ISOC, the Islamic Society at NUI Galway, organised an Islamic Cultural Festival on Tuesday 18 November. Located on the Main Foyer in the Aras Na Mac Leinn building on campus, it aimed to celebrate, and raise awareness of, the rich diversity of culture within the Islamic World.
The Auditor of the Islamic Society, Muhammad Atif Quershi, and Vice Auditor Arjumand Younus – who are husband and wife – were kind enough to show this author around the stalls that were set up around the Foyer, depicting and describing various different aspects of Islamic culture.
There were stalls where you could sample food that originated from various countries where Islam is the predominant religion, from sweet, sticky date fruit sweets found in Egypt, to sweet potato rings, glazed with brown sugar, which is apparently a popular treat in Indonesia. The stands stood beside boards which described the history of Islam in various countries, such as how the religion was spread, and what influence it had on the country, as well as depicting Mosques from said countries.
There was also more “information-orientated” stands that aimed to educate people on various other aspects of the culture of the Islamic world. If one wanted to try out the traditional dress in the Islamic world – both male and female – the opportunity was there to do so that day, and even to have a photo taken with your new look. Next-door to this was a stand given over to the colourful fabrics often used in these traditional garments, which would be of interest to those interested in fashion.
A stand or two given over to explaining the theology, beliefs and practices associated with the Muslim faith, with dozens of little booklets to take home and read, whether or not you were a Muslim. The people manning the stand were also well-prepared to discuss aspects of the Muslim faith that may have confused or troubled some of the passer-bys that day.
More artistically, there was a queue of people at a stand where one could have their name written in a traditional stylistic Arabic script, for free, and to take home on the spot. Not too far away from that, there was a unique stand where one could take a listen to something – you aren’t told what it is you are listening to – and then to write down your reaction on a piece of paper next to it.
Finally, to top it off, a documentary about the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and Ireland during the Great Famine was broadcast, which showed how the Ottoman Empire donated money and food to help the relief efforts during the peak of the famine. Overall, an appropriate way to end a festival, designed to raise awareness of the Islamic world beyond the common perceptions and misconceptions held by many, if not most in the Western world.
By Tomás M. Creamer