A month of Middle Eastern Culture

Middle Eastern Leadership Council works with minority groups to reach out to the University community

The Middle Eastern Leadership Council started the month-long celebration of Middle Eastern Cultural Month last week. The celebration will include an array of events including speakers, poetry nights and movie screenings.

After observing the Latino Student Alliance’s month dedicated to Latin American culture, members of MELC wanted to make students on Grounds more aware of the Middle Eastern presence at the University.

“We thought that this would be a great time for us to showcase our culture, but also to bring up some political issues and bridge the gap between some organizations that we haven’t worked with in the past,” Ghariban said.

The month began with a discussion of Islam 101, featuring a formerly Christian speaker who converted to Islam later in life. He spoke about how his life led him to embrace the religion of Islam and offered audience members a unique perspective on the subject.

“[The speaker] thought that Christianity led him to Islam,” Ghariban said. “So, we brought him in to show both perspectives and it was more like a time to dispel some of the things that you see in the media.”

A fundraising dinner will take place at the end of the month, with proceeds benefitting the Yarmouck refugee camp in Syria.

“[Yarmouck refugees have] been starving and I really want to raise money for them because my aunt is from Yarmouck,” said second-year College student Yahiya Saad, MELC executive board member. “I’ve been there and it’s very close to my heart, all of the people there, so it’s my chance to help them.”

An event last week titled Minority Voices showcased speakers from a variety of different organizations, including the Latino Student Alliance, Black Student Alliance and the Queer Allied Activism group, as well as speakers drawn from the larger Charlottesville community.

“We wanted to make sure that even though this is Middle Eastern Cultural Month, we think it’s really important to bring all of the minority voices together,” said MELC President Maryam Ghariban, a fourth-year Engineering student. “This event is supposed to show the individual voices and kind of break down [the idea] that even though one person is from a specific community, we’re not all like that one person.”

Executive board member Amani Boudriga, a third-year College student, said MELC hopes this month will facilitate interconnectedness among the minority groups on Grounds.

“We thought it would be a really great opportunity for our umbrella organizations to sort of work together and connect and co-sponsor each other,” Boudriga said. “We [thought that if we] included all of the other organization’s major events into one big month it would also really help out with outreach to the bigger community.”

In working with organizations such as the Queer Allied Activism group, Ghariban said the organization hopes to broach controversial topics not typically discussed in association with Middle Eastern culture.

“We’re trying to reach those taboo subjects that Middle Easterners don’t talk about,” Ghariban said. “For instance, like that Middle Easterners and the LGBTQ community can’t work together — we’re trying to dispel that rumor.”

The organization has already raised around $14,000.

“We want to become more open and have more people know about us and come to the events and learn a thing or two,” Saad said. “People think of U.Va. as a super preppy school where everybody looks the same, but there’s a lot more diversity than people think and we want to bring that out.”

Published April 6, 2014 in Life

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