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Columbus Library to host programs and exhibits on Islamic history and culture


Pieces by Sheida Riahi exhibited at the library illustrate Middle Easterner artistry.

Pieces by Sheida Riahi exhibited at the library illustrate Middle Easterner artistry.
Photo by: Courtesy photo



Special to The Dispatch



The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, in partnership with Mississippi University for Women and the First Presbyterian Church, will host a series of events and presentations on Islamic history and culture in October and November. 


The programs are in conjunction with a grant the library received titled Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys. The grant consists of a collection of books, films, and other resources that introduce the American public to the complex history and culture of Muslims in the United States and around the world. 


The series begins Monday, Oct. 28, with a free luncheon and dialogue between Christian and Muslim faiths at the library at noon. Rev. Tom Bryson of First Presbyterian Church of Columbus and Dr. Rani Sullivan, associate professor of aerospace engineering at Mississippi State University, join together for a light lunch and discussion. 




Other events include: 


  • Wednesday, Oct. 30 -- Movie: "Mirror of the Invisible World" (90 minutes), 2 p.m. at the library. This documentary covers nine countries and 1,400 years of cultural history to reveal the riches of Muslim art, crafts and architecture. 


  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 -- "Working in the Middle East: An Archaeologist's Experience," 7 p.m., Parkinson Hall, Room 117, Mississippi University for Women. Dr. James W. Hardin, Middle Eastern archaeologist at Mississippi State, discusses his experiences with Muslims and Jews while working in Jordan, Israel and other parts of the Middle East.  


  • Wednesday, Nov. 6 -- Movie: "Prince among Slaves" (60 minutes), 2 p.m. at the library. This historical documentary retells the story of Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, a prince from West Africa who was made a slave on a tobacco plantation in Natchez and freed 40 years later. 


  • Thursday, Nov. 7 -- "Medieval Islam and Its Neighbors," 5:30 p.m. at the library. Dr. Amber Handy, assistant professor of history at Mississippi University for Women, discusses cultural and religious diversity of the Middle East when the Islamic religion first emerged in the seventh century and addresses common misperceptions about how interactions between Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans continued to develop throughout the Middle Ages.  


    Audience members are invited to read one of the many newly acquired books in conjunction with this lecture, including Maria Rosa Menocal's "The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain," F.E. Peters' "The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam," or Jim Al-Khalili's "The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance." 


  • Wednesday, Nov. 13 -- "Islamic Art of Calligraphy," 12:30 p.m. at the library. Artist Sheida Riahi explores the significance and methods of calligraphy and its tools as well as demonstrates some of her work. 


  • Friday, Nov. 15 -- "Women in Islam: Misconceptions and Realities," noon at the library. Dr. Kim Whitehead, assistant professor of Religious Studies and English at Mississippi University for Women, will discuss common misconceptions about Muslim women, rights guaranteed to Muslim women and their contributions to Islamic history, and the diversity of Muslim women's roles today. Audience members are invited to read Leila Ahmed's "A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence, from the Middle East to America" in conjunction with this presentation. 


  • Tuesday, Nov. 19 -- Movie: "Persepolis" (96 minutes) 2 p.m. at the library. "Persepolis" is a poignant coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution. 




    Visual exhibits 


    The Library also hosts exhibits showcasing the works of mixed media artist Lori K. Gordon as well as calligrapher Sheida Riahi. 


    Gordon's exhibit, Six Degrees: West to East, is a series of collage and mixed media works inspired by her travels to the Middle East and Europe. The series incorporates digital photographic imaging with traditional media and collage.  


    Gordon transforms photographs taken in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Haiti into visual stories which focus on the richness and complexity of these cultures.  


    Gordon's work has been featured on MSNBC, CBS, National Public Radio, Christian Science Monitor, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, New York Times, Travel Mail (UK), Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden) and in regional magazines and newspapers across the nation. To find out more about Gordon's work, visit  


    Calligrapher Sheida Riahi's exhibit will include works in the Thuluth style of calligraphy. Some items will include Koranic passages and others will be the Arabic translation of biblical passages. There will also be Persian miniature style paintings as well as works in the Persian art of Illumination or "Tazhib." Tazhib art work is created by repeating geometrical and decorative forms and patterns from nature, combined with natural colors. Tazhib is used in the decoration of manuscripts as well as buildings such as palaces and Persian mosques. 




    Rare opportunity 


    The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library was one of 842 libraries nationwide and one of only three chosen in Mississippi to be awarded the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf. The library received 25 books, three films, and access for one year to Oxford Islamic Studies Online.  


    Resources in the bookshelf touch on various aspects of Islamic and Middle Eastern culture such as art, poetry, literature, history and faith. Developed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association based on the advice of scholars, librarians, and other public programming experts, the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf is intended to address both the need and desire of the American public for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations.  


    Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the NEH and its grant programs is available at 


    For more information about the Muslim Journeys series and resources at the Columbus library, visit the blog or contact Mona Vance-Ali at 662-329-5304.



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