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March 11, 1939 – March 8, 2013

Al-Hajj Akmal Shareef, a longtime substance abuse counselor and social worker, died Friday in Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He was 73.

Born Gerald A. Hemphill in Buffalo, Mr. Shareef, of Williamsville, embraced Islam as a young man. From 2010 until his death, he served as vice president of the New York State Assembly of the Addeynu Allahe-Universal Arabic Association and was the chairman of the organization’s 75th anniversary banquet in 2012.

His Arabic name, which means “completely honorable or noble” or “protector of the tribe,” was given to him by the late Emam Mubarrak Hasson at the time of his conversion to Islam. In 2010, Mr. Shareef and a son, Haji, performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, a practice that is considered the fifth pillar of Islam. Despite becoming ill, he completed the pilgrimage.

Mr. Shareef graduated from Hutchinson-Central High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from SUNY Buffalo State and a master’s degree in social work from the University at Buffalo in 1989.

Mr. Shareef taught substance abuse counseling at Erie Community College for eight years and social work at UB for two years while working at Veterans Affairs Medical Center for 35 years as a substance abuse counselor, director of the homeless veterans outreach program, and as a social worker in the geriatrics program. He retired in 2009.

He also conducted a private practice, Serenity Counseling.

He was predeceased by his first wife, Hyler; a sister, Jean Flakes; a stepfather, Virgil Snow; a stepsister, Beatrice Snow; and two stepbrothers, Virgil and Jessie Snow Jr.

Survivors include his wife, Cheryee White-Shareef; two daughters, Deidra Brown and Hameedah Lemon; four sons, Iben Thagard, Haji, Hannibal and Amir; and two foster sons, Christopher Cappellini and Michael Williams.

The family will receive friends from 4 to 6 p.m. today in their home, 990 Wehrle Drive, Williamsville. The Salatul Janaza funeral prayers will be conducted at 11 a.m. Monday in Masjid An-Noor, 745 Heim Road, Getzville.