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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Where is your mother from?

Fat Ma? You have a Fat Ma? Fat Ma Fat Ma Fat Ma Fat Ma....

"I had to fight over that last one, that 'Fat Ma,' " says Sulaiman.

Raghib says, "People couldn't say my name in Wilkes-Barre. In Newark, or East Orange, when I told someone my name was Raghib, they said Raghib from then on."

Says Qadry, "Sometimes people would say, 'Why can't you have an easier name?' Like what? Krzyszewski?"

"There were some problems with racist behavior, some incidents, but not nearly as many as there could have been," says Fatma. "Again, it was the cultural turn of being Ismail. If my boys had been named Jones, they could only have gone as far as people let them. Ismail? You can go as far as you want."

Bauknight had her own plan for her sudden family. She had never cared for this religion that her son, whom she had named Abraham, had jammed down her grandsons' throats. These boys would worship her way, at her church. "And if we didn't go—no church, no food," says Qadry.

"Out of vengeance, she did that," says Fatma. "She never told the truth about Ibrahim and myself to the boys. I think she had too much respect for her son for that. But she felt if she could change their religion, she could change everything else. She hated El-Islam."

As Raghib and Qadry advanced in high school, Bauknight began to show signs of Alzheimer's. Fatma decided to move into her mother-in-law's house. With Bauknight slipping away, the dreaming girl inside Fatma began to awaken. She agonized about telling her sons the truth. She agonized about the cost of revealing the deception not only to them but also to those in Wilkes-Barre who had been kind to her family. There was Marguerite Latinski, Raghib and Qadry's eighth-grade English teacher, who, upon meeting the boys for the first time, told Fatma that she immediately knew "that these children had come from love." And Mickey Gorham, the Meyers High football coach. And there was Malcolm Conway, the family's physician; and Robert Elias, the lawyer for whom Fatma worked as a clerk. When these good people asked Fatma where she was from, she averted her eyes.

But the charade had worked. It accomplished her purpose—if her purpose was to give positive identities to her sons while disguising her own. The faith offered dignity, the deception offered a hiding place.

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