By JAMES MAZARAKIS
In a community with so many unique cultures and ethnic groups, it is pretty hard to believe that such a spirited woman as Heba Abolaban would become the victim of a crime amidst the chaos following the Boston Marathon bombings. But after countless interviews and stories about the event, it should not be forgotten that Abolaban is a valuable newcomer to the Malden community.
“There is ignorance everywhere you go,” Abolaban says, “[but in the end] I remembered that Malden is a place I can walk through the streets and be respected.”
Abolaban has origins in Pakistan, but she was born in Saudi Arabia, where she lived for nine years. She then moved to Damascus, Syria, where she got an education and remained for 16 years. Abolaban was presented with several locations to move into, but after some investigations by her husband, Ahmad Abmoujahed, she learned of Malden’s diversity and multiculturalism. This appealed to the couple, and they moved to Malden in late 2010.
Now the mother of an eleven-month-old daughter, Shaam (the name representing both “unique” and the region where both Abolaban and her husband were born), Abolaban has made herself an active member of her community. Abolaban brings her daughter to the Malden Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office, where she gets along with the staff and meets new people. She also spends much of her time exploring the city’s nicest parks and venues.
Abolaban keeps in touch with her family, who remain in the Middle East, and she has managed to make an independent life of her own in Malden. “[Taking care of my] baby is a 24-hour-a-day job”, she laughs, but along with her involvement in WIC office, she has also proved her experience in the medical field. She graduated from Damascus Medical School with her husband before she moved to Boston, and her talents allowed her to enroll in the Master of Public Health program of Northeastern University next fall.
Perhaps one of Abolaban’s clearest qualities is her commitment to her religion, Islam. Raised a Muslim, she was made familiar to the Qur’an -- the holy book of Islam -- and its many principles of “love” and “respect”. She wears a hijab with pride when she takes walks and lunches with her husband and daughter in various parks throughout Malden. “It’s a religion of kindness and giving and tolerance,” she says, “many people make fables about what is in the holy book, but if you read the original source, it teaches you many lessons that are valuable.”
Her faith was tested the terrible day she was assaulted by a crazed man who blamed “her kind” for the Boston Marathon bombings. This traumatizing event made Abolaban and her daughter Shaam, who was in her arms at the time, see the human race in a whole new light. “I really did think that if I went outside, there would be someone who would try and hit me again,” Abolaban said. “But after about four days, we remembered that we were in a loving community.” It was also her husband who pushed her to talk to the media following the incident; they decided it was beneficial for the American society to sacrifice a large portion of their privacy to make their story heard.
Following this tragedy, Abolaban has made it a point to spread the “true” meaning of Islam and the principals of most of its 1.57 billion followers. At the Boston Marathon Bombing vigil held by the City of Malden last April, she told a number of Malden residents about the beauty in Islam’s ideologies and referenced the NuDay Syria Organization of which she is an active participant. The organization’s goal is to “alleviate the humanitarian situation inside Syria” and gather supporters to have their voices heard. Her speech was one of the event’s highlights, as her energy filled the crowd with spirit on an otherwise-dark time.
After an eventful two years of her life, Heba Abolaban thanks her community for supporting her and being such an accepting, tolerant community. “I would love to invite all people to read more about Islam and enjoy the beauty of it,” Abolaban says, “If anyone has any questions about Islam, they can easily go to [the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center] or any Islamic Center.”
If you see Abolaban on the streets of Malden with her husband and daughter, be sure to say Salam wa aleikum -- an Arabic greeting meaning peace be upon you. And peace, as we have learned after countless tragedies this year, is something that we should all aspire to.Edits: On print, the article says that Abolaban "has origins in Pakistan" when it should have said "Palestine." Also, the correct phrase for "peace be upon you" is salam aleikum, not salam was aleikam.