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Gibran Awards Honor Tolerance, Humanity

  • Mohamed Elshinnawi

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (left) was honored for his efforts to promote better relations between the US and the Arab world.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (left) was honored for his efforts to promote better relations between the US and the Arab world.

Hurricane Katrina rescuer is among those recognized

For the past 12 years, Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran's love for equality and better understanding between East and West have inspired an awards program at the Arab American Institute in Washington.

Lebanese-American poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran said, "I love you my brother, whoever you are, whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple or pray in your mosque."

Promoting understanding

"The Prophet," Gibran's famous book, reflects his commitment to understanding among racial, ethnic, and religious communities. The Gibran Awards celebrate those whose lives mirror Gibran's vision of humanity.

"We honor those who speak about the values that we want to project in our own lives," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. "In honoring them, we are honoring what we feel is the spirit of humanity."

Honorees

This year, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley received the Gibran Award for individual achievement.

He was cited for his effort to promote a better relationship between the US and the Arab world and, on the local level, with Chicago's Arab American community. He began an Arabic language program in Chicago city schools.

"Language is very important to teach another younger generation of young men and women coming from elementary and high schools for job opportunities and understanding how small the world is and also the contributions the Arab world has given to civilization," said Daley.

This year's recipients also included, Abdul Rahman Zeitoun, a New Orleans resident who became the subject of a book by American author Dave Eggers. New Orleans resident Abdul Rahman Zeitoun was recognized for helping others after Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans resident Abdul Rahman Zeitoun was recognized for helping others after Hurricane Katrina.

During Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun spent five heroic days and nights in his canoe distributing supplies to besieged residents and rescuing those he could. He was arrested as a suspected terrorist and held for 20 days.

"Prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him, ordered us to help our neighbors," said Zeitoun. "One of his famous stories: you can't go to sleep with a full stomach with your neighbor hungry. It is every Muslim's duty to offer any help he can."

Judge Rosemary Barkett received this year's Award for Public Service for her commitment, as an Arab American, to justice and equality. She has been on Florida's state court of appeals since 1994.

"I know that my story is not unique," said Barkett. "I look out at this audience and I see that it is repeated a thousand times over, and in that repetition I believe that we have strengthen the fabric of our America" Florida's state court of appeals Judge Rosemary Barkett received this year's Award for Public Service.

Florida's state court of appeals Judge Rosemary Barkett received this year's Award for Public Service.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), an independent agency of the U.S. government which has touched the lives of America's needy received the award for institutional excellence.

"Through service, differences between people can be overcome and you can actually bridge between communities," said Frank Trinity, CNCS General Council who accepted the award.

To highlight the need to understand diverse cultures, Arab-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed offered his personal experience with stereotypes about Arabs.

"Every time I come back from the Middle East, my American friends would say, 'What were you doing in the M.E.?' and I would say, 'We were doing a comedy show,'" said Ahmed. "They would say, 'Really? For the troops?' No, for Arabs. 'In English?' Yeah, and they always say, 'And they got it?'"

A fitting tribute to Gibran who wrote, "In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and joy."

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