The Al-Huda Islamic Center will be holding Arabic lessons, taught by Adel Amer, a professor of Arabic and religious studies at the University of Georgia. The lessons will be open to all members of the community and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday for the next three months.
Ashley Cox, a 20-year old Athens local, converted from Christianity to Islam four years ago. Cox said the Arabic lessons are helpful for her because they allow her to learn how to read the Quran, and other holy Islamic texts.
"I think it will help me become a better Muslim, if I am able to learn Arabic," Cox said. "With the people that come to the Mosque, they speak mostly Arabic. They are my family, and it will help me feel closer to them."
Amer said the Islamic Center decided to host the Arabic lessons after the "very successful" open house held on Feb. 6 of this year.
"It was a very good reason for me to reconsider that, and to work so hard to find the time and offer the community of Athens, people of all walks of life, an opportunity to be exposed to another culture," Amer said. "It's important to open doors for people to learn about each other, not just once a year."
Amer said people in the community would like to be given the chance to get to know each other better, and in turn understand why people do different things.
"If I start talking in Hebrew, you won't understand me because you didn't study it, so you might think I'm calling you bad names or something," Amer said. "In order to get to know other cultures, language is a big chunk in the process of building bridges between them."
Cox said she was surprised, but also excited, by the amount of people that attended the event.
"Just considering the circumstances of what's going on, I wasn't sure how the community would feel," Cox said. "I was surprised that there were no chairs left when I walked in. They had to go and grab me chair."
Amer said the lessons are a great "melting pot" for people in the community to be able to talk together on a weekly basis.
"Some of them are students at UGA, some of them are professors at UGA, and some of them are brothers and sisters from other churches and synagogues in Athens," Amer said. "Last Saturday was a very good start of people getting to know each other of different ethnicities and so much diversity."
Cox said it was good to see so many different people at the lessons, and hopes more people hear about the class and come next week.
"It was a really diverse group, there were all different people from different backgrounds and religions, it was awesome," Cox said. "I feel like it's important that as a community, and as a country, that we all come together despite differences."
Kaleigh Galvin, a junior journalism major, said she plans to go to the Arabic lessons partially because she will be traveling to an Arabic speaking country over the summer, but also to go into spaces that she isn't normally in.
"I want to learn some basic Arabic so I'm not completely lost when I go to an Arabic speaking country," Galvin said. "Also I just want to be an active member of the community, and understand different perspectives, and to get to know people that I'm not normally around."
Jackie Tachman, a graduate student studying public health and social work, said she took the course because she hopes to be able to visit an Arabic speaking country one day, and also believes it is important for all people in the community to consider attending.
"Learning a new language is one way we can all strive to become better," Tachman said. "I appreciate this opportunity to learn, and hope that others in the community appreciate it too."
Tachman said she decided to go to the Arabic lessons because she always wanted to learn a language throughout school, but could never find the time.
"I just could never make a language fit into my schedule," Tachman said. "I'm glad that I now have the opportunity to study Arabic. Especially because in the political climate now, language has a powerful form."
Galvin said she thinks it's important for everyone in the community to take advantage of the free lessons.
"I think it's a great way to get connected to something you wouldn't usually get connected to," Galvin said. "Especially with the political environment right now, and so much hate just being projected across a whole group of people, it's really important to be solid next to these people."