|Day and night alike,
M. Talib studies at a library table at Hudson Valley
Community College. A few feet away, a prayer rug faces
"We have to pray five times a day,'' said
Talib, a slight man in a pressed gray shirt and shined
shoes. "We should have a place.''
Talib was born in Athens, Ga., in 1980, but returned
to the United Arab Emirates with his parents after his
father graduated from college here.
As a boy in Abu Dhabi, he learned calligraphy and
excelled in math and biology. When it came time for
college, with two uncles in Troy, Talib opted for HVCC.
"I'm the oldest. I have to be a good example for my
(four) brothers and (two) sisters,'' he said.
He arrived in 1998. It was a tough transition. "I
had a culture shock. It's just so different -- family,
the relations with people, study skills, even traffic.''
Even his name threw people -- first and last the same.
"It's nothing strange, because we don't use first
and last name,'' he said. "We add the first name to
your father's name and your grandfather's name and your
great grandfather's name. So: four names. Talib Mohammed
Ahmed Talib.'' Shortened to Talib M. Talib.
His next adjustment: speaking English. Doyavalitr?
students would ask. Could you slow down? he replied. Do
you have alitr? Slower? Do you have a lighter? No, I
don't have a lighter. I don't smoke.
If I can't talk to people, I'm lost, he thought.
Teachers furrowed their brows as Talib sketched pictures
or pointed to his textbooks.
Math? In Arabic, it is written right to left. With the
Arabic symbols for "greater than'' and "less
than'' the exact opposite. "I felt there was some
kind of conflict with the results,'' Talib said of his
initial equations. "How can two be greater than
But his biggest challenge was his religious practice.
Muslims pray at sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset and at
night. Prayers consist of a series of bows and readings
of the Holy Koran, done on a prayer rug facing Mecca.
Talib and Dannie Chapman, president of the Muslim
Students Association, sought a place, but their room
assignments kept changing, confusing students. Some rooms
were too small for everyone to face Mecca.
Eventually, they picked a tiny library corner, using a
special compass to determine the direction of Mecca. It
is small enough that students pray in two shifts,
depending on their class schedules.
"We made up our place and we're very happy with
that,'' Talib said.
Along the way, Talib's devotion has changed the lives
of Muslim students on campus, Chapman said. Together, the
two boosted Muslim Student Association enrollment to 50,
creating a support group for people adhering to such
strict practices: no alcohol, no pork and no toothpastes
or other products containing glycerine from animal fat.
"It's a religion,'' Talib said. "You have to
"Most days, Talib is the prayer leader,'' Chapman
said. "He is a deeply kind person and very much
hospitable to people from all walks of life.''
When the HVCC library closes, Talib heads to the RPI
library for three extra hours. He made the dean's list
three times and has started to think in English.
"People say, 'Take it easy!' And they're having
fun. I'm not taking it easy,'' he said. "I don't
really care what the other students do. My goal in every
class is an 'A.' I just keep it in my view, so that at
least I get a 'B.' Because if I put a 'B' in my view, I
might get a 'C.' ''
His goal: attend the University at Albany and Albany
Meanwhile, Talib has launched a home page for Muslims
featuring his beloved calligraphy.
The beauty and the blessings of Islam are
manifested in your home page, my brother, one visitor
from Somalia wrote.
And whenever he wants, Talib can pull up another
message, from the United Arab Emirates. Oh son, you
are fantastic, we are all proud of you. Just keep it
going, and inshaAllah will hear from more precious news
from you always. love..Dad.
Kate Gurnett profiles people of the Capital Region
every other Sunday in Life & Leisure. Send e-mail to
email@example.com or call 454-5490.