Although Arab culture is beautiful and intricate for people like University of Georgia student Halla Jibreen, the beauty often gets distorted by Western stereotypes.
For example, while people may love getting tattoos of Arabic words, they become uneasy when someone speaks Arabic on an airplane, Jibreen, the Arab Culture Association's president, said.
With the second annual Arabian Nights on Thursday, April 11, Jibreen and other members of the ACA hope to educate and immerse others in Arab culture.
At the beginning of the night, guests will have time to eat traditional Arabic food and mingle while Arabic music plays in the background. Around 8 p.m., a professional team will perform the dabke, a traditional dance commonly performed at celebrations. After that, guests will spend the rest of the evening dancing and socializing.
During the first-ever Arabian Nights last year, the organizers expected only 60 attendees, but close to 150 came, Jibreen said.
“It was a huge success for us as a small club — a new club — so we decided to keep it going,” Jibreen said.
Maya Ahmadieh, a senior biology and sociology major at UGA and ACA’s vice president, said while people may say they love Middle Eastern food, the only food they enjoy is white-washed, like hummus.
In a similar way, Jibreen said UGA is lucky to have a club like ACA on campus for the opportunity to be immersed in another culture, and to be able to experience traditional food and dance.
“I think UGA's lucky to have a club like ACA on campus to have the opportunity to watch a dabke performance,” Jibreen said. “People won't have the opportunity every day to see it.”
Nowadays students hear about Arabian Nights through social media and through word-of-mouth, according to Jibreen and Ahmadieh. For example, during an IMPACT trip Jibreen and Ahmadieh attended in 2018, they told the 15 people on the trip about Arabian Nights, inviting them to experience the culture.
“What we like to do is give them a taste of what Arab culture is so on our trip we kept putting on Arabic music and they got really hyped about it,” Jibreen said.
As ACA is a new organization, Ahmadieh and Halla have many hopes for it and Arabian Nights. They take inspiration from successful cultural organizations such as the Indian Cultural Exchange, Caribbean Student Association, the Filipino Student Association and African Student Union who have hosted culture nights for many years. They hope to sell tickets to Arabian Nights after it has become a more well-known culture night at UGA.
“I just want it to continue growing and be that staple at UGA so when people think of cultural organizations,” Ahmadieh said. “I want ACA to be at the forefront of their minds,”
Ahmadieh wants Arabs at UGA to have a place to call home where they can feel safe and accepted. Non-Arabs are also invited to join ACA.
“I just want … people who aren't Arabs to come and learn and not feel judged for learning,” Ahmadieh said. “We want you to learn. If you don't know anything, we want you to come out.”
Jibreen wants to inspire Arabs on campus to feel proud of their culture.
“It's awesome to embrace your culture,” Jibreen said. “We've grown this club a lot luckily in the past year … I hope that from here it just continues to go up.”