The American academic community, the Algerian and the US Muslim community at large, have been saddened by the news of the death on December 23, 2013 of Algerian Professor Ourida (Akila) Oubraham at the age of sixty – the deceased was born in Algeria in 1950.

For those in Algeria who do not know her, Mrs. Oubraham is considered one of the pioneers in library sciences in America and for many years she held the position of Director of the Samuel C. Williams Library at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Prior to becoming the director, she served as deputy director for 15 years and as an Information Services Librarian for seven years. Ourida, as her colleagues like to call her, is a true leader in technology development and a driver for scientific change as is considered an expert in library sciences in America according to the testimony of the president of Stevens Institute of Technology, Dr. Nariman Favardin, expressing his sorrow, he said: ” This is a great loss for our University and Library Science”. Ourida, as her colleagues liked to call her, ” left a great void ” spoke one of them.

Her husband, Dr. Youcef Oubraham of Algerian origins, stated that he and her two children Samir and Sofiane have entrusted their fate to their creator, Almighty Allah (SWT), fully confident and reassured by His Words “All that is on it (the earth) shall perish, But will abide (for ever) the Face of thy Lord,- full of Majesty, Bounty and Honor ” .. Dr. Oubraham also went on, in his interview to us, trying to narrate in a few words the life of his wife, a life full of giving to knowledge and science, as a women, who for many years directed a scientific team of mixed ethnicities and races, while upholding her values and commitment to her religion, including her Islamic attire (Hijab) which, at the beginning of her career, when Islam was not much known in America, was a landmark on the University campus.

Dr. Youcef Oubraham first arrived to America in 1976, specifically in Ohio, and after completion of his studies, he returned back to teach in Algeria at the National Institute of Electronics in Boumerdes (INELEC – nowadays the University of Boumerdes), and his wife was director of the Library at the same institute. They both continued working in Algeria until 1983.

Scientific research does not flourish under restrictions; it needs freedom coupled with continuous efforts. In front of numerous obstacles, the couple tried their best, working with patience and dedication in the service of the common good. However, they soon were faced with the stone-walling of a single vision policy and the constraints of a multi-layer bureaucracy, not to mention the aggravation from widespread ignorance that soon was overtaking the library shelves, and leaking out to the scientific laboratories of our young Algeria – The single vision policy indeed controlled what book goes to print or ends up on a library shelf. Likewise for leadership positions, in academia or elsewhere, professional qualifications are not always the criteria. All of this coming from pseudo administrators, that neither have a know-how about management, nor value scientific research. At times, they had little sense of patriotism and what it takes to serve one’s country, despite the common singing of patriotic discourse; all at the expense of advancing scientific knowledge and its acquisition by honorable and hard working students.

Faced with this deteriorating situation and in order not to live under constant guilt of conscience regarding what was happening – clearly massive shortcomings – toward future generations of smart and promising Algerian who were the primary victims; Dr Oubraham and his wife opted for honorable withdrawal from an environment of conflict and dispute; and leave the land of their ancestors with bitterness and a little choice but to return to U.S. universities, where science and knowledge is respected and scientists are embraced.

Dr. Oubraham finished narrating the chapters of his story saying: “Thanks to Allah under all circumstances, after all, what Allah wills, He does, this is our fate”, and “no soul knows in which land it shall die” and “we do not say except what pleases our Lord .. and we are from Allah and to Him we shall return”; and then sighed again and continued: “How many wonderful moments we spent here in America with the Algerian community, especially in the early nineties, there was a brain drain, the migration of many smart people with capable hands, young, dignified and respectable Algerian. There were newly arrived, young students who used to come to our house for Iftar in Ramadan. Many were bachelors then, and the deceased, Umm Samir used to prepare an Algerian Iftar almost every evening, despite her multiple occupations with her job in the university and among the community of the Islamic Center, tirelessly working. Today, here they are, and thankfully the youth of yesterday have become the men of tomorrow – promising Algerian minds here in New Jersey. They have become professionals, along with their families returning the favors with beautiful condolences and sympathy and prayers for mercy on her soul. Thus was her funeral, attended by a large gathering, bidding her farewell at the Muslim cemetery, amongst others of our acquaintance of many Americans and the Muslim community”.

Dr. Youcef Oubraham then added, proudly “I am a witness to the wonderful struggle and sacrifice of my wife and mother of my children; I will never forget the deep respect and high esteem exhibited toward her by her colleagues at the university. She used to carry her daily job duties with them while fasting in Ramadan. They used to express compassion toward her at lunch time, but she never paid attention, a normal day for her. Even the university administration did not detect fatigue or overwork during Ramadan or non-Ramadan, the same hard work and energy much like the other months of the year, they were all full of activity, vitality and giving. Even after the discovery of the malignant tumor, which began consuming away her weak body three years ago, she did not surrender nor asked for time off, but entrusted her matter to Allah, patient as a struggling soldier in the cause of “Iqra – Read” – the message brought by the seal of the Apostles, Prophet Muhammad {PBUH}. Indeed, only a few months before her death she submitted a proposal on “Extension of library services using learning spaces technology” via live video link to a panel of university experts and guests; directly from her hospital bed while undergoing chemotherapy. No one in the audience noticed any sign of fatigue or weakness. It was also amazing, that in the latter stage of her illness, she hid the reality of her state of health even from her mother, saying only that it is related to some weakness and fatigue and she will recover after months by the grace of Allah (SWT).

