Syrian American poet speaks at Ramadan Teach-In


Caption: Poet, Dania Alkhoui 28, Saddleback student Nurhan Elgamil 18 look on at Saddleback student Marium Zaharn, 18 while she states the 5 Pillars of Islam, in Arabic, to begin Ramadan Teach-in. (Lariat/Diana Tomseth)

Poet Dania Alkhoui and Saddleback College student Nurhan Elgamil  look on at Saddleback student Marium Zaharn while she states the Five Pillars of Islam in Arabic. (Lariat/Diana Tomseth)

Saddleback College hosted Ramadan Teach-in presented by The Equity and Diversity Committee and International Languages Department Oct. 2. The discussion informed others about the Muslim religion.

“During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar … Muslims are expected to fast for 30 days from Sunrise to Sundown, abstaining from food and water,” said 18-year-old Saddleback College student Nurhan Elgamil. “I enjoy Ramadan, as it brings spirituality and brings people together. I see my family and friends more, and there are feelings of love, compassion and charity.”

Student Marium Zaharn, 18, said every night over the course of Ramadan, she attends the Mosque to pray and takes the time to reflect on her life, where she breaks her fast with her community. Zaharn encourages people to befriend a Muslim and learn more about her religion. 

“Even though the media is trying to get them to believe that we are terrorists or that we preach violence, the first thing that will pop into their head is that one Muslim girl from their class who has basically demonstrated to them that (she is) everything that the media says (she is) not,” Zaharn said.

Professor of Spanish, Chair of International Languages and Chair of the Equity and Diversity Committee Carmenmara Hernandez-Bravo ran the discussion. 

“This is my twenty-fifth time doing this event. Because of all of the rhetoric against Muslims, we wanted to educate students about the beauty of this religion,” Hernandez-Bravo said.

The committee choses a different speaker from the Muslim faith each year. Speakers range from very devout to hardly religious at all. Male and female representatives are selected to offer a more accurate representation of the religion.

“This year we wanted a female voice,” Hernandez-Bravo said, “especially a feminist female voice, so these students can learn from her a lot of the misperceptions about Muslim women.”

Guest speaker Dania Alkhoui, a 28-year-old Syrian-American sociologist, poet and author, read from her published poetry collections “91 at 19” and “Oceans & Flames.” Through her poetry, she channeled her experience of surviving domestic violence.

“I can’t thrive as a successful individual in society if I’m under such oppression and abuse,” Alkhoui said. Her goal is to educate “society on knowing that any kind of domestic abuse or oppression is not acceptable, nor what God wants.”

With what she shared about Islam, Alkhoui dispelled many stereotypes about the religion.

Alkhoui assured attendees that Muslim women are allowed to drive vehicles. In recent news, Saudia Arabia will allow women the right to drive cars. She wants people to know that this is more of a cultural belief than a religious doctrine.

She said the religion does not have a leadership infrastructure, so it is up to each country, culture and individual to interpret the Koran.

Hernandez-Bravo stated her “If 20 people are left with a different idea, then we have reached our goal,”