Ibrahim Al-Hajiby has talked up his homeland to Cloquet, Minn., high school kids, a National Public Radio host and the Augsburg College president.
The Augsburg honors student is on a mission to upgrade the image of Yemen, which is synonymous with terrorism and political upheaval in some Western minds. Al-Hajiby instead plays up the country’s ancient culture and a young generation yearning for democracy.
“Yemen is a beautiful country torn by poverty and war,” he said. “Terrorism is not what Yemen is about.”
Al-Hajiby came to Cloquet as an exchange student in 2007. He enrolled in Augsburg on its coveted Presidential Scholarship in 2010. Months later, protests erupted against longtime Yemeni ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al-Hajiby held a 24-hour vigil to draw attention to events back home on the steps of Augsburg’s student center, which drew President Paul Pribbenow.
“From Day 1, he wanted to help our campus community understand his home country better,” Pribbenow said.
Al-Hajiby says Yemen, where tribal rebels recently took over, has many challenges, including corruption and poverty that made it fertile headquarters for Al-Qaida’s most active affiliate. But in the capital Sanaa and in Shibam, known as “the Manhattan of the desert” for its mud brick towers, the country also has stunning World Heritage sites. Once ruled by powerful queens, Yemen has a female Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakkol Karman.
Al-Hajiby helped launch the Yemeni American Society, a hub for Minnesota’s small expatriate community. A double major in international relations and business, he hopes to return to a stabler Yemen. Meanwhile, he is happy to field questions, as he did after the recent Paris attacks claimed by Yemen-based Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
“The people most affected by ‘Islamic’ terrorists are Muslims,” he said. “They hijacked our country and our religion.”