 1940s, it was centered around the Mecca Restaurant on South Michigan Avenue, where Arabian food specialties were served and Arab merchants would congregate and share stories and find comfort.

The Syrian-Lebanese were mostly Christian Arabs of the Maronite faith. In the early years they rented an apartment to conduct their church services. They did not have a priest of their own, but would invite Arab priests passing through Chicago to perform the religious services.

In 1905 they were able to engage a full time priest who offered services from the basement of a local church. The Syrian-Lebanese settlers also established a Syrian Club. The journal, Survey, in its 1911 four part series on Syrians in America, estimated that there were 1200 Syrians (the name included all Arabs) living in Chicago, compared to 6,000 in New York, and only 56 in Duluth, Minnesota. There were 15 Arab owned stores in Chicago.

Typical of the racism directed at Arab American immigrants in these years was a section in Chicago Confidential, a book on Chicago published in 1950. Under the heading, “Sons of the Prophet”, the authors introduce their readers to this Middle East section of the city.

You won’t find any camels at 18th and Michigan. Chicago’s small Arabic quarter is  surrounded by Automobile Row. If you can digest such, there are several native restaurants serving Near Eastern delicacies which you are supposed to eat with your hands. Arabs sell tapestry and rugs, wholesale and retail. Many merchants who say they are Arabs (because business is business) are not. You will find no orgies out of the Arabian Nights here. Chicago’s Arabs don’t keep harems and if they did you wouldn’t care to look twice at their women. They wouldn’t be to your taste. The chief past time is drinking thick, black coffee and playing cards.

Knocking on the door of God… Yatlah al-Bab al-Allah

Many of the Syrian-Lebanese immigrants began as door-to-door peddlers. The Arab peddler was an extension of the Arab merchant in the great suqs, the open air markets of the Middle East. It was strenuous work and required long hours of walking carrying a heavy suitcase of merchandise, usually bed spreads, shirts, combs, and brushes. It was as hard as the work they left behind, but they found more opportunity in America. The early Arab peddlers referred to their work as “knocking on (or opening) the door of God”, yatlah al-bab al-Allah.

American customs were new to these merchants but they quickly discovered that they had to satisfy the demands of the local politicians.“We had to go there for our permits to peddle merchandise from our suitcases,” recalled Hassan Haleem, the patriarch of a large family of Muslim Palestinians who immigrated to this country at the turn of the century. “We had to pay them the registration fee, and a small fee for them, personally. Then, we could peddle our wares on the street. The permit would be fixed to the suitcase.”

1893 Columbian Exposition

One of the first Arabs that many Chicagoans, and other Americans, came to know may well have been the make-believe character, Gamal El Din El Yahbi. El Yahbi was created by the sponsors of the 1893 Columbian Exposition to help Americans experience the excitement and culture of the Arab World. El Yahbi “owned” an elegant home that was located in the center of the “Street in Cairo” which was one of the main attractions of the 1893 Columbian Exposition and located at the center of the fair’s Midway Plaisance. Cairo Street was a composite of many different images that a visitor might see while visiting Cairo, Egypt, and other Arab countries in the Middle East. It reflected the lifestyles of the early 17th Century Arabs and was designed by Max Herz, the official government architect for the Khedive of Egypt.

This reconstructed Arab city featured a mosque with its massive doors and ornamentation. It was built to the precise dimensions of an existing mosque in Cairo, minus the towering minaret where the muezzin would call the faithful to prayer. The street itself was lined with buildings and storefronts, built with balconies and ornate facades, portals and mosaic designs, and overlooking a fountain and an open air market filled with tethered camels and donkeys that fairgoers could ride.

There were sixty-one shops on the street, selling souvenirs from the Middle East Cairo Street also featured a 3800 BCE Tomb of the 5th Egyptian Dynasty, the ancient Temple of Luxor, and mummies from the 16th century BCE. Living in Cairo Street were 180 Egyptians, Nubians and Sudanese. A highlighted feature was the many storied home of Gamal El Din El Yahbi who was described as a “Mohammedan of the time”.

(The word “Mohammedan” is an old term used by people who did not understand that Muhammad was a prophet of Islam and not a God to be worshipped. Members of the Islamic faith are correctly called Muslims. Today, the term is considered racist and disrespectful).

Each day they would offer two performances of. sword dancing and candle dancing
accompanied by musicians. There were also conjurers, astrologers, fortune tellers, and snake charmers. A pamphlet prepared for fairgoers concluded, “When the Columbian Exposition shall have become a thing of the past and its memories hazy with the flight of time, there shall be one spot which shall remain brighter than all the rest, that one will be its beautiful Cairo Street, in the Midway Plaisance”.

