"It's an Arab thing": A profile of Hanan Jaber
Hanan smiles her with a characteristic grin. Photo by Sarah Yockey.
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 6:53am
The first time I met Hanan Jaber, we were both extremely lost on our subbie orientation. When she told me her name, I had so much trouble pronouncing the Arabic "H" sound that she offered to go by "Hannah" to make it easier.
Over the last five years, I've learned to pronounce her name — at least in an Americanized way — and gotten to know the subbie girl who couldn't match a shirt and skirt to save her life. One thing is for sure: she doesn't like to take no for an answer.
"Usually when somebody tells me not to do something, I do it anyway just because I want to know why they told me not to do it," Hanan says.
This explains Hanan's habit of eating the whole apple: core, seeds and all. The same goes for pears, oranges (she eats the peel), and other fruits, with the exception of bananas which she doesn't like.
"So I remember when we were little, my mom used to tell us that apple seeds were poisonous," she recalls. "So to show her I didn't think they were poisonous, I ate the apple core thing. And then I just kind of kept eating apple cores, like I didn't see why people threw them away. I mean, they don't kill you, so why would you get rid of them?"
And she doesn't stop at eating whole fruits either. Talk to her friends and you'll hear that Hanan has brought whole heads of lettuce or broccoli, thoroughly packaged in cling wrap, for lunch on several occasions.
For people who know Hanan well, her odd eating habits are a distinguishing factor. For many other people, her full body covering and headscarf are the things that make her stand out from among her Uni classmates.
Hanan's family is from Palestine, although she herself was born in America after her parents moved. She maintains a close connection to her heritage through her family (which includes over 100 cousins) and religion.
Her religion, Islam, is one of the few things where Hanan takes no for an answer. For example, she doesn't interact with men outside her family without proper coverings, and she doesn't eat on fast days.
But some parts of her religion are more flexible, such as the rules about who can and cannot fast due to their age and health or whether girls can participate in sports.
"This whole thing in Islam about, you know, being modest and not running and doing physical activity in front of guys — it is kind of taboo," she explains. "So not a lot of girls — wearing headscarves at least — go into sports."
However, during her subfreshman year at Uni, Hanan played basketball. And her junior year, she played volleyball.
Hanan Jaber with the subfreshmen girls basketball team 2007. Photo courtesy of Yearbook (click to enlarge)
"I actually liked volleyball," she says. "[...] Everyone recognized that Uni High's team had a girl wearing a headscarf on it, which spread news quickly because all my friends in Sunday school came running up to me like, 'My friend told me that they saw this one headscarf girl on the Uni High team,' and I was like, 'That was me.'"
Hanan was an extraordinary sight on the court. She wore her uniform over sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt, and even extra headgear since she can't wear the pins that hold together her headscarf during games.
"I looked like a clown every time I went out to a game," she recalls. "I was like wearing these [...] shorts two times bigger than I was!"
Hanan Jaber sits on the bleachers with the team during Subbie Basketball. Photo from Sarah Yockey (click to enlarge)
Besides looking silly, Hanan's unusual attire occasionally caused problems.
"We were at this one basketball game and the referee was telling [coach] Morgan that I can't play because my headscarf color did not match the jersey. [...] But that was the only incident."
Hanan's bigger issue with playing sports was the timing of the seasons. Subfreshman basketball and volleyball both fell during time when Hanan was fasting for Ramadan. From sunrise until sunset, Hanan would not eat or drink, so practices at the end of the day in a hot gym weren't always pleasant.
Like any Uni student, school takes up a large chunk of Hanan's life. However, beyond Uni, Hanan devotes most of her time to teaching and studying at various Arabic and Islamic schools in the community.
On Saturdays, Hanan teaches five- to eight-year-old children from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. at the Muslim American Society Quran Institute.
"My class is 20 kids," she says. "I take half the class, and the person I work with takes the other half. And I say the Quran and they repeat after me, because they are not to the point where they can read, so they have to repeat after me and that's how they memorize."
In addition to helping kids memorize the Quran. Hanan teaches them to read and use the correct pronunciation of a "correct" Arabic. She also gives instruction in Islamic studies and basic life skills such as the proper Islamic way to use the bathroom.
Hanan has been teaching at the Quran Institute since the summer after her sophomore year. It began as a way to teach high school students in her youth group responsibility by making them into teachers.
"The first year was rough," she recalls. "[...] I had no idea how to control the kids, so they took advantage [of me]. [...] At first I got mad, and then I was talking with my dad and he was like, 'Maybe it's your techniques that aren't working.' So I started looking up online how to teach kids."
With experience and some helpful alphabet songs and competitions, Hanan saw improved behavior in her classes, although teaching still wasn't favorite activity.
"I hated teaching, and the end of the year came and the kids loved me. And the principal was like, 'How did you make these kids love you?' And I was like, 'I hate these kids! I don't know why they love me!' I mean, I didn't show them I hated them, but I couldn't deal with them — they were so annoying!"
But she can't quit. The only time she tried, the school wouldn't let her because they didn't have time to find another teacher.
On Sunday mornings, Hanan assistant teaches for an hour of Arabic school to four- and five-year-olds at the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center (CIMIC).
"In that school, the principal comes up to me and gives me kids who don't know the alphabet and he's like, 'Go teach them,'" Hanan explains. "I'm like, 'Okay.' I'm the substitute everywhere."
She then spends several more hours in Sunday school as a student herself, a class she considers a relief from the draining work of teaching. She works with a friend on memorizing the Quran. So far she has almost eight chapters (of thirty) memorized — that's almost 100 pages!
So, when Hanan isn't doing homework from Uni, she is preparing lessons for all her weekend classes.
"It takes up half my life," she says.
Thus, you can't talk about Hanan without recognizing her Arab heritage and cultural background. She herself is constantly reminding people about it. Any time that Hanan can't explain about her family culture or habits, she sums up as: "It's an Arab thing."
This phrase usually follows strange stories generally referred to by Hanan's friends as "Arab wedding stories" and tales of her younger sisters' exploits. Or it provides an explanation for Hanan's behavior that can't be explained by American traditions. And sometimes it is simply an all around excuse for whatever situation she is in.
She'd never eaten grilled cheese before I made it for her two years ago. Apparently, it's just not an Arab thing.