As a person of Arab descent, who speaks Arabic in addition to English, and practices Islam, sophomore Otham Abukhdair might have good reason to feel like an outsider in and around Mounds.
I know these people, they know me well, so they don’t think I’m much different than them.
But, to the contrary, Othman feels as much a part of the community as anyone. And so he should – he grew up in Mounds, and has attended Meridian schools his entire academic life. He speaks enthusiastically of his belief that one of the greatest strengths of this community is the familiarity that one feels, growing up in a small town among close friends. Indeed, Othman has been friends with the same group since kindergarten.
Those friends, he says, would describe him as funny and goofy. But Othman has a serious side, as well. He wants to attend college after high school, studying to become an electrician, or perhaps a mechanic – something that would have him working with his hands, as well as his head. He is inspired by his father, who got him interested in motors and machinery, and his uncle, who taught him how to weld.
In addition to his mechanical skills, Othman also admires his father’s caring nature, and the way that he does his best to provide Othman and his four siblings – a brother (10), and three sisters (1, 7 and 18) – with the things they want, providing they are willing to show how much they really want them by working for them.
Othman’s father is originally from Palestine. Othman learned to speak Arabic from him, and he is justifiably proud of his bilingualism. “I can speak to my family members that only speak Arabic,” he says. “It’s fun to know another language.” He also finds it rewarding to educate his friends and neighbors about the Arabic language and culture. Far from self-conscious about his faith and ethnicity, Othman feels a strong sense of respect and inclusion from the community. “I know these people, they know me well, so they don’t think I’m much different than them,” he states.
He has traveled to Palestine several times to see family and reconnect with his roots, and during one such trip, he was able to visit and pray in the famous Al-Aqsa Mosque. An important landmark for Muslims, particularly Palestinian Muslims, the history and beauty of the mosque spoke to him in profound ways that made a big impression on him.
Closer to home, his junior year is fast approaching, and Othman must begin to make plans for after high school. He is strongly considering attending Middle Tennessee State University, perhaps putting his mechanical skills to use in their renowned aerospace program. Regardless of his area of study, though, Othman is sure to take off and fly high.