AEGEE-Budapest organizes the Arab Week

If you’ve heard of the Arab minority in Europe, Hungary might not be the country that first comes to mind, but there is a minority in Budapest. When the Euroarab project team approached AEGEE-Budapest about organising an event, the first thought was that it would be a good opportunity to organise open lectures for externals (potential members). While brainstorming on “something Arab” the members developed the concept of AEGEE-Budapest’s ‘Arab week’, which took place in the last week of November.

This ‘Arab Week’ started with a roundtable discussion on the Muslim community of Hungary. Around 30-35 participants came to listen to the discussion (about half of them were the members of AEGEE-Budapest). There were experts from the university and a leader of the Hungarian Islam Church.

The participants learned that Muslim minorities have been living in Hungary even before the Ottoman occupation. So Arab merchants and travellers had been visiting Hungary for centuries. Now, in the 21st century the situation is very different from other -for example Western European- countries. If you ask Hungarians where they can meet ethnic Arab people, they will probably say in the hospitals as doctors, or they might know some engineers, dentists, traders and businessmen. This is because in the sixties and seventies of the 20th century, thousands of young Arabs came  to study in Hungary. Some went home after their studies, but some of them stayed – having built a family there, with a Hungarian wife/ husband and children.

Of course the Muslim community is not the same as the Arab community of Hungary. The experts explained that around two-thirds of Muslims in Hungary are ethnic Arabs or have Arabic origins. It was very interesting to hear about the different groups within and different realities of a largely unknown heterogenous community. The speakers agreed that it is possible to live according to the Islamic religious rules in Hungary, though they saw some difficulties. Most problems in the workplace, schools and other places could be solved easily, but the biggest problem is a lack of knowledge and ignorance of the ‘majority’.

Muslims have had to acknowledge that many things in their traditions and customs (even the ‘rules of praying’) depend on their cultural background. So here, in Europe the different groups have to communicate to learn from one another.

The participants listened carefully to the long discussion and also participated with some interesting questions. In the end everyone learned a lot about this heterogenous group of people that lives among us. But whether there is something like a European Islam is still hard to say. How different is this religion existing in minorities, where many historically connected cultural and traditional features are not present?

After the roundtable discussion there was an ‘Arabian night’, a house party with some Arab cookies made by members of AEGEE-Budapest. Not all the rules of the Quran were followed during the night, but some potential AEGEE members joined, and  together they played a quiz to test their knowledge of the Arabian countries.

Two days later there was a lecture on the current conflict in Syria which also included a discussion of the different groups within the Syrian society. This time there was an audience of around 45 people, and many students from different universities took part in this thematic event. The Professor explained how history affected this fragile society. Even though the Syrian civil war is often in the news, without understanding the thousand years old coexistence of Muslims and Christians, one can only have a false picture of the country.

The Arab week for AEGEE-Budapest was a huge success. With strong PR many people were reached, and during the event members of AEGEE and other students were able to learn a lot about Arab culture and the reality of this minority group.

Written by: Roland Papp (AEGEE-Budapest)