In the face of this tragedy, not only as an Algerian, and in general, a voracious reader of books; but also someone who had for a time managed, along with some other brothers, a publishing house, I have followed the evolution of the printed book for about a quarter of a century, and I feel a great loss – not only to the Muslim world and Algeria, but with the loss of our respected late Mrs. Ourida Oubraham, it is the type of loss of a good plant, one of the daughters of Islam, which managed and exemplified peaceful Muslim coexistence in the West.

She was probably aware – may Allah’s mercy be on her – from her earliest age in her native Algeria during the nightmare of French colonialism, amidst the gloominess for our occupied land; she was aware how valuable the book is. And as a Chinese proverb goes “Open a book, it shall open you” or the more contemporary saying: “The book is the engine of history and the awakener of peoples from their slumber”. She may have realized – may Allah’s mercy be on her – that, only with writing and the book, the civilized nations progressed away from their primitive stages. It is also with the spreading of writing and reading, people progress in civilization development. This is all could be because the girl, Ourida, grew up in the midst of a struggling family of faith, who understood well that the first word revealed in the blessed Qur’an is a command: “Read”, a lightening word, despite the dark night of French colonialism. Thus, she may have understood later with the dawn of independence “that the Arabic-Islamic civilization began in practice with the process of writing and translation, and thus the respect for the pen and the paper.

She may have realized as a school child of the daughters of El-Harrach in the Algerian capital, that there is no path for the development and promotion of the intellect, i.e. the education of men, except through the book and reading. This has probably been made manifest when she first arrived to America, that the developed world had an in depth understanding of this fact. Therefore, putting in place an environment of learning became an integral part of policy programs that capture the interest of the public, but more than that, why not? America is leading countries in the developed world then and now.

She has probably become aware – may Allah’s mercy be on her – also, that the secret ingredient for the world progress and development, after the era of paper and pen, came the role of new technology and that shortened distance with information moving at lightning speed has opened the way for the electronic alternative and digital book that has truly spread in the modern world, and initiated an amazing knowledge-based and thinking revolution, similar to the revolution that took place when the world migrated from oral transmission of knowledge to writing and documentation. This is at least, similar to the revolution experienced in the mid-fifteenth century when Gutenberg invented the printing press (1456 AD). That technology event became a mean for the dissemination of knowledge at large scale and contributed to preparing the environment for the European Renaissance and accelerated it, as is confirmed by researchers in this field of cognitive knowledge today.

Ourida – may Allah’s mercy be on her – has probably become aware that the change in the means inevitably leads to a change of mentality in the environment where change is practiced, and it may have been the reason that compelled her to leave Algeria. It is a quiet and peaceful revolution, where neither blood is spilled nor are lands occupied. She may have understood that many people would remain on the sidelines in distant from this change, indeed may be even content in their utter existence knowledge-wise. She might have been concerned, like many other scholars of Algeria who focus on future stability that the time it would require to enter the digital word, would be similar to the time it took for the printing press to enter the Arab world, and therefore remain at the tail of nations, God forbid.

It is probably the efficacy of digital processing and storage of knowledge storage that made Mrs. Ourida Oubraham make her proposal, wondering with caution about the fate of the paper book as we have known it. Would its role and mission remain, after it has been converted into digital form ready for reading and rapid transmission, at minimum cost for the benefit of millions of researchers and scientist across the globe? The operation to procure a book has been indeed reduced to its simplest form, at the click of a mouse; one can fulfill his thirst for a book, thousands of kilometers away from the source where it is stored.

She probably – may Allah’s mercy be on her – had expected as did many studies in the field that in a few years the full conversion of the world’s libraries into digital world. However, the state of affairs of the Maghreb region in particular and the Arab world in general, does not bode well in this area, as noted by a UN report that the required technology to achieve such a goal is still below the global average by a lot, and these are 2003 statistics. Despite the fact that these are outdated, the figures reveal our shortcomings and the lagging of our educational system (18 computers per thousand people in the Arab world, compared to a global average of up to 78.3, and the number of users of the Internet does not exceed 1.6 per thousand). Likewise the pace of change is very slow, especially with the current political upheaval and some fear of a relapse of the young Arab Spring.

In one word, the field of e-book still remains a great opportunity for underdeveloped countries like Algeria and the rest of the Arab countries to enter knowledge-based in both production and exchange. Some European studies have forecasted with confidence that with today’s technology, a country like Algeria, especially as blessed with the human and material capital that it has, the abundance of resources from the oil and gas Algeria streaming out of its desert; that it would be able to open the gates to its migrant elite to catch up with its scientific renaissance that has been stalled for over more than twenty years now. This despite what has nested in terms of compounded ignorance in the strata and corridors of our society and the multiple missed opportunities at the detriment of many generations, sons and daughters Algeria.

