SI Vault
Ralph Wiley
September 25, 1989
Notre Dame sophomore Raghib Ismail has brilliant speed on the football field, but he is, if anything, more dazzling off it
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September 25, 1989

The Light And The Lightning

Notre Dame sophomore Raghib Ismail has brilliant speed on the football field, but he is, if anything, more dazzling off it

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Qadry is much like Raghib, though two inches taller, more ebullient, less reflective, more spontaneous. He is a red-shirt freshman defensive back at Syracuse. On Sept. 9, against Temple, Qadry ran back a kick 56 yards to set up a touchdown. As seniors together at Meyers High in Wilkes-Barre, the brothers did the city proud in the state Class AA track and field meet: Qadry set state high school records in the 110-meter hurdles (14.04) and the 300 intermediate hurdles (37.56), and ran a leg of the 4 X 100 relay team that had a record time of 42.65; Raghib won the 100 meters and for the second straight year the long jump (24'3½"), and anchored the 4 X 100 relay. On the football team, Qadry was the fullback, Raghib the tailback. George Novak, coach of Woodland Hills High, near Pittsburgh, called Raghib "the best running back I've seen come out of high school since Tony Dorsett." Qadry drew accolades of his own, but none of that order.

"Raghib and I are very close," says Qadry. "But he visited Notre Dame and fell in love with the place." Qadry could have had a track scholarship to Notre Dame and likely would have made the football team, although there was no guarantee. But, says Raghib, "more important, Qadry could not have grown in my shadow. I hated it when people called him Raghib's little brother. I told him, 'You're your own man.' He didn't want to redshirt at Syracuse because I didn't. He said, 'Raghib, I'm ready to roll.' I told him, 'Just wait, brother. Just be patient.' "

"Raghib holds us together," says Fatma. "He calms and soothes us."

Sixteen-year-old Sulaiman enters the room from above, gently helping his grandmother down the stairs. The boys had lived with Bauknight, whom they call Nina, while they attended Meyers, but now she has advancing Alzheimer's disease and they must care for her. Sulaiman feigns disinterest in the talk of his brothers. He is a brown belt in karate and does well in geometry. He says he doesn't care for the language arts and, especially, team sports, although he does play football. When you go to school behind two legendary brothers, the pressures on you can be immense. His brothers realize this.

"Sulaiman has more talent than Raghib and me put together," says Qadry.

Sulaiman is too young to clearly remember his father.

Raghib sits with a straight back in a small conference room in the Athletic and Convocation Center at Notre Dame. The memory of his father brings a smile to his face. "Sometimes I ask myself, how did I become fast?" he says. "I don't remember trying to be. I just remember trying to please my father. He invented things for us. Our secret-secret place was just a diner in Newark. To us, it was a mighty hall where our father took us to discuss knowledge and life and personal stuff. He was sick a lot. But he still played with us, and raced with us. After he became very sick he would come to the window to watch us race. And if my father came to that window above me, I ran like the wind for him."

Ibrahim's kidneys failed him, and he began dialysis treatment about the time Sulaiman was starting to walk. His temper became shorter, his behavior more erratic and unpredictable. Fatma knew that her husband was dying, and the dreaming girl inside her knew that there was a hidden truth.

"We had never been questioned, not really," says Fatma. "Even I didn't realize the whole truth, and I had met Mrs. Bauknight when we first moved to New Jersey. It never fully dawned on me. I knew I wasn't from the Sudan, but it never, ever occurred to me that Ibrahim wasn't. Then, after Qadry was born, he told me the whole truth."

No one questioned their origins, at least not openly. "People felt they were dealing with a different culture, and they didn't want to offend it," says Fatma. "We were never challenged." In the end, the flaw of any incredible facade is that it becomes too difficult to keep the lie together, to keep the lie from tying itself into a knot around your life. Nothing good can be held together by a lie. Not forever.

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