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SAMEAPI awareness month event focuses on entertainment

A large red tent on Toyon Meadow was filled with Mills College students, faculty and staff who socialized, munched on Middle Eastern cuisine, watched belly dancers and lined up for henna. Outside, the fruity scent of hookah lingered as students smoked the flavored tobacco.

The crowd of people, many dressed up in silk scarves, saris and gold bangles, was gathered for Hafla, which means party in Arabic. The event was put on by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) April 16.

An example of decorations at Hafla. (Bianca Butler)

MSA, a campus club that promotes awareness of Muslim religion and culture, planned the event with the goal of making the club more popular on campus. Though members usually host an annual Fast-a-thon to educate the campus about Ramadan, this year they decided they wanted to host an event about fun instead of religion.

The club has been organizing and planning Hafla since January and was able to pull the event together for less than $4,000. It was a night of enlightenment and entertainment for the campus community, who learned about and experienced a few of the many common traditions of the Muslim world.

“This is our SAMEAPI (South Asian Middle Eastern Asian Pacific Islander) heritage,” said Aya Fawakhiri, a sophomore and member of the MSA. “Each affinity group has to host a huge event and MSA thought that this would be a really nice one because, usually, we have dances; but we wanted to be more traditional and authentic and want to showcase what the Muslim cultures traditionally do back home, which is we have tents, we sit on the floor, we smoke hookah, we get henna done and we eat food.”

The event started at 9 p.m. and more than 200 attendees paid $2 and showed ID to enter the large red Shamanaya, a decorative Indian canopy with Middle Eastern light fixtures inside. People mingled inside and outside of the tent, eating chicken shawarma, vegetarian dolma vabra, hummus and bread.

Attendees gathering around for hookah. (Bianca Butler)

Henna, a temporary tattoo made from a dry leaf plant and usually reserved for celebrations, was popular with participants. Although the wait was long, many people felt the beautiful designs were worth it.

“The lady who did the henna was very detailed, and she had photos that you could actually compare and look so you could know what it was,” said junior Loveli Ward.

In addition to the henna, a belly dancer performed for the large outdoor crowd, and many members of the audience got up and attempted to belly dance.

“We didn’t expect so many people to come and have an interest in the event,” said sophomore Zainab Shabbir, a member of the Muslim Student Association. “We hope everyone enjoyed it and there will be a similar one in the fall semester.”