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Omar Rikabi ~ He Had a Name

I have an almost daily battle with my six-year-old daughter to get dressed for school.

This morning it was her sneakers. She calls them her happy shoes.  She can put them on herself, and even tie them. But she always wants “Daddy to do it.”

And I do. I always do.


She’s my firstborn. My princess… because that’s what we named her. The day we came home from the hospital, I called my dad on speakerphone so he could talk to her. He worked in Egypt and Syria, so this was how they would have to meet. Before I put the phone down by her head, he asked me, “What did you name her?”


“What does it mean, this Sadie?”


“In what language does it mean princess?”


There was a small pause, as his Iraqi culture of the father choosing an Arab name for his children tried to process this.

“Hebrew?…. Let me talk to her.”


After I got sneakers on her feet and her feet to school, I listened to NPR while eating breakfast and heard the story of a boy.

A small refugee boy who drowned fleeing Syria in a raft crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

He wasn’t the only one. Thousands have died like this… of the millions in Syria and Iraq driven from their homes by war.

But a photo of the boy went viral, and NPR interviewed Peter Boukhaert for Human Rights Watch:

“What really touched me in the photo was the little sneakers… One of my favorite moments each day is to dress my boys before they go to school. I saw those little sneakers and I realized that his parents had dressed him that morning for a very difficult journey.”

My wife and I have a policy of not listening to or watching stories of dead children. We can’t think about it.

But as I listened, I dared myself to look for the picture of this boy. And as I looked at him… facedown in the sand and surf, dressed in a red shirt, blue shorts, and his little velcro sneakers… Bouckhaert continued:

“Aylan was his name. He was age three.”

He had a name.

This was not a photo of a body. This was a photo of a boy.

And he had a name.


Against my wife’s better judgment, I’ve been looking at Aylan all day.

I can feel his parents putting on his shorts. His shirt. His shoes.

Did they fuss with him to stay still and get dressed, trying to stay calm for his sake, trying to hide the urgency in their voice?

Did he get all dressed up, only then needing to go potty?

Did they make up a story of an adventure so he wouldn’t be scared?

I can hear the mixture of love and frustration a parent has when dressing their child, calling his name over and over again to be still.

Because he had a name.


The first name given in creation was Adam. It means humanity.

The Scripture story tells us that God, through Jesus Christ, created all of humanity in his image and breathed into us the breath of life.

I thought of Adam when I saw the first hashtag given to Aylan’s story: Humanity Washed Ashore.

I’m a minister of the gospel that calls Jesus the new Adam: The Son of God who died and rose from the grave to rescue all of humanity. And though I’ve preached, written, and told countless stories about this gospel of peace for the Middle East, before this morning I’d grown numb: Why can I tell you more about the impact of Tom Brady’s reinstatement on my Dallas Cowboys in week 4 than I can about the backstory that led to Aylan’s death?

Later, NPR updated the piece and told the father’s story. I had to dare myself to read it:

“The Turk smuggler jumped into the sea, then a wave came and flipped us over. I grabbed my sons and wife and we held onto the boat,” Mr. Kurdi said, speaking slowly in Arabic and struggling at times for words.

“We stayed like that for an hour, then the first son died and I left him so I can help the other, then the second died, so I left him as well to help his mom and found her dead… What do I do… I spent three hours waiting for the coast guard to come. The life jackets we were wearing were all fake… I am choking, I cannot breathe. They died in my arms.” 


He had a name.

Why did his father choose Aylan? What does it mean, this Aylan?

His father’s name is Abdullah.

His big brother’s name was Ghalib.

His mother’s name was Rehan.

Abdullah was a barber. He cut hair. That was his honest day’s labor. But how did Abdullah and Rehan meet? When did they know they were in love? Where was their first kiss? What did they feel when she became pregnant for the first time? What happened when they brought their firstborn home?

Now we know their names. But what was their whole story?

Because they all have names.

They all have stories.

The same name and story as you and me.


I dare you to get to know them.

bless the little children


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