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31 Arab Americans Who Have Had an Impact on America

posted on: May 2, 2014

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In case you didn’t know, April was Arab Heritage month. That’s right, Arabs have a month now. Who knew!? When many non Arabs hear the word ‘Arabs’, it’s hard to know what they are thinking. Best case scenario, they think of juicy delicious shish kabob with falafel and a side of hummus dip – or belly dancing and debkeh performers. While being Arab is a party indeed, it is much more than all that.

To commemorate Arab Heritage Month, we decided to bring you a short (and far from all-encompassing) list of Arab Americans who you may or may not know have a hand in shaping American society and history. From science to sports, Arabs have proven to be a vital part of American social fabric.

1) Naomi Shihab Nye – Poet, songwriter, and novelist.

2) Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbah- Electrical and electronic research engineer and inventor. He received 43 patents covering his work, one of which was an innovation in television transmission.

3) Paul Orfalea – Founded Kinko’s in 1970.

4) Khalid Khannouchi – Holds the record for the fastest marathon run by an American and one of the only 5 men to break the world record more than once.

5) Dr. Michael Debakey – World renowned cardiac surgeon and developer of the roller pump which made open-heart surgery possible.

6) Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) – National Advocacy Director of the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC). She performs training on the importance of civic engagement in the Arab and Muslim American Community.

7) Basim Elkarra (@BasimElkarra) – An active member of the California Democratic Party’s executive board and Chair of the Arab American Caucus and Affirmative Action Committee.

8) Nawal Nour – Recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, the “Genus Award,” and creator of the African Women’s Health Practice concerning female genital cutting.

9) Hoda Kotb (@hodakotb) – Co-Host of the Today Show and a correspondent for Dateline NBC

10) James Jabara – First American Jet Ace in history.

11) Candy Lightner – Founding president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

12) John Bowab – Director and Producer of Television and theater. Some of the shows he helped direct included The Cosby Show and Full House.

13) Moustapha Akkad – Film director and producer. He is best known for producing the original Halloween horror film series , and The Message.

14) Yasmin Siraj- American Figure skater and 2010 U.S. Junior Silver medalist.

15) John E. Sununu (@JohnSununu) – Former Republican U.S. senator from New Hampshire.

16) Farouk El- Baz (@ElbazFarouk) – A scientist who worked with NASA in the planning the exploration of the moon. He also assisted in the selection of landing sites for the Apollo missions.

17) Ralph Nader (@RalphNader) – Political Activist and a five-time candidate for President of the United States.

18) Paula Abdul (@PaulaAbdul) – Singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress.

19) Elias A. Zerhouni – One of the members of the first US science envoys to Islam.

20) Ahmed Zewail (@DrAhmedHZewail) – Father of Femtochemistry and 1999 Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry.

21) Mona Jandali Simpson – Novelist and English professor at UCLA. She is also the biological sister of the late Steve Jobs (who is also of Arab descent!)

22) Jennifer Shahade (@JenShahade) – Chess player and writer who became the first (and so far) only female to win the U.S. Junior Open in 1998.

23) Philip Tedro – AKA Hajj Ali (later known as “Hi Jolly”) was hired as a camel driver in the Camel Driver Experiment. The experiment hoped to establish transportation routes between Texas and California in order to support the Gold Rush.

24) Ghada Amer – Artist whose most notable work deals with issues of gender and sexuality.

25) Musse Olol – Graduate of the FBI’s Citizens Academy, Olol is noted for his social work with the Somali American Council of Oregon (SACOO).

26) Ferras Alqaisi (@OhFerras) – Singer and Songwriter. Four of Ferras’ cowritten tracks were included in the Ricky Martin record “Musica+Alma+Sexo.”

27) Alia Shawkat – American actress most known for her role as Maeby Funke in the series Arrested Development.

28) William Peter Blatty – Author of The Exorcist.

29) Aaron Steven Haddad (a.k.a Damien Sandow) – Professional WWE Wrestler.

30) Hala Basha- Gorani (@HalaGorani) – Anchor/correspondent for CNN international.

31) Colette Justine – Known for her work in performance art and constructed photograph.

Basma Sayedi
Thrival Room