Community supports Hamoodi before he is sent to prison


Urmilla Kuttikad

Photo by Asa Lory
Amidst summer’s waning breeze on Wednesday evening, Aug. 22, a crowd of around 100 people gathered in the spacious interior of the Rock Bridge Christian Church for a community potluck dinner to support Dr. Shakir Hamoodi.
In May of 2012, Hamoodi pled guilty to charges that accused him of violating restrictions imposed by the United Nations that prohibited, among other things, sending money from the United States to Iraq.
On Aug. 28, Hamoodi will begin his three-year incarceration. The potluck on the evening of the 22nd was to show support for Hamoodi and his family, and, as his youngest son Abdul-Rahman, a sophomore at Rock Bridge, said, “…to say goodbye.”
Those who attended the potluck sat around tables with plates piled high with brightly colored vegetable dishes, warm breads, and honeyed baklava. One-by-one, friends and family of Hamoodi stepped up to the microphone to address Hamoodi directly.
Each person who spoke had their own personal stories illustrating how Hamoodi’s compassion had touched their lives, but a common theme arose from all of their stories, perhaps best exemplified by a comment made by David Finke, the Chairman of the Mid-Missouri chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
At one point in his speech, Finke said, “I think we would all agree that Shakir is not a criminal in the usual sense of the word,” and all around the room, heads nodded in tacit agreement.
Another friend, Steve Jacobs, spoke passionately about Hamoodi’s character.
“Many will be [in the jail] because they’ve made mistakes,” Jacobs said, “but [Hamoodi will] be there because he knows the difference between what’s legal, and what’s right.” Fierce applause followed his comment.
In 1992, after learning his nephew had died because his sister in Iraq couldn’t afford $10 worth of antibiotics, Hamoodi began to send money illegally to his family and friends’ families to help support them. He continued this practice until 2003, when the restrictions were lifted.
In 2006, federal investigators raided Hamoodi’s home. In 2011, it was decided that Hamoodi had been honest about where he’d sent his money, that none of the money had been used for malicious purposes. However, in 2012, Hamoodi was still sentenced to three years in prison.
“It means a lot to me,” Hamoodi said after the potluck. “It gives me the strength to get by while I’m away … It really shows me that my family won’t be alone, and my business won’t be deserted. I wasn’t surprised [by the support] because I know my community and I’ve been working with them for over 20 years and I’m very grateful for their presence, for their support, for their continued support after I leave.”
Hamoodi is relying on the community to continue that support once he’s gone. Since World Harvest, the international foods store he owns in Columbia, is the major source of income for their family, the store will need to be maintained while he is in prison.
“We’ve been shopping at World Harvest for as long as I can remember,”  said Dahnya Rogers, a senior at Rock Bridge who is a close family friend of Hamoodi. “But it’s not going to stay alive by just being there. People have to keep shopping there and keep helping it to stay afloat. And they have amazing stuff, delicious food, so why not shop there?”
The current plan is for Hamoodi’s sons to take over the store together. But, even if everything runs smoothly with the new management of the store, Hamoodi’s children will have lost much more than a store manager; much more, even, than a father.
“[My dad’s] been a great role model in the community,” Abdul-Rahman said. “He was always a teacher to me. I would always nag him with abstract questions and he would always have answers to them. He’s the only person who really knows how to deal with me… I’m going to miss him.”
The loss of Hamoodi will be deeply felt not only by Hamoodi’s family, but by the community as well. This is why the potluck was held, and this is why a petition containing thousands of signatures along with a thick stack of letters is being sent to the President on the day Hamoodi’s sentence begins. The goal is to convince the President to use executive authority to waive Hamoodi’s sentence.
Anything that might bring Hamoodi back to the Columbia community where he belongs, as countless people at the potluck would testify, is worth a shot. It’s a long shot, but as Hamoodi simply puts it, “I am very hopeful.”
By Urmila Kutikkad
Click here to  learn more about Dr. Hamoodi.
Click here to sign a petition for President Barack Obama.
Photos by Asa Lory
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