Palestinians and Jordanians Follow

The majority of Arabs living in Chicago now are of Palestinian and Jordanian origins. The Palestinians came predominantly from two villages in Palestine called Beitunia and Ramallah. These twin cities are located next to each other in the West Bank just north of Jerusalem. Beitunia was the Muslim village and Ramallah the Christian village. Beitunia Muslims now constitute the largest community of Arabs in Chicago. They began arriving in Chicago around 1910. Palestinian immigration from Ramallah to Chicago began in 1920. It was common for an affluent businessman to lead the migration by opening restaurants in newer areas. These restaurants became the magnets for later immigrants. As the years passed, the immigrants and their children spread out into numerous different neighborhoods. They established their
own community centers and places of worship.

The First Mosque

Muslim Arabs built their first mosque in the spring of 1956. The event was written up in the Chicago Tribune.

The Mosque Foundation of Chicago has purchased a home of its own which will be the
first mosque in Chicago, according to Hassan Haleem, secretary-treasurer of the
foundation. He said the building, a former church at 6500 [South] Stewart Ave., was
purchased from the South Side association for $100,000. [The Mosque will service]
many families from Arabian countries, the majority from Palestine, during the last few
years. The society was formed two years ago by 10 or 15 families.

Haleem said there were about 100 Islamic families on the south and southwest side,
including more than 200 children. To continue their customs, to follow and practice
their religion, and to instill these habits together with the Arabic language in the minds of their children, they felt a great need for forming a society, Haleem said.

Their religion has this creed: There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his Messenger.
The Palestinian Christians from Ramallah, along with several Christian Jordanian families also established a place for worship. By 1970, St. George Orthodox Church in Oak Park, was drawing parishioners from as far away as Indiana. In the late 1980s, the church relocated to Cicero, Illinois. While churches and mosques became the center of community activity for various Arab groups, they did not serve specific groups exclusively. St. George Church, for example, attracted not only Ramallah Christians, but also Christians from other denominations, and other Palestinian cities and Arab countries. The church services were, and still are, conducted in the Arabic language.

Chicago’s Arab Population Growth

Three studies of Chicago’s Arab American communities were conducted by doctorate students in Chicago, in 1950, 1952 and 1976.Because Arab Americans were not included as a minority designation in the US Census documents, and because so few studies existed outside of the Arab American community, these documents present the most accurate glimpse into the lives of Arab Americans during those periods. It is also important to note that prior to 1897 immigrants from the Middle East were classified as Turks or as Turkish, since their countries were part of the Ottoman Empire. This made it even more difficult to track pre-1900 Arab settlement. In 1976, the Arab population of Chicago was approximately 15,000. Today, as a result of increased immigration since 1976, it is estimated that the Chicago area’s Arab American community actually number around 150,000. Figures for the state range between
350,000 and 450,000.

Arabs of Chicagoland Tour

Most people associate the Arab community with the Southwest Side and several controversies involving community protests against mosques proposed in Palos Heights and Orland Park.

And while these issues remain constantly in the headlines, Chicagoland has another major population of Arabs who live on Chicago’s Northwest Side centered in Albany Park.

While the Arabs on the Southwest Side were predominantly Muslim, the Arabs on the Northwest Side were predominantly Christian. In recent years, many Christian Arabs have been relocating to the Southwest suburbs. Among both communities are Christians who live on the Southwest side and suburbs and Muslims who live on the Northwest side and suburbs, too.

Their presence is magnified by other factors. For example, Chicagoland’s Muslim community not only includes Arabs but also Asians, Pakistanis and Indians among other ethnic and racial groups who practice the Islamic faith.

And Christian Arabs, especially on Chicago’s Northwest Side, also have a magnified presence by virtue of the fact that also living among them is another non-Arab Middle Eastern community of Christians who hail from Iraq and who identify with the ancient race of Assyrians. (If you saw the film the “Passion of the Christ,” the language used in the film, Aramaic, is also the language that most Assyrians still speak today.)
There are more than 100,000 Assyrians who live on the North and Northwest side of Chicago and suburbs. They have their own churches, social clubs, newspapers and political organizations. Several have held political office. And, the wife of Chicago Alderman Patrick O’Connor is also of Assyrian heritage.

Chicagoland’s Arab population includes about 185,000 Arabs in Chicago and with the majority located in the suburban parts of Cook County around Chicago. There are about275,000 more Arabs who live in the five counties around Cook County including Lake, Kendall, Will, and DuPage. (These numbers vary and are only estimates. The U.S. Census does not include the category of “Arab” in its tabulations so there is no official census or breakdown of where the Arab Americans live.)

The majority of Arabs of Chicagoland are Christian, or about 65 percent, reflecting the balance that exists nationally among the 4.5 million Arab Americans. The majority of Chicago’s Arabs originate from Palestine, probably as many as 60 percent, although there are large communities of Jordanians, Lebanese and some smaller pockets of Egyptians, Syrians, Arab Iraqis and Arabs from the Saudi Arabian peninsula.

