Friday night, the founding line of Omega Beta Eta, the University of Michigan’s first Arab fraternity, revealed their pledge class with a performance on the Diag. Each of the 16 recruits, clad in black robes with red-and-black keffiyehs partially covering their faces, introduced themselves to a cheering crowd comprised of students and other organizations in the Multicultural Greek Council. The event started at 8:34 pm, which had a significance within the fraternity.
OBH fraternal father Jad Elharake, an LSA alum who works at the University of Michigan Medical School in the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, noted OBH was established to create a sense of community among Arab men that did not previously exist at the University.
“A part of me always wished that I had an older Arab male mentor — one that not only understood my background, but lived it,” Elharake wrote in an email interview with The Daily. “A mentor that would guide me in navigating a place that wasn’t built for me.”
OBH is not the first Arab fraternity in the nation. However, Elharake said the founders of OBH decided to create their own fraternity so they could build the traditions of the group themselves.
Before presenting themselves to the audience, the brothers of OBH recognized the other multicultural fraternities and sororities attending the event. Members of other organizations, including Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity and Sigma Sigma Rho sorority, responded with chants and calls of support.
Kneeling huddled together in a circle, the brothers introduced themselves one by one by standing and removing their scarves and robes. Elharake brought each recruit to the middle of the circle and took away their scarves before stepping out. Amid chants of “ossoud,” or “lion” in Arabic, each member then revealed his name and pledged to support his fellow brothers. Many of the members introduced themselves through rap.
Ahmad Saad, Business senior and founding father of OBH, said each member of the fraternity was given an asiatic lion name prior to the reveal. According to Saad, these names are given by members and denote certain characteristics about the recruit, like leadership or courage. Saad’s asiatic lion name is “Bassel”.
“Immigrating from Bint Jebail, my parents don’t have it easy,” Saad rapped. “They look to me to carry their legacy. Strongest of the pack, I protect my brothers — no matter what it is, we’re always here for each other. Ballin’ since I was a kid, I’m the real MVP. The best there ever was, I got that lion mentality. Yeah, I go to Ross, I’m a different kind of lion. Imma build stacks on stacks without even trying. My brothers are my priority, and like lions in the jungle, we lead with authority.”
The creation of OBH comes just four months after the University’s first Arab sorority, Epsilon Alpha Sigma Empowered Arab Sisterhood, introduced its first pledge class in a reveal show held in Angell Hall. EAS, which has chapters at several other universities, is the first Arab sorority in the nation.
Silan Fadlallah, LSA junior and president of EAS, said it was important for her sorority to attend OBH’s reveal show because EAS had received support from the University’s Arab community at their own debut performance.
“We’re here to show solidarity and support them, because we were the first Arab sorority to come to the campus and we know what that feels like,” Fadlallah said. “We’re not sisters with them, but we’re here to support them.”
In 2017, Elharake helped organize the #WeExist campaign to add a Middle Eastern/North African identity category to University applications and documents. In December 2018, Rackham announced plans to include Middle Eastern and North African identity options on applications for Fall 2019. Elharake said his work with this campaign and his decision to found OBH reflect his desire to bring awareness to the Arab identity on campus.
“Every year, I see Arab men who come to U-M, ignore the community on campus, forget their roots and cave into the pressures of attending a predominantly white institution,” Elharake said. “My experiences fueled my desire to create, with the founding fathers, a peer-to-peer structure for Arab men to mentor each other.”
Fadlallah echoed Elharake’s statement and said organizations like EAS and OBH aim to draw attention to the presence of a distinctly Arab identity at the University and around the country.
“The Arab identity as a race is often unrecognized and goes unrecognized because we don’t have a checkbox if you’re filling out applications or whatever,” Fadlallah said. “We’re marked under white, which isn’t true. A lot of it has to do with advocating for that Middle Eastern and North African checkbox and, within that, the Arab identity.”
Throughout the performance, the recruits referred to themselves as lions, the symbol of the fraternity. According to Elharake, the symbolism harkens back to when Asiatic lions lived across the Middle East and North Africa. While Asiatic lions still live in sub-Saharan Africa, there are very few left in the Middle East. In a text message to The Daily, Elharake said the members of OBH and the Arab community at the University embody the history of the Asiatic lions.
“Their story has become our story,” Elharake said. “For decades, most Arab men at the University did not hold leadership positions across campus, take advantage of the opportunities and resources offered or advocate for the Arab community. In many ways, we were extinct.”
Saad mentioned how the performance was meant to be both a humorous introduction to the group and a reflection on one the organization’s official slogans: “Protect what’s yours, even when they claim it’s theirs.” Saad said this underlying theme expresses the more serious aspects of the reveal show.
“It’s to show how we’re serious about what we’re doing — we put in a lot of work in rehearsal and we wanted everything to be very structured and organized in conveying our message instead of being disorganized,” Saad said. “It really highlights the consistency and how serious we are about this.”
Saad said while OBH may focus on the community of Arab men at the University, the organization ultimately aims to unite Arab men from any school and every state. Saad said OBH received emails from Ohio State University and Michigan State University about establishing chapters of the fraternity at their universities.
“We wanted to promote a space for expression concerning Arab males on campus to reach out to us with any concerns they have,” Saad said. “The reason we’re doing a fraternity and not some sort of organization is to build a stronger bond, but also with a fraternity you can reach a much larger audience. Eventually we hope this program just extends not just to U-M and Ann Arbor, but hopefully to different schools outside the state that are interested in becoming a chapter of ours and hopefully promoting the same message.”
There are 16 founding fathers of OBH. The founding fathers are LSA junior Yasser Abusabha, LSA sophomore Mohamad Awada, LSA junior Hassan Bazzi, LSA freshman Marwan Bazzi, LSA sophomore Ali Darwiche, LSA sophomore Rachad Elghoul, LSA sophomore Islam Gellani, Public Health junior Mohammed Hammoud, LSA freshman Labib Joumaa, LSA freshman Houd Mashrah, LSA sophomore Mahdi Mazeh, LSA senior Mohamed Mazeh, Business senior Ahmad Saad, LSA freshman Kassim Salami, LSA sophomore Mohamad Saleh, and LSA junior Ryan Shami.