Institute Promotes Arab/Muslim Culture

by David Johnson
The Washington Report on the Middle East
April, 1998

Her pink shoes moving rapidly, Wafaa' Salman rushed along the corridor, obviously not wanting to waste a minute. The 37-year-old Iraq native explained that she had three appointments that evening in far-flung locations in Greater Boston. But it was also clear that Salman tolerated, even enjoyed, the hectic schedule as part of her mission to educate people about the varied cultures of the Middle East.

As founder and director of the Institute of Near Eastern & African Studies (INEAS), in Cambridge, MA, Salman said most Americans are not well-informed about the region. She developed the institute to help rectify the situation. "I thought of it because I felt that the unknown world has not been presented well, the Arabic and Islamic world," Salman explained. "I have not established anything new. But what is so unique about this institute is that it does not promote one certain ethnic group or one certain religion."

She note that in addition to the North African Arabs of the Mediterranean coast, the nations of Mauritania, Djibouti and Somalia have Arab cultural ties which are often overlooked by many Americans. Moreover, there also are many non-Arab cultures in the Middle East, including Armenians, Assyrians, Turcomans, Berbers, Chaldeans and Kurds.

Salman said the aim is to educate and to disseminate facts, not to instill any particular political viewpoint. She said she is always pleased to have made a difference in someone's understanding of the Middle East. For instance, a woman expressed surprise that Assyrians still exist after reading a newsletter report about the Assyrian Convention held in Chicago in 1993. Another reader was interested to learn that women in Arab countries have considerable rights, such as equal pay for equal work and do not change their names after marriage (except, generally speaking, in Lebanon.) "It is educating those who don't know about that part of the world," salman said.

INEAS offers a variety of talks and cultural presentations at schools and libraries. (An account of an INEAS-sponsored speech on Iranian immigrant, held at the Boston Public Library, appeared in "Northeast News," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Aug./Sep., 1997, p.66.) The institute also produces a quarterly newsletter and hosts a weekly radio show.

In October 1995, the institute sponsored Iraqi musician and composer Naseer Shemma. He is tentatively set to return for another concert April 2 at Northeastern University. Another cultural evening featured poetry by Lamee'a Abbas Amara, also from Iraq.

These and other events sponsored by the institute, as well as educational material, are available on video.

The newsletter contains news, including reports of the situation in Iraq, and covers some local activism. Salman has started a separate newsletter, Al-Wafaa' News, to cover cultural topics, such as accounts of Arab music and art.

The newsletter, which celebrates its eighth anniversary this year, started as a directory of classes and events regarding the Middle East.

INEAS also sponsors a weekly radio program. The show airs live on WZBC, 90.3 FM, the Boston College radio station, from 3 to 5 PM, Sundays. Programming includes interviews, special reports and music from the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Salman has also created a theater troup, named after Zannobiya, the legendary Arabian queen who led an army to defeat the Romans. Zannobiya produces three educational programs for students. "Arabian Stallions" teaches about Arabian horses, which were instrumental in the spread of Arabic culture; presents a list of English words which came from Arabic; and discusses Arabian queens through music, songs and stories.

"Baghdad Cafe" concentrates on Arabic culture and cuisine, while "Thousand and One Nights" emphasizes literature through acting and music.

In addition to Salman, other officers of the INEAS are Sudan native Khalid Kodi, vice president; Souad Bilcaid, from Morocco, treasurer; and secretary Sargon Donabed, who is partly Turkish and partly Assyrian. In the future, Salman said she hopes INEAS can have its own permanent space, or even its own building.

Salman holds a BS in political science and another in engineering from Northeastern University. She works as a civil engineer on the "Big Dig" construction project which is placing Boston's Central Artery highway underground. In addition, she has founded a company which provides translation and interpretation services. The firm uses free-lancers skilled in a variety of languages and various technical, academic and business subjects. In her free time, Salman tutors students in math and calculus.

For more information on INEAS, call (617) 499-9595, fax (617) 323-5950 or write P.O. Box 809, Cambridge, MA 02142. The E-mail address is INEAS@aol.com


Comments and Corrections by INEAS

1. Salman holds a BS not a BA as indicated in the article.
2. Salman tutors mostly Arabic and English and occasionally math and calculus. The aspect of the language tutoring was neglected from the article and of the tutoring of math/calculus was exaggerated.
3. The new phone number of INEAS is: 617-86-INEAS (864-6327)