The traditional Arabic greeting of “ahlan wa sahlan” communicates much more than a simple welcome.
“Ahlan” at a literal level means family, and “Sahlan” describes a piece of land full of fruits to be shared. When combining the ideas of family and generosity, a community comes to life, resembling the environment that the Arab Student Association strives to form among Arab students through its cultural events and open discussion panels.
Co-president of ASA Suhayb Al-Jawhari formed the organization over two years ago on a mission to unite Arab students on campus. Since then, ASA has grown to include over 300 members and holds cultural events throughout the semester that celebrate the Arab world.
Events range from panel discussions to holiday banquets and aim to facilitate Arab student connections.
“The first event that we had this semester was the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Party,” ASA co-president Sarah Samaha said. “It was this huge cultural party with a traditional dance called dabke, and we also had our tarneeb card tournament and some other stuff. We just got people together to get to know each other.”
Parties like these act as a way to bring Arab students to one place, creating a sense of community that they may not receive anywhere else in the school, according to Samaha.
This safe place is especially useful to international Arab students who are navigating college life, Samaha said.
“My job is to do a lot of professional development with international students if they need help with their resumes, internships and academic essays,” Samaha said. “If they’re having trouble with English, I can also help them.”
ASA’s activities do not stop at traditional parties and student professional development.
ASA holds panels where students can participate in an open dialogue on controversial issues pertaining to the Middle East, such as the Christian impact on Palestine and business in the Arab world.
“The discussions are about anything in the Arab world,” Al-Jawhari said. “They can be non-controversial and controversial, but something for everyone to talk about to just put out ideas instead of the polarization that I see between Arabs at AU.”
Although the ASA places a heavy emphasis on Arab student collaboration, the association accepts non-Arabs who want to know more about Arab culture or hope to practice their Arabic language skills, Al-Suhayb said.
By providing an atmosphere for open dialogue and holding celebratory Arab events, the ASA wants to send a message that eradicates the negative stereotypes associated with Arabs post 9/11, according to Samaha.
“When you think about the Middle East, you think war; you think conflict. You think refugees. You think all of these things, but you leave out the most important parts,” Al-Jawhari said. “You’ve got art, you’ve got culture, you’ve got film, you’ve got sports and you’ve got all of these things, and that’s our job. We have to focus on those things, and we have to show people and we’ve got for fight that.”