10 Ways to Experience Arabic Culture around Washington, DC

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  1. Attend a film festival

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/132714914@N08/22500668165/in/album-72157659665777978/

Arabian Sights is a film festival with a 20-year history in Washington, DC. Contemporary films from Arab directors are screened, with talks by directors and filmmakers following. Films are shown in Arabic with English subtitles, with genres ranging from from comedy to drama to documentaries and more.

  1. See Arts of the Islamic World at the Freer and Sackler Galleries

The Freer and Sackler Galleries host one of the largest collections of Arabic art in the United States, with their earliest art dating to the seventh century CE. Visit to see range of art that appears across regions, from Spain to North Africa to Southeast Asia.

*Note that the Freer Gallery will be closed January 4, 2016 through the summer of 2017. While it’s closed, consider making the trek to Baltimore’s Walters Art Gallery, with its collections of Islamic Manuscriptscollections from ancient Egypt and Nubia,  and the Near East,  and art from the Islamic world dating back to the seventh century CE.

  1. Listen to Podcasts and Radio Shows Featuring Contemporary Arabic Music and Culture

Image from http://www.asia.si.edu/podcasts/related/saudi/progNotes.asp

Zein El-amine, lecturer and advisor in Arabic Studies, hosts weekly radio program on Arab culture on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Entitled Shay wa Naa Naa (Tea and mint), the show airs on Wednesdays from 2 to 3pm. Archived shows can be found at wpfwfm.org. Listen to an interview regarding the show here.

The Freer and Sackler Galleries also host regular music night that are recorded for podcasts: check out  Iraqi Jazz Fusions or music from the Saudi Ensemble to get started listening!

  1. Explore the Library of Congress’s Middle East Images Collections


    Performing research for class? The Library of Congress has extensive image resources related to the Middle East: explore everything from early Kufic script  to British World War II propaganda in Arabic. Make sure to contact the library before visiting. The African and Middle Eastern Reading Room also hosts regularly scheduled lectures and performances that are open to the public.

  2. Explore the Worlds of Arabic Food

Image from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/ethnic-market-scout-mediterranean-around-dc/2014/05/05/3f3101ec-d0aa-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html

The Washington, DC area has several markets that carry food from Arabic cultures: visit to discover new flavors and discover new recipes. Try Yekta in Rockville, Al Amanah Market and Lebanese Butcher and Restaurant in Falls Church, and The Mediterranean Way in Washington, DC.

Check out this Washington Post article for a guide to Middle Eastern market basics.

  1. Visit a Middle Eastern Bookstore

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Middle East Books and More sells books for children and adults, ranging from cookbooks to political tracts. Find Arabic language toys, ingredients, greeting cards, and art in addition to its English and Arabic-language books. The store’s political content reflects both international and US-based issues, with an emphasis on Palestinian viewpoints. From the website: “Middle East Books and More is a project of the American Educational Trust, a non-profit, non-partisan organization incorporated in 1982 in Washington, DC by retired U.S. Foreign Service Officers.”

  1. Explore Contemporary Middle Eastern Art

The Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al-Quds is a full-time gallery in Washington, DC, that showcases Arab-American and Arab art. Past exhibits include visual images of dynamic uprising movements, multimedia projects recording the San Francisco Palestinian community, images of women facing severe obstacles in the Middle East, and the art of Kashmir shawls and Yemeni jewelry, among many others. Read the Washington Post’s review of the gallery here.

  1. Enjoy Cultural Festivals

Image from http://arabfest.org/

The DC area hosts two Arab-cultural festivals. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee hosts a downtown festival, while the Arab Fest is held in Centreville, Virginia. Both feature music, dancing, local restaurants, fashion shows, and cultural demonstrations, and are open to all.

  1. See Middle Eastern Music Performed Live

New Deal Café in Greenbelt is a Lebanese café that features local musicians nearly daily. Stop by on Sundays (check the calendar) to see Fez Tones Hafla, a group dedicated to preserving Middle Eastern music in the DC area. No minimum charge or food purchase, though reservations and tipping the musicians encouraged!

  1. Attend a Lecture

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Although you may feel like you already attend enough lectures in class, attending a lecture series is a unique experience that you won’t regret. Area institutes like the George Washington University Institute for Middle East Studies, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy all host regular talks and forums that are open to the public. If you can’t make it to a lecture, check out the institutes’ archives, and the archives from of the 2015 U.S.-Islamic World Forum, hosted by the Brookings Institute and the State of Qatar.