Arab Cultural Fair opens doors to learning, engagement

This weekend concluded the first on-campus two-day festival for the Arabic American Club of Knoxville.

The Arab Cultural Fair included music, dance, food, crafts, and museum displays on Friday at the McClung Museum.

Sunday’s screening of “Microphone,” directed by Ahmed Abdallah, concluded the university’s first Arab Cultural Fair, a two-day event hosted by the Arab American Club of Knoxville.

AACK is a local organization whose purpose is to reach out to the community and teach cultural aspects related to the Arab world.

“This is the first and we hope to do more in the future,” said Helen Harb, a board member for AACK.

The club has been established in Knoxville for about 13 years Harb said but this past weekend was the first annual project between UT and AACK. Club members are exploring new ways to reach out to students and the Knoxville community.

On Friday, Sept. 18, the club set up a culture festival at Circle Park and in the McClung museum, that featured regional food, dance, music, crafts and museum displays.

“I think a lot of students on campus don’t know yet about the fact that we do teach Arabic at UTK, and that’s something we take pride in doing,” said Douja Mamelouk, Assistant Professor of Arabic and French in the Modern Foreign Language Department.

Mamelouk says students are interested in learning Arabic because it is a language spoken by over 350 million people around the world and is in high demand in government and business.

“They take interest in learning beyond the language,” Mamelouk said. “They become interested in the cultures of the Arab world.”

Students at UT have the opportunity to minor in Arab studies, where they will learn about cultural variations between the Gulf, North Africa, the Mahgrib, Middle East and the Levants.

Mamelouk said that most people may not know about the diversity within the Arab world and the diversity in each country.

“We’re a really diverse ethnic group of people,” said Samia Hanna, Ph.D., and one of the original board members for AACK.

Hanna, who is from Egypt, says there are regional differences in how people dress, speak and what they practice for religion.

“We’re hoping that the students at UT and the Knoxville community will learn more about Arab culture,” Harb said.

Harb, who is a Palestinian Christian, emphasized their club’s dedication to making the public aware of the religious diversity within Arab communities.

“We are a minority but we are a big minority,” said Hanna.

“A very important minority, especially in the Middle East,” said Harb.

One of the tents at the festival shared olive oil, pita bread and Za’atar, an herb and spice mixture for festival attendees to sample. The pita bread is dipped in the extra virgin olive oil, made in Palestine, and then dipped in the Za’atar. Proceeds from the olive oil sales will benefit refugees of Palestine.

 Video by: Clinton Elmore 

Edited by Jessica Carr