The majority of Palestinian Arabs come from two adjacent West Bank cities of Ramallah and Beitunia, located 10 miles north of Jerusalem. Beitunia historically is a Muslim city and Ramallah historically is a Christian city, although the populations have shifted significantly over the years as a result of the Israeli occupation and the movement of refugees from Palestinian lands that became Israel in 1948.

It is also interesting to remind the public that while there are more than 7 to 8 million Muslims in the United States, only 20 to 22 percent are Arab. The largest majority of Muslims in Chicago and the United States are actually African American Muslims and followers of the Nation of Islam.

Muslims and Arab Christians are very closely associated and they work together often.
Generally, the Muslims are congregated by nationality. The majority of Muslims on the North Side and Suburbs are Albanian and Bosnia. The majority of the Muslims on the West Side are Indian and Pakistani. The majority of the Muslims on the Southwest Side are Palestinian Arab. The majority of Muslims on the South Side, are African American.

You will find Arabs of all origins living throughout Chicago and the Chicago suburbs in and among these overlapping national concentrations. But, there is very little documented information about the history of Arabs in Chicago, their experiences and their current activities. Chicago has no monuments, streets (other than a few “honorary” streets) nor do they have official, city-sponsored Arab events to acknowledge their presence.

Where Arabs of Chicagoland live

There are two major pockets of Arabs in Chicagoland. The first is in Chicago on the Northwest Side around Lawrence and Kedzie Avenue. The second is in the Southwest Suburbs in School District 230 which spans communities from Burbank on Chicago’s border, to Orland Park at the border of Cook and Will Counties.

Christian Arabs

Most of the Arab Churches and Arab mosques are located in the suburbs around Chicago, but a few are located in the city itself. Part of the reason is that Arabs and Muslims continually face discrimination often driven by misunderstanding. To build a mosque or Arab church in Chicago, you must obtain a zoning change to permit a religious house of worship.

Oftentimes, as a result of misunderstanding and the international political conflicts, these zoning changes are denied or difficult to obtain. As a consequence, most Arab churches and Mosques are located in the suburbs.

Efforts to open Arab Churches and Mosques has been met with resistance, as several high profile cases in Palos Heights, Orland Park and elsewhere have shown.

Yet Arab Christians and Muslims are driven by a dedication to family, respect for human dignity and also peace.

“Little Arabia in Chicago,” which can be defined geographically by the general borders of Pulaski on the west, Peterson on the north, the lake on the east and Irving Park Road on the south, consists of Muslims and Christians nestled among many other Chicago ethnic groups including Hispanics, Poles, Italians and Irish.

“Little Arabia in the Southwest Suburbs,” defined geographically by the general borders that include all of Southwest Suburban Cook County from 79th Street to 189th Street including suburban communities like Burbank, Oak Lawn, Worth, Palos, Chicago Ridge, Tinley Park, and Orland Park, and Will County bordering along Cook County including communities like Frankfort and Homer Township.


As the American Arab community started to grow in the arly part of the 1900s, and transitioned from Arab men sent here to earn a living for their families back home to Arab men who began to raise families, they started to purchase permanent homes.

After World War II, when many American Arabs served in the US Army and the US Navy to fight the Nazis in Europe and the Middle East, many of these families settlement on the South Side of Chicago in “South Shore Valley”, Jeffery Manor and Pill Hill, (between Calument Avenue on the East and Stoney Island Avenue on the West, 63rd Street on the north and 95th Street on the South.) South Shore Valley is often officially called Calumet Heights.

This area, which also included Jeffery Manor and Pill Hill, had a large Jewish American Population.

(Click here to view a map of Chicago Neighborhoods)

In the 1950s and 1960s, despite the growing conflict in the Middle East over Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the expulsion of Christian and Muslims Palestinians by Israel, most Americans Arabs and American Jews identified with each other and actually lived together.

Trhoughout the 1950s and 1960s, this mix of Arabs and Jews in Chicago lived together peacefully and without incident in South Shore Valley, Jeffery Manor and Pill Hill.

The American Arab families included Christians and Muslims. They started an Arabic school for their kids at 79th and Clyde Avenue where Christian and Arab children, (including myself) attended. This author’s family lived at 8928 S. Luella Avenue.There were a dozen Arab families in the area including that of Walid Ali, who later founded MPI Home Video, Adlai Issa, and the family of Wally Aiyash. Remember, Arabs were only a small percentage of the population, less than 2 percent. They attended CVS High School and Bowen High School.

In 1969, White Flight slammed that region of Chicago and the neighborhood changed in a six month period from All White to predominantly African American. To read about the history of White Flight in Chicago, click here to read Ray Hanania’s online book“Midnight Flight: One family’s experience of White Flight, race and the racial transformation of Chicago’s South East Side.

At that time, the Jewish community of South Shore Valley, which had a Synagogue and Jewish Community Center, relocated and moved to the North Suburbs of Chicago, to Skokie and Niles. Some Jewish families moved to Homewood-Flossmore. The Arabs moved to the West Suburbs of Burbank and Oak Lawn.

