Duke Arabic Students Reach out to the Local Egyptian Coptic Community

[ 0 ] February 7, 2013

by JUSTINE POST for ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 6, 2013:

The gold trim on the ancient icons caught the late afternoon sunlight and the attention of a group of Arabic students who’d come to socialize with the Coptic Orthodox Church community in Raleigh one Sunday afternoon last month.

“This get together is one of many efforts to reach out to the communities that speak Arabic in the Triangle area,” explained Maha Houssami, an Arabic instructor at Duke University.

The Coptic community in Raleigh is mostly Egyptians who started coming to Raleigh more than 40 years ago.

During the two-hour visit, Father Misaeil and Dr. George Guirguis spoke to the students in both Arabic and English about their church’s roots in the Coptic culture. Although the Coptic language stems from an artistic combination of Koine Greek and Egyptian (the language spoken in Egypt until the 17th century), most of the congregation is Arabic-speaking. Many of the books and prayers that line the back of the pews contain Arabic translations.

After the students visited the worship space, they joined the families in the common room below the sanctuary. The communal space provided a welcoming environment as the students spent time with the families, eating the traditional Egyptian dessert basboosa, and playing Arabic board games. Children ran around tables laughing, teens stood in the distance talking, and others gave Arabic scrabble a try. The youth of the church performed a short play in Arabic based on a Gospel story of Jesus’ ministry.

This aspect of Middle East culture — Coptic history and traditions — is not as well known to the students, and the students were impressed with how the local Coptic community is able to maintain their religious and cultural traditions and thrive in the United States.

Student Emily Mendenhall (in photo, far left) observed that the outing was “an excellent chance to see another aspect of Middle Eastern culture and Arabic language usage beyond the borders of Islam.”

“One of the most important issues with teaching and learning Arabic, is the mistake that is made in always associating the language with the Islamic faith,” she explained.

Third and fourth year Arabic students have also had the chance to mingle with local Iraqi refugee families — a Dardasha project organized by Houssami and supported by Duke’s Service-Learning Program office, and the Durham office of Church World Service.

This same group of third and fourth year Arabic students has applied for a Duke recognized student organization called INJAZ- “accomplishment” in Arabic – that will spear head future activities involving Duke students and the Arab community in the Research Triangle Area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill).

Justine Post is a first-year graduate student at Duke University, pursuing a Masters of Divinity, and an assistant with the Duke Service- Learning Program. 

Editor’s notes: ISLAMiCommentary is accepting articles and commentaries from other universities about special student initiatives and extra-curricular projects connected with Islamic Studies and/or the Middle East. Email:  islamicommentary@yahoo.com 

** If you are in the Duke University area, join us today at 4:30 pm for a lecture by Wake Forest University Professor of Islamic Studies Nelly van Doorn-Harder, in room 240 John Hope Franklin Center for a talk on “Copts of Egypt and the Arab Spring: Internal Developments and External Challenges.” 


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Category: Americas, i-Comment, Middle East and North Africa, Muslim Life & Culture, Student

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