Three years ago, Aqeel Mohialdeen found himself battered and bloody in a Texas hospital. Three men had beaten him so badly, they broke bones in his face and permanently damaged his left eye.

They delivered their blows with a warning, telling the Iraqi immigrant to “go back to your own country.” After the attack, Mohialdeen moved his family to Maine, hoping to find a safer place to raise his two daughters and spare them from the hatred that was forced upon him that day. He immediately fell in love with Portland and found some measure of peace here.

This month, Mohialdeen published Maine’s first Arabic language newspaper, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a 16-page collection of news stories, advice columns, poetry and other features geared toward the state’s small but growing Iraqi population. Mohialdeen believes the free paper will help Iraqi immigrants better understand their new home and foster good will with native Mainers.

“The community needs a trustful bridge to connect them to the new culture so they can be a good part of it,” said Mohialdeen, 44, a university-educated graphic designer whose father was a journalist and author. He worked with USAID in Baghdad before coming to the United States in 2010.

Exactly how many Iraqi immigrants live in Maine is unclear, but it’s believed that a few thousand have moved here in recent years, including refugees settled by Catholic Charities Maine. Some have opened stores, bakeries and other businesses in Portland, Lewiston, Biddeford and elsewhere.

That’s where Mohialdeen has distributed the first 1,000 copies of his paper, which he produced at his Portland apartment and had printed at Alliance Press in Brunswick for $365. The paper contains no paid advertising and it’s not yet available online, so he’s not sure how often he’ll be able to publish.


“I’d like it to be monthly,” he said. “The dream is to be weekly.”

So far, the reception among Iraqi immigrants has been positive, Mohialdeen said. Some readers have raved about being able to once again hold an Arabic language paper, he said, while others have claimed it even smells different from other papers available locally.

“I think it’s great,” said Haitham Al Mohammed, an Iraqi immigrant who lives in Biddeford. “I think it’s important for Iraqi people to share information.”

Named for an ancient site believed to have been in Iraq, The Hanging Gardens isn’t the first alternative language publication in Maine. Le Messager was a weekly newspaper that served Lewiston’s Franco-American population from 1880 to 1966, and Le Forum is a bilingual, socio-cultural periodical that’s published by the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine.

Mark Mogensen, president of the Maine Press Association, said it makes sense that some of Maine’s more recent immigrants would establish newspapers or websites to share information in their native languages.

“It would be very natural,” Mogensen said. “If he’s getting information out to a readership that wasn’t getting it before, more power to him.”


While The Hanging Gardens is written almost entirely in Arabic script, the paper has a distinctly pro-American appearance.

A banner logo features stars and stripes and the slogan “Together We Stand Against Terrorism.” The American flag dominates the back page with a similar slogan, “Iraqis-Americans: Together We Stand To Protect Our Home America.”

Mohialdeen said one column explores the challenge that some Iraqi immigrants face whenever there’s a terrorist attack.

While many fled from terrorism, they question why some people expect them to publicly condemn death and destruction caused by others, he said. Just seeing news reports about terrorism awakens their own trauma, so speaking out seems impossible, he said.

“They aren’t quiet because they agree with terrorists,” Mohialdeen said. “They are completely against the terrorists.”

Mohialdeen said he hopes to encourage more Iraqi immigrants to speak against terrorism. He said his paper will avoid religious issues; he was raised Muslim, he believes in God and respects all religions.


He also hopes his paper helps Iraqi immigrants better understand and engage in the surrounding community. The first issue has items on Abraham Lincoln, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and places to visit in Maine. Many Iraqis like to fish, so he wrote a column on how to get a fishing license. There’s a piece on the Bill of Rights, a column about dealing with depression and stories about an Iraqi teen from Portland who met first lady Michelle Obama and an Iraqi bakery owner who is expanding to the Portland Public Market.

Everything in the paper is about helping people fulfill their hopes and dreams in a new home.

“There’s a future waiting for my daughters,” Mohialdeen said. “That’s what brought me here.”


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