At the same time, there was a growing immigration of Palestinian Arabs from two cities in the now Occupied West Bank of Palestine located just north of the occupied city of Jerusalem called Ramallah and Beitunia. Ramallah was Christian and Beitunia was Muslim. The Beitunia Arabs who arrived in Chicago started buying homes in the Southwest Side of Chicago (Click here to view a Chicago Neighborhood Map) in mainly Marquette Park and West Englewood, and later moving further West with the movement of Chicago’s racial patterns to Garfield Ridge, Chicago Lawn, West Lawn, Clearing, Archer Heights, and Ashburn among many.

Some Christian Arabs also moved from Chicago’s Southeast Side into that same region in the Southwest Side of Chicago, but the majority moved to the Northwest Side of Chicago where the Ramallah Christian Arab Community was very strong and opened a Community Center in the 1990s. These Christian Arab families settled in an around Lawrence and Kedzie and in the Chicago neighborhoods of Logan Square and north to Albany Park (where the Lawrence and Kedzie commercial strip of Arab stores and restaurants was located.)

In the 1980s and 1990s, the communities began moving out of Chicago to the suburbs and Burbank and Oak Lawn became two of the main destinations. That grew spreading southwest into the suburbs as far southwest as Orland Park, Palos Heights.

American Arabs were always the target of racism and bigotry, beginning in the 1990s. After the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, that bigotry worsened. Many of the Christian Arabs from Ramallah, moved from the Northwest Side of Chicago to the Southwest Suburbs living in Orland Park.


Islam comes from an Arabic root word meaning “peace” and “submission.” Islam teaches that one can only find peace in one’s life by submitting to Almighty God (Allah) in heart, soul and deed. The same Arabic root word gives us “Salaam alaykum,” (“Peace be with you”), the universal Muslim greeting.

A person who believes in and follows Islam is a “Muslim” which means one who submits.

Islam has more than 1 billion followers worldwide more than 20 percent of the world’s
population. It is an Abrahamic, monotheistic faith, along with Judaism and Christianity.

Less than 10% of Muslims are in fact Arab. Allah is the proper name for God and is an Arabic word which means “God.” Allah is not a different God than the God of Christians and Jews.

The basic beliefs of Muslims fall into six main categories, which are known as the “Articles of Faith”:

• Faith in the unity of God
• Faith in angels
• Faith in prophets
• Faith in books of revelation Faith in an afterlife
• Faith in destiny/divine decree

The “five pillars” of Islam: In Islam, faith and good works go hand-in-hand. A mere verbal declaration of faith is not enough, for belief in Allah makes obedience to Him a duty. These are five formal acts of worship which help strengthen a Muslim’s faith and obedience. They are often called the “Five Pillars of Islam.”

• Testimony of faith (Kalima)
• Prayer (salah)
• Fasting (Sawn)
• Almsgiving Zakat)
• Pilgrimage (Hajj

The Druze (a group with Ismaili roots who describe themselves as Muslims, but are not considered by most Muslims to be Muslims) say they believe in seven pillars.

• “love and devotion for God, the Prophets, the Imam and the dai.”
• Observing cleanliness of the body, the clothes and the surroundings is obligatory upon every Muslim, and this is considered as one of the pillars of Islam for the Ismailis.
• Jihad means “strive” or “struggle”. Jihad appears frequently in the Qur’an and common usage as the idiomatic expression “striving in the way of Allah (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)” A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid, the plural is mujahideen.
• A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this Islamic duty as the sixth pillar of Islam,

The first mosque was the house of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. This was a simple rectangular (53 by 56 m) enclosure containing rooms for the Prophet and his wives and a shaded area on the south side of the courtyard which could be used for prayer in the direction of Mecca.

This building became the model for subsequent mosques which had the same basic courtyard layout with a prayer area against the qibla wall.

The first of these is the minbar, or pulpit, which was used by Muhammad to give sermons, and an Imam who leads prayers. A later introduction was the mihrab or prayer niche which was first introduced by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid in the eighth century.

Other features include the ablutions facilities and a central pool or fountain and the minaret which seems to make its first appearance in the Abbasid period. A facility for purification (udu, which is conducted before prayer, is important as well. Muslims purify their bodies with water then carry out their prayer. Water flowing from fountains (hauz) in the courtyard (sahan) is not only important for ritual purposes but it effectively creates a pure and clean atmosphere.

Also during this formative period the maqsura was introduced which was designed to provide privacy and protection to the ruler and also possibly to give him added mystery.

Muslims, who are considered to be equal in the eyes of God, pray collectively, lining up
parallel to the qibla wall, being led by the imam. A tower (minaret, minar), from which a call for prayer can be announced, is not necessarily essential, however, it is a facility often seen in mosques. In Muslim towns, the voice of muazzin (a person who recites a call for prayer) reverberates from the minaret in the mosque before each prayer five x a day.

