By Josie De Leon
Recent events in the Middle East have raised a lot of questions and controversy everywhere from White House politicians to coffee house regulars-which is why members of the BYU Arabic club feel their voices needs to be heard now.
As part of their “mandate” to bridge the gap between the east and the west, members of the Arabic club will be hosting Arab Awareness week to educate students and visitors about Arab beliefs, lifestyles, politics and culture.
“We believe this is the time to do it,” said Ahmad Salah, club president. “Something similar was done in the past about five or six years ago. We are hoping to get a large turnout at all the events.”
Members of the club have been planning to organize this week for about a year and a half, Salah said, a doctorate candidate for civil and environmental engineering. They have worked hard planning countless activities, including Arab cooking lessons, movie nights and a Henna tattoo booth. Also several guest speakers from around the world are slated to take part, including Jordanian Prince Feras.
“We hope people will get a better picture, a well informed picture about the Arabs,” Salah said. “We hope people can think of Arabs as more than just a desert, a camel and a tent. We wish people can eliminate the stereotypes about Arabs. Terrorists and other media-driven bad stereotypes do exist but not more than a small percent.”
Few of the students in the club are Muslim, like first-year masters student Hani Al-Madhoun from the Gaza Strip. Al-Madhoun came to BYU because of academics, his approval of the honor code and his comfort in the spirituality felt on campus.
“Sometimes people assume one is a member of the church and once they learn, there is a shock on their face because they thought no way a Muslim would say what I say or do what I do,” Al-Madhoun said. “But the far majority know who and what I am, they are very understanding until it gets to political issues, which I keep a very low profile.”
Al-Madhoun, like other club members, said they hope to see a slight change in stereotypes. There are around 50 native Arabs on campus. However, there are about 200 club members, most of who are American students learning Arabic or who are just interested in the culture like BYU student Carlos Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, a senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies, said he joined the club to expose himself to Arab culture and to interact with students and members of the community with Arabic descent.
“We really hope that the university will respond by coming to these events,” Gonzalez said. “We just want to let people know that Muslims have made significant contributions to the world through medicine, sciences and mathematics.”
Arab Awareness week is scheduled from April 10 to 14, 2006. For a calendar of events visit: attu.byu.edu/eventcalendar/events/index.cfm.