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Interview and Downloads sections added.


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Times Union Interview...


By KATE GURNETT, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, October 22, 2000

Article from Times Union newspaper


The blessings of Islam help student succeed

Day and night alike, Talib M. Talib studies at a library table at Hudson Valley Community College. A few feet away, a prayer rug faces Mecca.

"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 five?''

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 be careful.''

"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 Medical College.

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 or call 454-5490.


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