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NABIL AL ALAWI SPENT HIS childhood on the island country of Singapore. Like many others in Singapore, he was the son of Hadhramis who arrived on Singapore's shore when forced to leave their homeland in order to eek out a living in a faraway land. Young Nabil's great grandfather, grandfather, and father were all born in Hadhramaut in southern Yemen, where the land was so sparse and unforgiving that the people who called it home were required to have not just a deep adherence to their religion but a legendary fastidiousness. The Al Alawi family brought these values with them when they arrived in Singapore. In fact, the great majority of the Arabs in Singapore are Hadhramis. These fierce immigrants made major contributions to Islam throughout the East. In Singapore, they created a microcosm of their own culture, centered on Arab Street, which was alive with Arab life, culture, food, art, goods, and the voices of multiple generations.
It was a good life, where young Nabil went to a Catholic school, learning to pray every morning, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Being an Arab attending a Catholic school in a land far away from his origins began to forge the religious tolerance and worldview that would later serve him well.
But when the oil ...