Also, in Islam it is not considered to be good for women to be seen by males outside of her own family. Thus a special area for female prayer (zanana) may be provided in mosques.


Jihad — moral struggle

Madrassa – school

Sunni versus Shi’ite — The Qu’ran does not distinguish differences between Muslims.
However, men do and in the middle of the 7th Century following the death of the Prophet Muhammed, there was a disagreement over who was the successor to Muhammed.

Sufism is a mystic tradition within Islam and encompasses a diverse range of beliefs and
practices dedicated to divine love and the cultivation of the heart. “Sufism” has been defined as a type of knowledge by the great Sufi masters. Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq, a 14th century Sufi who wrote “The Principles of Sufism” defined Sufism as, “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God.” Ibn ‘Ajiba, one of the best known Sufi masters defined Sufism as “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inward from filth and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits.”

Hutba – initial prayer (citing name of ruler at the time was traditional)

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was born in AD570, the posthumous son of a Hashemite from Mecca (Makkah). His mother died when he was about six and he was brought up by his grandfather, who had him set up as a merchant by the time he was 25. His teachings began around 612, but despite gaining some followers he was rejected by the townsmen and was forced to leave for Medina (Madinah) in 622. For the next decade he organized the Islamic creating a community based on the will of God. His activities led to the persecution of the early Muslims, followed by years of conflict, mainly with the Meccans, as the number of Muslims increased. By his death in 632, many Arabian tribes had either joined or been subdued by the Muslims.
Within a year of the Prophet’s death, the Muslims had advanced into Iraq, and by the early years of the following century had reached the River Indus and the Pyranees.
In the context of this remarkable expansion, the victory of Charles Martel at Tours (732) must rank as one of the most decisive in history. Most of the countries which were conquered during this period still remain Islamic or else have large Muslim populations.


Way back in 1868, Albany Park welcomed its first settler – a land speculator named
Richard Rusk who bought 10 acres in the undeveloped region northwest of Chicago and converted it into a brickyard on the banks of the river. By the 1870s and ’80s, Chicago’s population was booming, and residents started settling further outside the central city, moving into the territory near Rusk’s brickyard. Chicago annexed the entire area in 1889-the land that would become Albany Park neighborhood.

Less than five years later, a quartet of high-powered real estate investors purchased
more than 600 acres of former farmland for residential development. One of the investors included streetcar mogul DeLancy Louderback, who was also an Albany, N.Y native. He lobbied to name the development after his hometown, and worked with his partners to bring transportation lines to the vicinity, a crucial move in its residential and commercial expansion. Centrally located Lawrence Avenue saw its first electric streetcars in 1896, and another streetcar that ran north along Kedzie Avenue to meet Lawrence Avenue was finished in 1913. But it was the extension of the Ravenswood elevated track (now the Brown Line) to Lawrence and Kimball avenues in 1907 that made the most significant impact on the development of Albany Park. The completion of the Ravenswood “El” sparked a rapid growth in construction, most of which was close to the train station at the intersection of Lawrence and Kimball avenues. Between 1910 and 1920, the neighborhood saw its population more than triple, from 7,000 inhabitants to more than 26,000. A decade later, Albany Park’s population more than doubled again, to more than 55,000 people.

When it was still farmland, the area was largely populated by working class Germans
and Swedes. But after 1912, a sizeable number of Russian Jews who were fleeing the
overcrowded neighborhoods of the city’s near west side, moved to Albany Park in search of more space to plant roots and raise their families. The neighborhood remained predominantly Jewish until after World War II, when many Jewish families moved out of the city to the North Shore suburbs.

Suburban flight led to a period of social and economic decline in Albany Park until
1978, when several neighborhood associations sought to improve the area’s appearance and eliminate the vacated storefronts. For the next two decades, low interest loan programs and streetscape beautification initiatives increased neighborhood property values. Suddenly, a new wave of immigrants from Mexico and Asia moved in, bringing a new cultural vitality to Albany Park neighborhood. By the year 1990, this northwest Chicago community was home to the city’s largest number of immigrants from the Philippines, Guatemala and Korea. Today the area maintains its niche as a launch pad for recently arrived immigrant groups and cultures from around the world.

Demographics (Courtesy of the Arab American Institute, visit


Arab Americans constitute an ethnicity made up of several waves of immigrants from the Arabic-speaking countries of southwestern Asia and North Africa that have been settling in the United States since the 1880s. More than 80 percent are U.S. citizens. Descendants of earlier immigrants and more recent immigrants work in all sectors of society and are leaders in many professions and organizations. As a community, Arab Americans have a strong commitment to family, economic and educational achievements, and making contributions to all aspects of American life. Their Arab heritage reflects a culture that is thousands of years old and includes 22 Arab countries as diverse as Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia and Palestine.

*Excludes persons who identify as Chaldeans, Assyrians, or other Christian minorities in Iraq.

* * Includes those from Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Does not include persons from Sudan, Somalia, or Mauritania.

