From Mideast to Midwest

From Mideast to Midwest

In Arabic, the word al-zahra means “flower.” It’s also the name of a new club at Saint Mary’s created to celebrate North African and Middle Eastern traditions. Mariam Masri and Mariam Eskander, the two students who founded Al-Zahra, hope that the club will bloom and grow like its namesake.

Al-ZahraEskander, a junior who is majoring in business, was born in Egypt and grew up in Niles, Mich. Masri, a sophomore and political science major, has lived all over the U.S. and Canada but describes herself as “half Lebanese, half Moroccan.” Both attended a mix of Catholic and public schools before college; both grew up speaking Arabic, English, and a little French at home and school.

When Eskander first came to Saint Mary’s, she found diverse students exploring African American, Latino, and Asian cultures as members of the Sisters of Nefertiti, La Fuerza, and the Asian-Pacific Islander Club. “But I thought, ‘oh, they don’t really have anything for Middle Eastern and North African cultures.’”

So she did what a lot of Saint Mary’s women do. She got experience working with another student group, signed on Masri and two other students as officers, and enlisted the support of the Office of Multicultural Affairs to launch Al-Zahra that fall.

The group plans an ambitious agenda of activities for its first year, including a guest speaker for Ramadan; a trip to Dearborn, Mich., to visit the Arab American National Museum; cultural events with Middle Eastern food, music, and films; and an international service project. “We have a lot of ideas—the only thing that we’re lacking is funds,” says Masri. (They plan to bring a henna tattoo artist to campus as a fundraiser.)

Masri and Eskander believe they’ve planted the seed for Al-Zahra in fertile ground at Saint Mary’s. “Everybody is really respectful of everyone else’s differences,” says Eskander. “If I tell people about my religion [she is a Coptic Orthodox Christian], they’re usually open to listening.” Masri, who is a Muslim, agrees. “People have open views, which I like. They’ve actually made me feel comfortable.”

Rather than lose their traditions at a Catholic college, both women say they feel these are becoming stronger. They hope Al-Zahra will continue to thrive long after they graduate. Says Eskander, “We’re definitely laying down the foundation and hopefully from there, it will grow.”

Photo: Mariam Masri (left) and Mariam Eskander.