Yemenis Hear from UCLA Students on Issues, Outreach
A Yemeni MP and others in a six-member delegation raise concerns at UCLA about the perception of Arabs and Muslims in the media. Students explain how they're meeting the problem.
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Too often, the American people are exposed to the image of the "Arab Bedouin in the desert."
A six-member Yemeni delegation, including educators and one member of parliament, visited UCLA on Sept. 12, 2007, as part of the U.S. State Department's Interfaith Dialogue project. The delegates met with representatives of student organizations and the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES). The International Visitors Bureau at UCLA facilitates hundreds of visits by diverse delegations each year, many of them sponsored by the department.
In a meeting with Jonathan Friedlander, assistant director of CNES, Yemeni Parliament member Shawki Abdulrakeeb Al-Qadhi raised concerns about the negative images of Islam in U.S. and other Western media. Too often, he said, the American people are exposed to the image of the "Arab Bedouin in the desert," and are hardly ever exposed to the actual diversity of Muslim values and social practices in Arab and non-Arab nations. In light of these shortcomings, Al-Qadhi feared that the study of Islam in America had "degenerated into a movie."
Friedlander noted in introductory remarks that California is home to the largest Muslim population in the United States and that UCLA runs the only Islamic Studies doctoral program in the country. He added that the American people are more educated on Islam than ever before.
The delegates also met with representatives of student groups including the Muslim Students Association (MSA), Students for Justice in Palestine, United Arab Society, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). The delegates were interested in learning about how the students reached out to non-Muslims in the UCLA Community.
Student Amin Eddebbanh described his work with MPAC, which works to improve the image of Islam. Eddebbanh attended a youth summit in which students spoke with representatives from The Los Angeles Times and 20th Century Fox to learn more about the portrayal of Muslims in the news and popular programming such as the television show "24," and what can be done to avoid perpetuating stereotypical images.
Abdullah Jadallah, also a UCLA student and activities director for MSA Brothers, says that his position allows him to reach out to other Muslim students about their faith. He helps MSA students get involved in campus life through recreational activities, and acts as a kind of counselor for younger students. Older MSA members are paired up with younger ones to provide them with someone to talk to about academics and their faith, he said.
Al-Qadhi asked the students how their efforts were being met on campus and if they faced any additional obstacles after 9/11. "It didn't stop us from doing anything," replied Eddebbanh. Linda Khoury, co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine, attributed the prejudice that she said students in her group sometimes encounter on campus not to UCLA as an institution, but to "problems of perception" among students.
MSA President Naqib Shifa highlighted his organization's efforts to reach out to the community through projects such as volunteering at public health clinics and local schools, as well as through the publication of a Muslim news magazine, Al-Talib. He also spoke about Islam Awareness Week, MSA's annual weeklong effort to bring awareness to non-Muslim students on campus.
Khalid Hussein of the United Arab Society spoke about that group's efforts to develop a focus on Arab writing in the Comparative Literature Department, as well as events such as film screenings as a way of exposing other students to Arab cultures in a non-religious light.
The delegation capped off its visit to the campus with a tour of the Al-Talib Offices in Kerckhoff Hall.
The delegation's program was sponsored by the U.S. State Department through the International Visitor Leadership Program. It was administered locally by the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles, and the itinerary at UCLA was arranged by the International Institute's International Visitors Bureau.