Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Dr. Sabri El Farra (1934-2000)

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Dr. Sabri El Farra (1934-2000)

Article excerpt

IN MEMORIAM: Dr. Sabri El Farra (1934-2000)

Pat McDonnell Twair is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles.

For a quarter of a century Dr. Sabri El Farra has been Los Angeles' leading advocate for Palestinian justice. He opened his home to U.S. congressmen, senators, and Palestinian leaders, co-founded the first Islamic Center in Southern California, conducted a successful medical practice and has been a driving force in the reconstruction of Gaza's infrastructure. He died May 6 in Los Angeles at age 66.

Born in Khan Yunis, Palestine, the young Gazan attended secondary school in Cairo, Egypt, where he and a fellow student, Yasser Arafat, organized a Palestinian youth movement. Over the years the two have maintained close ties. He matriculated at Trinity College in San Antonio, TX and was graduated from the UCLA School of Medicine in 1964.

Dr. El Farra opened a medical practice in Hollywood in 1966 and for more than 20 years was medical director for CBS television. He published papers on his research in muscle disease, cancer and gastrointestinal physiology, and was a member of the board of governors of the Los Angeles County Medical Association.

At a May 8 memorial service in the Islamic Center of Southern California, two of Dr. El Farra's fellow activists from his student days at UCLA lauded his service to the community, dedication to Islam and commitment to Palestinian justice--the qualities that initially brought him recognition as a student leader.

The speakers were film director Moustapha Akkad and former Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell.

Commented Farrell, an African American: "It was at UCLA that Sabri educated me about what Islam is. One of Sabri's most enduring qualities was that he came of his own choice to the United States, he loved it and he became involved. He was open to the principles of what this country is about. And even though [Washington] isn't living 100 percent up to its principles, Sabri did."

Akkad, who produced and directed "The Message" and "Lion of the Desert," said that Dr. El Farra became his first investor when, in 1962, he lent $8,000 for Akkad's first project, a documentary entitled "As Others See Us."

In 1959, Dr. El Farra and Jane Tippit were married. They subsequently became parents of Nadia, Laila, Amira, Nadir and Lamis. As his family grew, the young doctor became concerned over his children's religious instruction, which took place at a small mosque in East Los Angeles.

Commented his brother, Mahmoud, at the memorial service: "Thirty years ago, when we began to meet in a house on St. Andrews Place, we sometimes had no more than 15 people for Sunday prayers. We didn't have Friday services because people couldn't take time off from their jobs on Friday. We were lucky to draw a crowd of 100 for our Eid prayers."

But the community was growing, and contributing to that growth was Dr. El Farra, who began bringing many of his 12 brothers and sisters to the U.S., with Mahmoud as the first in 1968.

In 1977, Dr. El Farra enthused to his fellow Muslims, "I've found it, I've found the perfect building to serve as a mosque--it has arches and large rooms." However when he told them that the structure, an insurance clearing house at 4th and Vermont in Los Angeles, was on the market for $1.5 million, the others said it would be impossible to raise the money.

"Al beit hamih al-rub (the house of God is protected)," Dr. El Farra replied. Another community member, Jalal Zorba, made an offer of $750,000. …

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