In 2020, Democrat Fady Qaddoura unseated Republican incumbent State Senator John Ruckelshaus to become the first Arab Muslim legislator in the history of Indiana.
It was an almost unbelievable feat. Ruckelshaus raised $1.9 million for his campaign; Qaddoura had $708,000. Ruckelshaus comes from an Indiana Republican family that changed the course of U.S. history; Qaddoura, the son of a homemaker and taxi driver, was raised in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Winning this race was the stuff that dreams are made of.
Fady Qaddoura has always been a dreamer, even when many other people might have given up on dreams.
He was born in 1980 to a family from Ramallah, a Palestinian city located north of Jerusalem that was conquered by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The people in Fady Qaddoura’s hometown lived under military rule; they were not afforded the basic civil rights that many Americans take for granted. Palestinians eventually revolted against this military occupation in what was called the intifada, or shaking off. It started in 1987, when Fady was just a boy. In 1993 Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed a peace agreement called the Oslo Accords, and there was hope that a viable, independent Palestinian state would be established. Palestinian exiles returned to Ramallah, which became known to some locals as the Internet cafe capital of the world.
Like many mothers and fathers in Palestine, Fady Qaddoura’s parents wanted to give their children the best chance possible to succeed in life. They sent sons Fareed, Fady, and Shadi to the Ramallah Friends School, perhaps the most prestigious high school in the West Bank. Founded in 1869 by Quakers, the school has educated several prominent Palestinian public figures. Its mission is to provide students with an “academically rigorous” education of the highest quality while guiding them to live a “spiritual life” committed to the equality and potential of all people.
In 2000 Fady Qaddoura left Palestine to study at the University of New Orleans, where he got his BS in computer science. His brother, Fareed, who obtained his bachelor’s at Birzeit University, joined him. Both of them would enter the graduate program in computer science.
In 2005, Fady, his wife Samar, and their infant daughter lost everything, including their home in the Lakeview neighborhood, in post-Katrina floods. Like so many New Orleanians, they sought refuge in Houston, Texas. It took them seventeen hours in terrible traffic to get there. It was traumatic. But Fady “put aside his own emotions” because he had an overwhelming desire to help others.
According to the Houston Chronicle, he volunteered to coordinate the Muslim American Society’s Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Using his computer skills to match hundreds of Muslim volunteers and donations with the needs of evacuees, he first arranged for food to be taken to people at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Then he worked with others to develop a more comprehensive effort to assist with housing, counseling, health care, and schooling for children.
The experience changed him. “In 2005,” he said, “I walked away from my master’s and decided to dedicate my life to public service.”
Helping people is hard work, and Fady Qaddoura was systematic in turning that dream into reality. First, however, he needed a job. He became director of healthcare research and information systems at the University of Texas Medical School and he did end up finishing his master’s in 2007. Then, he volunteered for the Community Development Division of Houston’s Muslim American Society chapter. During this time, he managed a budget of $5 million and oversaw eleven staff members. He also completed a certificate at Rice University’s Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives.
In 2009, he came to Indianapolis to continue his education in public policy and nonprofit management, eventually earning a PhD at IUPUI in 2018. He also won an Islamic Society of North America fellowship to intern at the Indiana General Assembly, where he was given the Senate Democrats’ award for the intern who best exemplifies public service and the love of education.
That experience launched his career in state and local government. For the last decade, Fady Qaddoura has gone from success to success. From the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and Office of Medicaid Planning to the Division of Health Care Strategies and Technology. In 2016, he became Indianapolis City Controller and in 2019, he began campaigning for a seat in the Senate.
“In the Middle East,” the newly-elected senator told a reporter, “people take care of one another, even with limited resources, with love and compassion for their neighbor.” Now he wants to work for that goal in his adopted country, the United States.
“When I die,” he told an audience in 2018, “I want people to remember me as the guy who helped them unlock their potential and change the world.” It may have sounded a little corny, but it was earnest. He was the dreamer from Ramallah.
Research assistance for this post was provided in part by Ronnie Kawak.