From 2000 US Census Sample Data.

At least 3.5 million* Americans are of Arab descent. Arab Americans live in all 50 states, but two thirds reside in 10 states; one third of the total live in California, New York, and Michigan.

About 94% live in metropolitan areas. Los Angeles, Detroit, New York/NJ, Chicago and
Washington, D.C., are the top five metro areas of Arab American concentration.

Lebanese Americans constitute a greater part of the total number of Arab Americans residing in most states, except New Jersey, where Egyptian Americans are the largest Arab group.

Americans of Syrian decent make up the majority of Arab Americans in Rhode Island, while the largest Palestinian population is in Illinois, and the Iraqi and Assyrian/Chaldean communities are concentrated in Illinois, Michigan, and California.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 4.


Arab Americans with at least a high school diploma number 85 percent. More than four out of ten Americans of Arab decent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 24% of Americans at large. Seventeen percent of Arab Americans have a post-graduate degree, which is nearly twice the American average (9%). Of the school-age population, 13% are in pre-school, 58% are in elementary or high school,
22% are enrolled in college, and 7% are conducting graduate studies.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 4.


Similar to the national average, about 64 percent of Arab American adults are in the labor force; with 5 percent unemployed. Seventy three percent of working Arab Americans are Employed in managerial, professional, technical, sales or administrative fields. Nearly half as many Americans of Arab decent are employed in service jobs (12%) in relation to Americans overall (27%). Most Arab Americans work in the private sector (88 ), while 12 percent are government employees.

Occupation Breakdown for Arab Ancestry and U.S. Population Totals
(Employed Civilian Population 16 years and older)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 4.


Median income for Arab American households in 1999 was $47,000 compared with $42,000 for all households in the United States. Close to 30 of Americans of Arab heritage have an annual household income of more than $75,000, while 22% of all Americans reported the same level of income. Mean income measured at 8% higher than that national average of $56,644.

Income (1999) by Arab Ancestry and U.S. Total Population
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 4.


The majority of Arab Americans are Christian.
Religious Affiliations of Arab Americans Based on Zogby International Survey (2002)

*Catholic include Roman Catholic, Maronite, and Melkite (Greek Catholic)
**Orthodox includes Antiochian, Syrian, Greek, and Coptic
***Muslim includes Sunni, Shi’a, and Druze

*Every ten years, the Census takes the demographic pulse of the population, collecting information ranging from family size and citizenship to education, income, and occupation. A question on “ancestry” or ethnic origin gives us a snapshot of that segment of the country, which identifies with an Arabic-speaking origin. Historically, only a portion of this population self-identifies with an Arab ancestry, resulting in a
numeric undercount by a factor of about 3. Limitations of the sampling methodology, combined with non-response by some, under-response (only two ethnic backgrounds are tabulated and reported), and reporting ancestry as race, results in relatively higher under reporting among Arab Americans. While the 2000 Census accounted for some 1.25 million persons who self-identify with an Arabic-speaking origin, our estimates (based on research done by the Zogby International polling and marketing firm)
place the population at more than 3.5 million.

Arabs on Titanic Tale: We Share the Pain But Not the Glory
By Ray Hanania

With just two words, “Yalla Yalla,” audiences around the world received their first hint
that aboard the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic were passengers of Arab heritage.
Although the brief words survived the editor’s cut, the three and one-half hour
theatrical blockbuster movie skipped past the tragedy of its Arab passengers, whom witnesses said had the liveliest haflis (parties) and who celebrated three on-board weddings.

All told, there were only 706 survivors of the 2,223 passengers and crew who sailed on
the maiden voyage of the Titanic. There were 79 passengers whose sur-names are of obvious Arab heritage. Also lost in what is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th Century was a priceless copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam which had been purchased by a Jewish investor in New York City. The book had 1,051 semi-precious stones set in 18-carat gold, 5,000 separate pieces of colored leathers and 100 square feet of 22-carat gold leaf in the tooling.

Although one Arab survivor and several other sources contend there were more than
165 Arabs on board, I searched and reviewed every name on the passenger, crew and
business concessionaire list and only could identify 79 names that were obviously of Arab heritage or later identified through other sources. Geller, in her marvelous account of the Titanic tragedy, Titanic: Women and Children First, writes there “officially were 154 Syrians on board the Titanic, and 29 were saved: four men, five children and 20 women.” She also cited newspaper accounts which suggest that the small Roman Orthodox Village of Kfar Mishki in the lower Bekaa Valley of Eastern Lebanon was “devastated by the loss of at least 13 of its inhabitants.”

All the Arab passengers were ticketed “Third Class,” except four who traveled “Second
Class,” distinctions that related to accommodations and the price of the boarding pass. Only 38 Arabs survived. Rescued by the Carpathia, they lived to share their personal tales of horror, having witnessed whole families drown as the ship slowly sank into the deep, dark seas of the Atlantic Ocean. (The ocean’s name comes from an Arabic derivative that means “Dark Sea” or “Sea of Darkness.”)