Ms. Ourida Oubraham – may Allah’s mercy be on her –, a talented woman par excellence, has moved from the biology and sailed in the diverse field of library sciences, thus merged together two beautiful fields. Her path – may Allah’s mercy be on her – reminds of someone aware of the good words of Asma’i who advised one of his companions, one day, saying: “Shall I not tell about an orchard in which you will find yourself in the most complete garden, and a dead person who will inform you of those before you, reminds you if you forget, and give companionship if you are lonely, and will keep your appetite if you full? Yes, the person said, then Asmai’ responded: ”Take hold of the book, no book is devoid of goodness that would benefit the one who implements it or stays away from a negative it admonitions against, as it is the best and most beautiful, generous, and beneficial companion for the individual and society. ”

Mrs. Ourida Oubraham, – may Allah’s mercy be on her – a woman and a true librarian in the path of one wise man of the Arabs, who described his life saying: “I have associated with people and they became fed up with me and likewise was fed up with them, then I took the book as my companion and neither did I nor did we get fed up with each other”. And thus reminds us the words of the poet: “And the best companion over time is a book, you entertain yourself with its companionship when friends betray you”. In the light of such words of wisdom from a distant past, Mrs. Ourida Oubraham – may Allah’s mercy be on her – like many others, must have realized that the wisdom is not in the acquisition of books to be put on library shelves, much like in the words of the Algerian saying “knowledge is in the head and not in the notebook” the true wisdom is attained through proper reading and comprehension. She must have become acquainted with the various fields of science and disciplines, specific books on special disciplines that serve men in various fields.

And thus one can state that with her migration to America, Mrs. Ourida Oubraham – may Allah’s mercy be on her – has actually acted on the recommendations of Aisha bin Shatii’ – may Allah’s mercy be on her – in her vast knowledge, her struggle, sacrifices and giving as explained in verse 22 of Surah Tawba {Those who believed and migrated and struggled in the way of Allah with their wealth and themselves, those are of greatest degree by the side of Allah. Such is the centering core of the eight pillars of migration of the Prophet {peace be upon him}, the first building of mosques, educational institutions, fraternity between Ansar and immigrants, establishing good relationship with the citizens of the city with their various religions, covenants with the Jews of Medina, cleaning the city’s streets, digging water wells, the eradication of poverty so there did not remain in the city, a poor Muslim; and promoting security and peace throughout the city of Medina. All of these lessons have made of an Algerian immigrant like Ourida Oubraham – may Allah’s mercy be on her – to cultivate a spirit of trust in the hearts of her co-workers, despite their different cultural and religious backgrounds. She skillfully as well sought out to build team momentum and taught them how to set goals and achieve them, and to impart these into the minds of students of the sciences. By her actions – may Allah’s mercy be on her –she has taught the Muslim community in America the art of relationship building and how to positively influence others and gain their friendship. Being of Amazigh origin, she also taught Arab expatriates, how one should be proud of his Arabic language and Muslim heritage, and how one would understand himself, discovers his abilities so that life would have a meaning and effort has a noble objective. All this happened at a time when America’s Muslims experienced depressed feelings of loss of a hopeful horizon coupled with both the development in the Islamic world and the events of September 11, 2001. Despite these adversities and difficulties that have unjustly befallen on the Muslim community with the grace of Allah, Muslims in America have been able to patiently pull themselves together in bodies and organizations and civil associations to counter the onslaught of the hate groups. Thus did the Creator, enable a few of the finest Muslim immigrants, men and women, to raise to the challenge, each in their respective fields, and according to his or her position as a model for Islam, much like our beloved Ourida Oubraham – may Allah’s mercy be on her. Blessed are you, my sister, immigrant, with reward, insha-Allah, for the tremendous effort you have deployed to instill positive thinking and motivation in the minds of young people to mobilize, and your work to change human behavior and develop it for the better, what a wonderful educator and teacher you were.

And God bless you as a martyr of the pen – insha’Allah – and may he grant you a dwelling in paradise and may he make every one of your steps and movements in the scale of you good deeds. May you receive the glad tiding of the hadeeth of the of the Prophet (may Allah’s peace be upon him) when he said: “Allah and His angels and the people of the heavens and the earths, even the ant in its hole and even the whale shall pray for the one who teaches people the good”. You shall remain in the hearts of all of those who have known you and the generations to draw inspiration from your beautiful character and high values that will help them to charter a path for themselves. Those ideals that you lived by and as a beacon and a crown over the heads of students of knowledge.

May Allah’s mercy be on you, may He bestow his generosity on you and guide those who follow your footsteps, amongst our migrant community, to charter a path of success, toward a better tomorrow. And indeed tomorrow is so near for the one looking forward to it. “To Allah we belong and to him we shall return.”

Mustapha Muhammad Habes
9 February 2014