About 20 years ago, Shukri Abu-Baker was blessed with a daughter who inspired him to begin a legacy of charity work. Her name is Sanabel and she was born with a few chronic heath conditions. In her small eyes, he saw strength. And in her smile, he saw hope. He said he knew God was preparing him by helping him gain the skills needed to alleviate the pain of others. So, Mr. Abu-Baker decided to dedicate his life to helping the needy children in Palestine and elsewhere, thus becoming the president and chief executive officer of the Holy Land Foundation.
Mr. Abu-Baker — who’s of Palestinian and Brazilian heritage — was born in Brazil in 1959. At age 6, he and his family moved to Silwad, Palestine, where they lived for a couple of years. In 1967, the family left to Kuwait and lived there for about a decade. Mr. Abu-Baker migrated to the United States in 1980, where he got his Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Orlando College. During that time, he also helped launch the first mosque in central Florida.
After marrying Wejdan in 1982, Mr. Abu-Baker moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. There, he worked as an office manager for the Muslim Arab Youth Association. In 1990, they relocated to Culver City, California, near Los Angeles where he and a few friends opened the Holy Land Foundation. Then in 1992, the family moved to Dallas and the HLF moved with them. He and Wejdan have four American-born daughters: Zaira, Sanabel, Nida and Shurook.
Like many people worldwide, Mr. Abu-Baker was heart-broken when the Bush administration shut down the HLF in 2001. He was devastated because he knew that thousands of children were left to starve and many widows were left without a home. Mr. Abu-Baker knows that by managing the HLF, he did absolutely nothing wrong.
“I chose to be an agent of change to the better. I chose to lead the distressed out of their desperation. This life is worthless without a moral compass,” he says.