Like many events in history, Arabs experience the pain, but receive little glory.

Director James Cameron drew on the ethnicity of other passengers in making the 11
Academy Award winning movie, including a portrayal of a lively Irish “hafli” and parts
featuring characters of Swedish, Italian, Irish and English heritage.

It’s not easy to read through the lengthy list of passengers, let alone decipher who is or
isn’t of Arab heritage. We can only guess in some instances, and my instinct tells me the number, 79, is slightly low. Some of the Arab Survivors, though, were quoted extensively in local newspaper articles, usually during remembrances of the disaster.

The stories of a few others are included in published works.

Titanic sailed from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912. The largest ship ever
built, it made stops at Cherbourg, France, where some of the Arab passengers boarded, and Queenstown, Ireland, before heading out to the high seas and its intended destination, New York City.

There were not enough life boats to carry all the passengers to safety. Those in the
Third Class galleys, in the lower decks, found themselves cast aside by a frantic ship’s crew desperate to escort the First Class passengers to safety.

The barriers that divided the Third Class passengers from the rest of the ship were
broken only after the passengers realized that the ship was sinking.

Two hours and forty minutes after the Titanic struck the iceberg, the ship disappeared
into the sea, spilling survivors overboard who could not fit into lifeboats, leaving them to splash futilely in the sub-zero waters.

Most of those who died, including 41 Arab passengers, died because of the arctic-like
cold waters, not because of drowning. Among the survivors was the ship’s parent company representative, Joseph Bruce Ismay, who survived to testify before lengthy US Senate Hearings several days later in New York City. His cowardice, taking a seat on a lifeboat before other passengers, was well documented.

Not told at these hearings were the remorseful tales of tragedy that accompanied the
Arab passengers, some of whom departed on the voyage with visions of new futures in new worlds. We know of their stories thanks in large part to people like Philip Hind and Michael A. Findlay, who authored an informative memorial to the Titanic that is on the World Wide Web.

Findlay wrote the introduction to Geller’s book.

Here are some of the brief stories and profiles, followed by a complete list of the Arab
passengers I was able to identify based on sur-names who survived and who perished on April 12, 1912.

Miss Banoura Ayoub (Listed often as Ayout Banoura):

A young child in her early teens, Ayoub traveled from Lebanon to Detroit, Michigan
where she was to be re-united with her family. She traveled with her cousins, Shawnee
George Wahbee, Thomas Tannous, Gerious Youseff and Tannous Doharr, who were to
continue through Detroit to Youngstown, Ohio, where today a large Arab American
community flourishes. Shawnee (profiled below) and Ayoub survived. All three men, traveling to find jobs at the steel mills in Youngstown, died. Banoura Ayoub eventually moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, another center of Arab growth.

Thomas Tannous is reportedly related to the family of Danny Thomas (Jacobs).

Mrs. George Joseph Whabee, known as Shawnee Abi Saab: The better known of the Arabs who traveled on the Titanic was born in Thoum, Lebanon on Palm Sunday, 1874. (In Arabic, the name Shawnee means Palm Sunday). She was the youngest of seven children, the daughter of Thomas George Abi-Saab and Katoole Deeb Abi-
Saab. She married George Joseph Wahbee and came to America in 1906, hoping to make enough money to return to Lebanon and buy land for her family. But, when her husband died in 1908, she remained in Youngstown, Ohio, where she raised her children, Joseph, Thomas, Albert, Rose and Mary, who had stayed behind in Lebanon.
Around 1910, her son Thomas became seriously ill. Doctors told her to send him back
to Lebanon where the fresh mountain air was expected to help nurse him back to good health.

She later learned that her son’s illness had worsened, and, fearing his death, she returned to Lebanon, arriving 10 days after he had died. She had left her daughters, Rose and Mary, in the care of the Christ Mission Society.

It was in April 1912 that Shawnee traveled to Cherbourg, France where she purchased
her ticket (#2688) aboard the Titanic. It cost her 4 pounds 4 shillings. She boarded with three other cousins, named above.

A survivor, she witnessed the sinking of the ship, and saw her male cousins remain onboard.

Members of the crew, using guns, fired into the air to prevent some of the men from
rushing the few lifeboats. She sat with other passengers in the life boat, dressed only in a nightgown and life-jacket, shivering in the cold. Several passengers in the boat died from the cold during the six hour wait.

Part of her story was told to the Sharon Herald on April 14, 1937, commemorating the
sinking 25 years later:

“Banoura and I were placed into the next to the last lifeboat to be lowered from the ship. A scared young man leaped over the side of the liner and landed in the bottom of the lifeboat. Women shielded him with their night gowns so the sailors wouldn’t see him. They would have shot him,” she recalled. “After being pulled about a half-mile away, the sailors stopped rowing.

