Feb. 1, 2007
By Jessica Cuffman
A fashion show, dancing, music and ethnic food -- sounds like a night out in the city. But in Athens, Ohio, it was all a part of Arabic Culture Night presented by the Arabic Language Students Association that sold out tickets to a crowd of more than 200.
ALSA decided to put on the event in an effort to break down stereotypes some Americans have about Arabic culture.
"I was honestly expecting less of a crowd. I was afraid for the organization, but it was a huge success," said Jordan Pleasant, a member of ALSA.
"We hope to increase mutual understanding and in some small way lead to more peace in the world," said Beth Clodfelter, adviser of ALSA, during her introduction to the evening.
The fashion show began the night to demonstrate the diversity of Arabic culture. The Islam prophet Mohammad encourages women to cover their bodies and hair in public, but when Muslim women are at home, some dress similarly to women from American culture, said Dale Albanese, member of ALSA and master of ceremonies.
The first model wore all black clothing, a full-length dress, a head covering, and a cloth across her face. Only her hands and eyes peeked through to the crowd. From there, 11 other models revealed the diversity of Arabic women's fashion, in shades of red, orange, blue, green and gold, with and without headscarves, trimmings, flowing fabric and patterns.
The clothing modeled was primarily Saudi Arabian and Egyptian, lent to ALSA by women from those cultures living in the community.
"There were totally different looks. It was a good opportunity to understand a part of Arabic culture," said Weihua Xiao, a Chinese student attending Ohio University on exchange from Denmark.
Arabic music continued from the fashion show into the evening when dancing took center stage. Performances included the traditional Gulf Dance, performed by men at weddings and other special occasions, and belly dancing. Belly dancing was originally a folk dance, not a way of seduction. That didn't come about until European influence in the region, said Albanese.
Capping off the performance half of the evening, students in Arabic language classes sang the peace song, an Arabic pop song addressing the constant conflict in the region. Lyrics from the peace song capture the purpose and goal of the evening. Translated from Arabic in the program, they said, "Why are we fighting? We were so close… Peace is love. Listen to your heart, and you'll hear the truth."
The meal featured food from all over the Arabic world -- hummus, baba ganouj, tabouli and Mediterranean salad were starters. Stuffed grape leaves, koushary, which was pasta and rice with a spiced tomatoes sauce, and Mediterranean-flavored chicken and spiced rice were the main courses. Baklava for dessert, Arabic coffee and ginger-spiced tea rounded out the meal. Catering services adapted recipes for the food from the Arabic women who provided the clothing for the fashion show.
"The food was good and well-prepared, seemed to be very authentic and was a nice change from standard banquet food," said Alex Hazlett, an Arabic language student and model in the fashion show.
"I didn't know a lot about this culture but I wanted too. I think there should be more events like this about other cultures," said Xiao. Her friend, Kelly Walker agreed. Both study history at Ohio University.
"The event sounded interesting. I liked it, and I'm glad I came," said Walker.
Two Arabic language professors, Nashwa Taher and Thruia Al Riyami began ALSA about a year ago, and now 13 students are part of the organization. The goal of the organization is for Arabic students to get to know one another as well as American students taking Arabic. Taher and Al Riyami also wanted to promote positive aspects of Arabic culture that aren't addressed in popular media, such as through events like Arabic Culture Night.
"It was an insight into diversity across Arabic culture. It's such a diverse world. Americans and others benefit from learning about Arabic culture," said Clodfelter.
Jessica Cuffman is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.