Celebrating and Learning About Arabic Language and Culture

by Anne Reynolds

Celebrating and Learning About Arabic Language and Culture

On Thursday, October 30, spirited music rang from an ornately decorated tent, radiating through the North Plaza of George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus and drawing curious students, faculty, and staff to experience the university’s first Arab Culture Day.

The event was hosted by the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, the global affairs program, and the Middle East and Islamic studies program, and was sponsored by the Qatar Foundation International, the GMU Qatar Foundation International Teachers’ Council, and the Saudi Student Association. It celebrated the arts and culture of Arab nations with Arabic calligraphic demonstrations, henna tattoos, samples of Moroccan tea, and dislplays of decorative art.

Following the afternoon event, Hashim Al-Tawil, professor of art history at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, MI, presented a lecture and discussion, “Arab Visual Culture: Past and Present.” Dr. Al-Tawil’s presentation was capped off in the evening by the Arab Variety Show, featuring music, foods, a fashion show, and “Arab Students Got Talent.”

Ibtisam Ibrahim, faculty member in modern and classical languages, coordinated the event with the goals of introducing students to Arabic culture, and developing the Arabic language major at Mason. She was delighted with the support of student volunteers and the interest shown by students in the plaza. “The program has grown tremendously,” she noted.

Lisa Breglia, director of the global affairs program, was pleased that the event helped to round out the cultural piece of Mason’s international education. “With Mason’s academic programs, the university is very strong in addressing the politics of international relations, but we want to also bring the cultures to campus,” she said. “The culture is so important for generating understanding and community across campus.”

Nizar Al Seoudi, faculty member in modern and classical languages, demonstrated his calligraphic dexterity by creating participants’ names in Arabic calligraphy. The flowing designs were a particular draw among the gathered participants eager to capture their own piece of Arab art.

“We are delighted to be working with the global affairs program to focus particularly on North African language and culture as part of a grant from the Department of Education,” said Julie Christensen, chair, modern and classical languages.

She added, “I was pleased to see so much student interest in Arabic languages and cultures at our Arab Culture Day: first on the plaza, then at the special lecture on the history of Arabic art, and at the evening gala. We look forward to repeating these activities on the Prince William Campus and certainly during International Week in the spring. I’d like to salute the Arabic faculty and our students of Arabic. They not only put on a wonderful day, but also work hard to teach and learn Arabic and the multitude of dialects and cultures from the Arab world.”