Arab Heritage Festival: a celebration of Arab culture at Muhlenberg

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Muhlenberg students participate in a Dabke dance at the Arab Heritage Festival. Photo courtesy of Sinhayana Srinivasan '26.

The Arab American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate Arab American culture and how they have contributed to the US through their hard work and dedication to diversity. The Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) held an Arab Heritage Festival, which beautifully showcased the different aspects of Arab-American culture.

Held on the Fahy Commons lawn last Saturday, April 20, from 7 to 11 p.m., the festival included everything from a shawarma station to henna and traditional Dabke dance. The MESA E-board put a lot of effort into the planning and organization of the event and spoke about how it was a team effort to pull everything off. This event has been in the works for more than three months, since January, and was their biggest event since the start of MESA. The MESA e-board said, “The planning consisted of long meetings, hundreds of text messages and thousands of phone calls but it was all worth it!”

They had to collaborate and involve a lot of different departments and faculty of Muhlenberg such as Sodexo, for their amazing catering, the Office of Multicultural Life, Dean of Students Allison Williams and the Student Government Association (SGA). One of their most popular attractions was the henna station, run by Sophie (whose professional name is Henna Chakra), and her designs were extremely popular amongst the visitors. The event was high-spirited and upbeat with DJ Soma to thank for the wonderful and lively Arab music he played. The music got everyone dancing and moving to the songs. 

Sana Nauman ‘26 mentioned how the event was “carefully and greatly designed–such as reserving the parking lot, the great food, the Dabke group, the henna and just keeping the vibes going.” It fostered a great sense of community amongst everyone and showed how a different language or different culture does not necessarily instill division in the community. The Vice President of MESA, Zayna Shahid ‘27, mentioned how, “The festival was truly an amazing experience. The energy of everyone together was beautiful and it really showed how cultural events can bring people closer together as a community.” 

One of the main highlights of the festival was the performance by a professional Dabke group called the Al-Dal’ouna Dabka Team. They set up an amazing performance that all left us speechless. Dabke dance is a traditional Palestinian dance that consists of dancing in a circle at joyous occasions. The Al-Dal’ouna Dabka team are a group of friends who grew up together and share a common sentiment of showing people who are not familiar with their culture what it is and spreading the word about Arab Heritage Month. They stated how, “We want people to know that we come from a welcoming and friendly culture and that we accept everybody and just want to share our culture and traditions with the rest of the world.” 

The food was also a huge hit, with there being a shawarma food truck with both chicken and vegetarian options. Sodexo also provided pita chips with hummus, stuffed grape leaves, cupcakes and baklava. Everyone loved the food and there was a big line for the delicious shawarmas. Pamela Najm ‘27, the president of MESA, said, “My favorite part was teaching my friends and people from the community how to do Dabke, which is a Levantine folk dance. I loved having the opportunity to not only highlight Arab culture, but also share my love for the Middle East’s food, music, dance and traditions!” 

The community of people from different backgrounds doing the Dabke dance and learning from each other was amazing to watch. Angela Mamari ‘26, who identifies as Arab, said, “As someone who had such a loving Arab community growing up it was kind of a big shock going to come to a school where I felt there wasn’t much of one. My first semester it was almost like there were so many of us yet we didn’t have a place to come together. I definitely feel as though the festival was a good representation of our culture and allowed us to really share it with the rest of our community at Muhlenberg.”

Overall, this festival was a huge success and wonderfully showcased what Arab culture is all about. Shobha Pai ‘24, commented, “I loved the Dabke dancing, it really showed how community-based the culture is and being taught the dance made me feel a part of the culture and showed me how I can celebrate someone else’s traditions with them.” 

This event helped bridge the gap between many different backgrounds and identities and fostered a sense of belonging for both Arab Americans and everyone else. MESA hopes to continue hosting great festivals like this in the future, and that more aspects of Arab culture are visible at Muhlenberg. Especially because Muhlenberg is a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), having festivals such as this which help educate and inform those of the campus community about global traditions and different countries is really important. Sabeen Safi ‘26, the SGA ambassador for MESA, was really excited about the festival and said, “Seeing everyone engaged in the culture at the festival was truly so fun and I’m excited to see the growth of this event next year!”

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