Arab-American leader’s grave desecrated at Evergreen Cemetery
BY CASEY TONER AND HUNTER CLAUSS firstname.lastname@example.org August 17, 2012 12:16PM
Updated: September 20, 2012 10:07AM
For years, Hassan M. Abdallah was the face of Arab-Americans in Chicago.
The Palestine-born Hickory Hills resident served in the Arab League, helped build the Bridgeview mosque, and worked as a government diplomat until his death at age 73.
Abdallah was buried in 1999 at Evergreen Cemetery in Evergreen Park, left to rest beneath a stone obelisk bearing his name, near the graves of about 500 other Muslims.
On Thursday, a Muslim man discovered someone had written “Raghaed Killer,” homosexual slurs and gang signs on Abdallah’s tombstone, the sixth time the tombstone was hit since March 2011.
“The people who are behind this wouldn’t realize how important he is,” said Ray Hanania, who profiled Abdallah in his book, “Arabs of Chicagoland.” “To them, they don’t know anything about him. He was the symbol of American-Arab activism in the 1960s and 1970s.”
While some Islamic groups have labeled the incident a hate crime, detectives have not yet come to the same conclusion, Evergreen Park police Lt. Peter Donovan said. Detectives are trying to figure out if the grave was targeted because of the family’s religious beliefs or because of a personal vendetta.
“It’s not clear if it’s just property damage or something more,” Donovan said, adding that the graffiti will be sandblasted off.
Given the history of vandalism, the cemetery owner is “seriously considering” installing motion-detector lights and cameras around the cemetery, said Jessica McDunn, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Dignity Memorial Network, which owns Evergreen Cemetery.
“It’s important to have different security measures because the cemetery is open at night. You can’t get a car in, but you can still walk in,” she said.
While it’s impossible to monitor the entire cemetery, cameras and lights would be “placed in strategic spots so we can deter (vandals) or at least catch them in the act,” McDunn said.
Rabya Khan, a spokeswoman for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the continued desecration of the grave troubled her.
“It’s extremely upsetting that this is a continued pattern,” she said. “I would like to see increased security measures.”
Dignity owns more than 300 cemeteries in the United States and Canada, and has motion-detector lights and cameras at several, McDunn said. Brass and bronze plates on tombstones have been stolen for scrap in recent years, she said.
The cemetery, at 3401 W. 87th St., is home to about 500 Muslim graves, according to a statement from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
Numerous local Islamic leaders quickly condemned the vandalism.
“The Southwest Side has been home to a large Muslim and Arab-American population for over 30 years,” said Ahlam Jbara, associate director for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. “It is shocking to find such hatred, especially at a cemetery.”
The incident comes after a man fired a high-powered pellet gun at a Morton Grove mosque last week and someone allegedly threw an “acid bomb” at a Muslim school in Lombard on Sunday.
Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, an imam and associate director at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, said that mosques throughout the Chicago area have hired security to keep watch this month during Ramadan due to the attacks.
“The Muslim community is a peace-loving community that wants to be part of the American fabric,” Mustapha said. “Nobody should be targeted because of their faith or culture.”
In a statement, Zaher Sahloul, chairman of the council, blamed “irresponsible and hateful” comments made by U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh for helping spark the recent wave of vandalism against the Muslim community.
“We ask our neighbors to show their rejection of hate and ask our law enforcement to be vigilant during the approaching Muslim holiday Eid,” Sahloul said.
During a recent town hall meeting in Elk Grove Village, Walsh made remarks about radical Islam that offended some Muslim organizations.
Walsh said a “radical strain of Islam” had made its way into the Chicago suburbs.
“It’s here,” he said. “It’s in Elk Grove. It’s in Addison. It’s in Elgin. It’s here.”
Walsh defended his comments in a video released by his re-election campaign on Wednesday, saying, “Let me be clear: Bowing down to political correctness has and will get Americans killed.”
On Friday, a Walsh spokesman issued a statement on the grave, saying: “Congressman Walsh is troubled by attacks on any people based on their religion. Whether it be the recent attacks on Muslims, or the roughly 1,000 anti-Semitic attacks that occur every year, these incidents must stop.
“From his work on the Homeland Security, Walsh is very focused on the very real threat that a radical strain of Islam poses to our national security, and ignoring that threat for the sake of political correctness would be negligent,” the statement said.
“However, the vast majority of Muslims are just as peace-loving and as concerned with this threat as anyone else, and in no way should they be targeted simply because of their religion.”
McDunn said the cemetery’s parent company is “shocked and dismayed that anyone would disturb any grave. We consider this despicable. It is upsetting to a family who has buried their loved one. It is very offensive.”
She said anyone with information should call the cemetery “so the criminals can be brought to justice.”
Hannania called Abdallah a “community leader” who helped raise the money for the construction of the Mosque Foundation. According to a news release from Birzeit University in Palestine, Abdallah was also a Jordanian consult general in Chicago. Birzeit University and University of Illinois-Chicago set up scholarships in his name after his death.
Messages left for Abdallah’s widow were not returned.
Regarding the latest incident, Brian Zygadlo, of Garfield Ridge, who on Friday morning was visiting the grave of a friend who died 30 years ago, said, “It’s unfortunate. You shouldn’t have to see that.”
Dahoud Shalabi, of Orland Park, has two grandfathers among several relatives buried at the cemetery.
“I’m disheartened by such an act of vandalism. For any faith, any minority group to have this unfortunate type of bigotry is quite sad. It’s not just an attack on Muslims or Arab-Americans. It really is an attack on any faith-based or minority-based group. It’s our job as Americans to not let these incidents define us. We will overcome this,” said Shalabi, a real estate broker associate.
Contributing: Sun-Times Media Wire, Steve Metsch