Middle East Club plans for the future as awareness week generates solid turnout

The Middle East Club of Wheaton College was founded from suggestion at a lunch table in 2008. Associate Professor of Political Science Alireza Shomali recounted the conversation he had with another professor of Political Science, Jeffrey Murphy. Shomali said, “It started as a discussion about the possibility of making our students and community more aware of the Islamic religion, culture and the Middle East in general. I suggested that we invite a speaker to talk to the community.”

Unfortunately, Murphy passed away that year and the one week ceremony for Middle East awareness was dedicated in his memory. Shomali said, “He cared for the Wheaton community, students and their awareness of world. His death was a big loss for the department of political science and the community in general.” 

Shomali said that from that time on, he tried to invite profound and renowned scholars in the field of Islamic studies, Middle Eastern culture and politics. 

He said that in 2009, there was no official club but a group of about eight students who came together and had discussions about the Middle East and current events. After three or four years, the club was officially registered and activities for the Middle East Week were broadened to include music, dancing and movies. He added that positions of president, vice-president and treasurer were established and the responsibilities became routine.

Club Vice-President Khalid Al-Sudairy ’17 said that the club gave important insight to the Middle East and allowed students to engage in discussions that would otherwise not occur. He said that he joined the club last spring, as he wanted to share his story and culture as the only Saudi 

Arabian on campus. “The Arab community at Wheaton is a small one and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Club Treasurer Muneeba Syed ’17 added, “Knowledge is power and with the misconceptions in the media, it’s imperative that people understand the Middle East is more than just turbulent politics. It has a variety of languages, cultures, and customs that are often overlooked.” She said that she became a member because she was interested in learning more about the Middle East and sharing its beauty with others. 

Al-Sudairy said that currently, the club does not have regular meetings and members of the executive board and faculty advisor, Shomali, discussed and planned events. He also mentioned that Club Senior Advisor Sara Maaiki ’15, who stepped down as president was responsible for allowing the club to have a bigger impact on the campus such as with the Middle East Week that took place from Nov. 3 to 6.

The first event was a lecture titled “States and Women’s Rights After the Arab Spring” by professor of Sociology at Northeastern University, Valentine M. Moghadam. Shomali said that the decisions for speakers are made collectively as a club and that this year’s speaker was well received by students and faculty. “We had a question and answer session, where students participated actively. Based on my impression talking to the speaker afterwards, she was impressed by the curiosity of students and the level of their interest in issues of the Middle Eastern and North African issues.”

On Nov. 4, there was a campus discussion titled “Is Democracy Possible or Good for the Middle East?” in collaboration with the Roosevelt Institute. Al-Sudairy said that there was a discussion about current events, great back and forth, and a good turnout. Shomali added that many students participated in intellectual events like these debates and that the club would expand upon these types of activities. The following days saw a belly-dancing workshop on Nov. 5 and a screening and discussion of Oscar nominated movie Omar on Nov. 6.

The club also has exciting plans for the future. Both Shomali and Al-Sudairy agree that they would like to see big events like the Middle East Week happen more than once a year. Shomali said that they would look into having art representations such as live music and exhibitions as they had done in the past. Syed also said, “Next semester, we will focus on raising cultural awareness with hookah night, a night of Middle Eastern food and music, and more.”