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ASU film and poetry series deepens student understanding of Arab culture

Students get exposure to classical and contemporary Arabic art and media


"The Arabic Film and Poetry Series holds events to help spread cultural awareness and appreciation for film and poetry from the Middle East." Illustration published on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.

Starting in 2014, the Arabic Film & Poetry Series, co-sponsored by the ASU Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the University's Arabic Studies Program, has helped to expand student knowledge on impactful film and poetry heralding from the Middle East.

Souad T. Ali, a professor of Arabic studies and the founding chair and director of the ASU Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies, said she undertakes many projects like the film and poetry series to help create constructive dialogue and understanding surrounding Middle Eastern culture.

Ali spearheaded the film and poetry series since its inception and said she hopes the series can “promote multiculturalism, diversity, interfaith dialogue, cross-cultural understanding, and the expansion of human civilization and cultures through Arabic.”

The fall semester series began on Aug. 30 with a look into Arabic classical poetry through two renowned poets, Abu Al-Tayyeb Al-Mutanabī and Abu Firas Al-Hamadani.

“As someone who is Middle Eastern only in my heritage, I think events like this are important to give people like myself as well as people even further outside the culture a better view of how storied and beautiful the Middle East really is," said mechanical engineering freshman Eric Elkassab, who was at the series for the first time on Aug. 30. 

“All of this was new to me," Elkassab said. "My father is Egyptian, but I have never looked deeper into the literature of his people. Before college I wasn’t really interested in delving further into the culture, but now I realize it is an integral part of me.”

The most recent event in the series was a Sept. 18 showing of the 2003 Iraqi film "Zaman," which was shot on the eve of the Iraq War. 

"Lawrence of Arabia," the 1962 biopic of British army officer T.E. Lawrence and his time in the Middle East during World War One, will be shown on Oct. 12. This movie touts seven Oscar wins, making it one of the most critically successful films of all time.

"We will brief the students on the films, watch the films and then have faculty-led discussions about the film, which greatly helps to promote understanding between Arab and Western cultures,” Ali said.

To close off the fall semester the Arabic Film & Poetry series will revisit poetry through a modern lens.

"In the early 1900s after European countries occupied the Middle East, Arabic poetry was influenced and changed," said Arabic instructor Umar Sulayman, who will present the poetry at the series’ close. "A new trend of poetry started, which is known as ‘free’ poetry. It doesn’t rhyme like the classical Arabic poetry, but is much more accessible to non-Arabic speakers due to its ease of translation."

Sulayman said it's important for students to come to these events.

"Discovering the classical Arabic and the literature of classical Arabic will give one insight into not just Arabic, but how all classical cultures and languages have deeply tied connections," Sulayman said. 

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