Michael Hakeem

Michael Hakeem

On this date in 1916, eminent sociologist Michael Hakeem was born in Fall River, Mass., to Sophia (Daghir) and Joseph Hakeem, both Syrian immigrants. He was the youngest of several children and the only one to graduate from high school.

He attended Rhode Island State University, then transferred to Ohio State University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1942. He worked for the Illinois state prison system before completing his Ph.D. at Ohio State in 1950. He married Helen Louise Cook in 1949.

After joining the sociology faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1952, he published numerous articles on criminology, the penal system and juvenile delinquency. For many years, he directed the correctional administration program under the auspices of the school’s Center for Law, Society, and Justice before retiring in 1983.

Hakeem was the longtime chair of FFRF’s Executive Council and with Helen put in countless volunteer hours helping to mail Freethought Today, in which his column “The Unreasoning Clergy” appeared for several years. He was one of the state employees who successfully sued to end Good Friday as a mandatory state holiday in FFRF v. Tommy Thompson (1996). Accepting a Freethinker of the Year award for being a plaintiff, Hakeem said: “There is nothing more horrible to think about than a tie between the state and religion. It’s a very terrible thing to have the power of the government behind religion. The battle is never done.”

After the Hakeems moved into assisted living, he donated his collection of more than 12,000 volumes to the UW-Madison. His research focus was “a fascinating view of the proselytization methods used by evangelical religious organizations in America,” according to Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. The library termed the collection “of major importance.”

The Hakeems left a $750,000 bequest to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, half of which was set aside to endow its ongoing college student essay competition. It was named in his memory for the more than decade the bequest lasted and which helped countless recipients. Students fondly remembered his passionate promotion of critical thinking skills.

Hakeem had several health challenges later in life but retained his dignity and sense of humor until the end. He died at age 90 in Madison and was cremated. His wife had preceded him in death at age 82 in 2003. (D. 2006)

Freedom From Religion Foundation