Foresight, passion marked businessman's life

Foresight, passion marked businessman's life

CHAMPAIGN – Mohamed Sharabash lived in Champaign-Urbana for about three decades. But during that time, the Egyptian-born businessman launched an array of projects that made computer technology more useful not only to area residents, but to those worldwide.

Locally, he was probably best known as the founder of Micro Systems International, a computer solutions company, and Advancenet, an Internet service provider that was eventually sold to Indianapolis-based eGIX.

But one of Mr. Sharabash's biggest projects was putting the Quran, the holy book of Islam, on CD-ROM. His production of that included not only English translations, but also a variety of other languages, including French, Spanish, Turkish, Malaysian and Urdu.

"Whatever he did, he did with a passion," said Atteya Elnoory, who knew Mr. Sharabash when he lived in Egypt and who later collaborated with him on the Quran project in Champaign. "He applied hard work and dedication to the different goals he had in mind."

Mr. Sharabash, 57, died Aug. 29 at the University of Chicago Hospital, Chicago, where he was undergoing a liver transplant.

His eldest daughter, Hanady Sharabash, said his condition had worsened the last few years, "but he worked through his illness. He never stopped working."

In the days when computers were not yet common in homes, Mr. Sharabash built computers from scratch and conducted computer classes for the community.

"His enthusiasm and passion for computers was something that touched everybody at the time," said Elnoory, who lives in Toledo, Ohio.

Dr. Noura Sharabash, another of Mr. Sharabash's daughters, said the Quran on CD-ROM project, undertaken in the early 1990s, was "a huge success."

"It was the first time we knew of anyone putting the whole Quran on CD-ROM," she said. "There were three different reciters of the Quran on it."

Many Muslims used it to teach religion to their children. In fact, all the Sharabash children used it when they were younger, Hanady Sharabash said.

"We had orders for it internationally," Noura Sharabash said. "You can still buy it, but after my dad made it ... we found a lot of people were trying to do similar things. There are probably a dozen different versions (of the Quran on CD) available today."

The project took several years and the collaboration of many experts, Noura Sharabash said.

"It took a lot of man-hours to do the transliteration, instead of just scanning in the Koran. They had people who put it in character by character, so people could search it and find words similar to other words," she said.

Mr. Sharabash came to the University of Illinois from Egypt about 30 years ago and received a master's degree in statistics. He then established Micro Systems International, which was based on North Cunningham Avenue in Urbana before moving to its longtime home in Royal Plaza on South Neil Street in Champaign.

After his work at the university, "he knew there would be a big need for networking systems, and computers would become an important part of business and educational systems, and he could help people take advantage of that technology," Noura Sharabash said.

Mr. Sharabash also started C-U Online, an Internet service provider that was the forerunner to Advancenet. At the time, there were few private Internet service providers in Champaign-Urbana, she said.

"It was ahead of its time ... before people realized it was going to be a big deal, that they could take advantage of the Internet in their home and they needed something faster than the public dial-ups available," she said.

In recent years, Mr. Sharabash's business interests included real estate investments, said Arlie Saldeen, who worked with him on several transactions. Mr. Sharabash bought several single-family and multiple-family homes, some of them on campus, and for a time even owned Padano's Pizza on East Green Street in Campustown.

"There's no way he'd ever retire," Saldeen said.

"He always had a project going on," said Hanady Sharabash. "He had a strong work ethic. He was always trying to make sure we had that as well."

She also said her father was kind and patient, sometimes giving people jobs at Micro Systems International more on their need for the job than on their qualifications for it.

"A lot of people appreciated him for that," she said.

Mr. Sharabash and his wife, Fatema, who teaches Arabic at King School in Urbana, had three sons – Nour, Hani and Islam – and three daughters – Hanady, Noura and Iman.

All of them spent time at his business and learned a lot about computers.

Mr. Sharabash was also an avid gardener.

"He did a lot of gardening, mostly vegetables and landscaping," Noura Sharabash said. "We have a huge garden in our backyard. But even when we were living in an apartment, he would rent out a plot."

In recent years, he took up beekeeping, tending to a hive.

"We have way too much honey right now," Noura Sharabash said.

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