We watched the lights of the big boat with our hearts in our throats. Then we saw it sink.” Shawnee was cared for by the Hebrew Sheltering Society when she arrived in New York.

She later boarded a train for Youngstown after being paid $150 by the Titanic company for her lost belongings.

Witnesses and relatives reported that when she left for Lebanon to see her dying son,
her hair was jet black. A year after the Titanic tragedy, her hair was completely white.

Gerious Youseff: From Lebanon, traveling with the passengers named above, died, although his body was later recovered in the aftermath of the Titanic sinking (Body label #312). He was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, in Halifax, N.S., on May 10, 1912.

The story of Catherine, Michael and Mary Peter (Joseph):

Peter and Catherine Joseph had immigrated to Detroit, Michigan after the turn of the
Century from Lebanon. Peter had begun typically pushing a peddler’s cart, collecting scrap iron and junk. The Joseph’s had two children, Michael and Mary. In 1911, Peter Joseph sent his wife and two children back to Lebanon for a visit, possibly to let them escape from the hardships of their struggle in America. They returned on the Titanic, traveling by freighter from Beirut to Marseilles and then on to Cherbourg where they boarded the ship with other Lebanese voyagers. She listed herself, according to Geller, by her husband’s name, Peter, rather than by her real sur-name, Joseph, because it was custom.

The Story of Nicola Yarred, and Jamila and Elias Nicola (Yarred):

Originally from Hakoor, Lebanon, a moutain village, Jamilia Yarred, her father Nicola,
and her younger brother Elias, were fleeing persecution when they began their trip to board the Titanic and to reunite with relatives that had settled in Jacksonville, Florida. They made the 130 km trip from their village to Beirut and boarded the boat to Marseilles. Nicola Yarred, the father, was prevented from boarding because he had an eye infection. Tight restrictions on diseases at Ellis Island in New York forced the Titanic shipping line to assume the cost of returning any passenger turned away there, so he could not board. The children registered, again as was custom at the time, by assuming their father’s name, Nicola, as their last name, and they boarded with what little money their father had left and his blessings for a safe trip.

As the story goes, the two children were fleeing the rising waters of the sinking ship,
shivering in the cold as they tried to board one of the few lifeboats. John Jacob Astor, who had just put his own wife on a boat and was preparing to die onboard the Titanic, saw the children in the crowd and lifted them one at a time to help place them in the life boat.

Nicola, shocked by the ordeal, rejoiced that his children had survived and he joined
them three months later in the United States. The Yarreds changed their name, according to Geller, to Garretts. Jamilia became Amelia and Elias became Louis. Amelia later married Isaac Isaac, a grocer, four years later.

The Story of Celiney Alexander Yasbeck:

Celiney Alexander Yasbeck and her husband Antoni Fraza Yasbeck had been married
only a few weeks before. They traveled with Celiney’s younger sister, Amenia Alexander
Moubarek and her two children George and William. A Hanna Moubarek is also listed and we assume he was Amenia’s husband.

Celiney was separated from her husband during the commotion, and Antoni Fraza
Yasbeck is listed as one of those who died, along with Hanna Moubarek. Celiney, her sister and her sister’s two children survived.

Little else is known about the lives of the other Arabs who perished on that dreadful
evening. Not all of the names of the Arab passengers were ever fully identified.

Imagine: The event of a couple’s death on board the Titanic held great significance in
tragedy in 1912 and throughout the years that followed.

Each couple that died ended a lifeline of future generations that might have averaged
six children. In three generations, the descendants could have increased to an extended family of 268 people. These unborn people, so to speak, also died on the night of April 12, 1912.


There are many other great books you might wish to read. One of my favorites is “Devil in the White City” which offers a fascinating look at some aspects of the Arab immigration to Chicago before and during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Enjoy the tour.


Great Chicago Places and Spaces Tour of Arab Chicago:

The Tour ran for six years. The last tour was held May 17-18, 2009, two tours each day (four total)

The Tour was 2 1/2 hours long. Tours may vary with different locations selected. But all tours include a stop at a Mosque, a Christian Church and a Middle East food restaurant. Discussions are conducted at each location and while traveling during the entire 2 1/2 hours.

The Chicago tour originated at Wabash and Jackson Street. Registration is required. There are two tours, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The first tour began in 2006, and continues EVERY YEAR.

The tour first took visitors to the St. Elias Arabian Church at 1500 Elm Street (Peterson Street becomes Elm Street on the east side of Clark Street.)


From there, we travel to the Muslim Community Center at 4380 N. Elston Ave. (near Monstrose and Pulaski Rd.) There, a gracious member of the MCC will discuss Islam, the Arab and non-Arab Islamic community and the history of that Mosque. There is more information on the mosque at

From there, the Trolley Car (which seats 32-40 people) travels past the heart of Chicago’s Northwest Side Arab American community at Lawrence and Kedzie.


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ALBANY PARK, Chicago Illinois?

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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Ray Hanania