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Fordson High School: How Football Shaped the Arab American Identity

posted on: Jan 5, 2022

Documentary poster image from IMBD

By: Leyelle Mosallam / Arab America Contributing Writer

In a post 9/11 world, football is how the Arab-American Muslim community in Dearborn expresses their American identity. Fordson High School, located in Dearborn, Michigan, is home to the highest Arab American high school student bodies in the United States. 95% of Fordson High School’s student body are Arab American. Known as the Fordson Tractors, the high school is notable for its strong football program. The Tractors won a state championship in 1993, and Robert Saleh, the first Muslim American NFL football coach, is a Fordson High School alum and a former Fordson football player. 

In 2011, a documentary called Fordson: Faith, Fasting, and Football, was directed and written by Rashid Ghazi to follow how the predominantly Arab-American Muslim football team practiced during the month of Ramadan. The documentary reveals how the Muslim community in Dearborn ties their Islamic faith to the sport of football, and the struggles the Muslim community goes through post 9/11. After 9/11, Muslim Americans found themselves targeted and stereotyped as Islamic terrorists. Dearborn received threats from individuals that they were going to bomb Dearborn schools, mosques, and other community centers. Due to all the fear and hate that Muslims received in the US, Muslim Americans constantly felt like they had to apologize for the actions of a few. What is important about the Fordson documentary is that it affirms that regardless of their faith, Muslim Americans are no different than the average American. 

The Fordson documentary depicts how Muslim Americans do not align with the racial stereotypes of the religion and it is an inspirational story of an Arab-American Muslim community following their American dream. The documentary received the Special Grand Jury Award at the SlamDance Film Festival, Special Jury Prize at the DEADCenter Film Festival, the Audience and Founders Award at the 2011 Politics on Film Festival, the Best Documentary Award at the Dearborn-Windsor Film Festival, and won Champion of the World Cup Film Awards. 

You can watch Fordson: Faith, Fasting, and Football for free on youtube: 

Fordson High School

Fordson was named after Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, that is why the school is called “Fordson.” The school’s mascot, Tractors, was named after Henry Ford’s famous tractor known as the “Fordson Tractor”, which was also named after Henry Ford’s son. Fordson High School is an architectural beauty. The exterior design was inspired by Oxford University and the large tower was inspired by Yale University Memorial Quadrangle and the University of Michigan Law School. Due to its architectural design, Fordson High School is one of the most historic and architecturally significant buildings in the metro-Detroit area. 

Dearborn, Michigan has the highest concentration of Arabs in the world outside of the Middle East. Arabs immigrated to Dearborn to work for Ford Motor Company. Due to Dearborn’s high Arab American population, Fordson High School became the largest Arab American student body in the United States. 

Fordson High School originally wanted to create a strong soccer program. Due to the large Arab American population, they believed that soccer was the sport because Middle Eastern countries enjoy playing soccer; however, football was the talent. Arab Americans grew up around football and the football tradition, and they all fell in love with the sport. After generations, kids wanted to follow their family’s footsteps into football. The players of the Fordson team in the documentary are believed to be second and third generation Americans, therefore football is an important part of the Dearborn community. 

In a community of Arab refugees and immigrants who have fled poverty, war, and corruption to a land where they weren’t always accepted, Fordson highschool was a place where Arab Americans could fulfill their American dream. 

Fordson: Faith, Fasting, and Football 

Fordson: Faith Fasting Football image from wwtw

The documentary Fordson: Faith, Fasting, and Football films the predominantly Arab Muslim Fordson football team preparing for their biggest game of the year during the last ten days of Ramadan. While Fordson High School is located at the south end of Dearborn, which borders Detroit, Dearborn High, Fordson High School’s crosstown rival, is located in a whiter and more affluent area of Dearborn. Dearborn High also has a large Arab American student body, but it is not as large as Fordson High School’s student body. Playing Dearborn High School was an important game for Fordson because of the pride that comes with beating a more affluent team. Playing Dearborn while almost every player of Fordson was fasting also depicts their team’s resilience and strength.

The Fordson documentary reveals all the struggles Muslim Americans at Fordson High School including the threats after 9/11 and how to accommodate for students celebrating Eid. After 20 years of 9/11, the Fordson documentary remains an important reminder that we should not judge an entire religion and community based on the actions of a few individuals. 

“To say they’re not American, it’s just wrong. We have the same ideals, same desires, and same goals… we found a balance to practice our faith, keep the culture, and still live the American dream.”

Fordson: Faith, Fasting, and Football

Elena Baidoun

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