Hussein Khatib’s presence in the Muslim community was ubiquitous. He could be found at mosques, community gatherings and events and education centers that cater to Minnesota’s Muslim students.
Nonetheless, his family could always count on him to be around.
“My dad, despite being really, really active, he always made sure he was at dinner,” said his eldest daughter, Mariam, 23. “His community work never took away from his family work.”
Khatib, of Blaine, died on Sept. 22 from heart complications. He was 55.
An educator and advocate for Palestinian rights, Khatib was credited by the state’s Muslim community with mentoring and instilling in children Islamic values and knowledge.
“He was always available to meet up, whether in school or outside the school,” said Mohammed Bagha, a former student of Khatib at Al-Amal School. “Just to know that someone is there that we can rely on and also go to whenever we need help, that gave us courage.”
Bagha, 29, who had known Khatib since he was a child, remembers the educator helping him memorize the Qur’an and encouraging competition among students. As they got older, Bagha said, Khatib would meet with youths one-on-one and mentor them along the way.
Young people felt free to raise any issues they might be having, and Khatib “would help us try to find a solution,” he said. “He was always that push for us, that guide for us as a mentor. He has been there as a father-figure to us.”
Khatib moved to the United States on a student visa from his native Palestine when he was 18. In 1997, he became the first on-site principal at Al-Amal School, a private Islamic school in Fridley.
Khatib sat on the boards of local and national organizations, such as Al-Aqsa Institute of Minnesota and American Muslims for Palestine, a national organization that educates people about Palestine and its history.
In 2013, he helped found Pioneers Academy in Brooklyn Park, another private Islamic school.
Majed Abusara, who knew Khatib for more than 20 years, said Khatib devoted most of his life to serving the Muslim community in Minnesota. Khatib cared about the young generation of Muslim Americans, nurturing them from an early age and giving them proper Islamic knowledge while encouraging them to be “productive citizens of Minnesota,” Abusara said.
“We wanted the new generation to be integrated into society without losing their identity,” he said.
Khatib was “a man who spent his life for others, not for himself,” Abusara said.
Kais Guiga, who was Khatib’s assistant principal at Al-Amal School in the late 1990s, said one of Khatib’s greatest skills was reconciling people when they have disagreements.
“He always made sure that whenever we have meetings, at the end of the meeting everybody is on the same page,” Guiga said.
Mariam said her father’s dedication to the education of Muslim children, community service and passion for the Palestinian cause made him a pillar in the Muslim community.
“He was never hopeless,” she said. “He wanted to provide a clean, safe environment where students can thrive while also being surrounded by that Islamic environment.”
When her father died, she said, former students, some who are now parents and whose children are students at Pioneers, reached out to her. They told her how her dad made them love Islam and how he was available to them all the time.
Khatib’s family made several trips back to Palestine. But he considered Minnesota home away from home.
Whenever people asked him if he would move to another state, Khatib would tell them: “Either Minnesota, or Bethany,” his hometown.
In addition to his wife, Huda, and daughter Mariam, he is survived by daughters Issraa, 19; Beesan, 14, and Alaa, 8.