Arabic pop music and the smell of falafel filled the atrium in the Stamp Student Union on Friday night.
The University of Maryland’s Organization of Arab Students came together for its yearly Cultural Night. Featuring performances and traditional dishes, the celebration was the group’s biggest event of the fall semester, according to Carlos Chebib, the club’s president.
“The goal for this whole event was to just provide the cultural aspect from the Middle East at UMD, and I feel like that’s the main goal of the whole organization in the first place,” the senior civil engineering major said.
As attendees ate Arab dishes such as Lebanese falafels and shaabiyet, the event began with a speech from the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at this university. The group condemned the recent surge of violence in Palestine.
Performers then launched into songs from their respective cultures and countries.
Senior nutrition and food science major Tania Ghandour, who is Lebanese, performed a song by iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz in an effort to help others to learn about her background, she said.
“Lebanon’s essence is music and dancing, and so I just wanted to share that part of my culture,” Ghandour said.
Attendees kept up the lively spirit and music after performers had finished, clearing away tables in the atrium to create an impromptu dance floor.
For Chebib, events like the cultural night are important to bring people together.
“You can’t learn a language unless you speak with its people,” Chebib said. “I think it does really a lot for all these people that come…they remind themselves of home. You go home, you take your shoes off, you feel comfortable. These are your people.”
He added that while the festivities centered around celebrating Arabic cultures, anyone is welcome at the organization’s events.
Masah Farh, a freshman government and politics major, said Friday’s festivities illustrated the importance of community.
“I feel like being able to celebrate diversity, and being able to connect with people you can relate to and also people you can’t relate to… I feel like that’s very important,” Farh said.
Noor Tofailli, who is the Organization of Arab Students’ graduate representative and a public policy graduate student, said the event was the culmination of a lot of hard work from members of the organization.
For Tofailli, this community was especially important given that several members of this university’s Arab community are among those impacted by recent conflict and violence.
“It is more than important, especially now, for all of us to be together,“ Tofailli said. “These events are very important, because if we don’t do them, no one on campus does.”