Read All About It: Chicago Majalla

Beginning and native speakers alike write for UChicago’s first Arabic-language magazine.

Name: Chicago Majalla

Established in: 2016

Editors-in-chief: Madeline de Figueirido (A.B. ’19) and Gabe Davis (A.B. ’19)

Most memorable submission: Interview with Near Eastern History professor Fred M. Donner conducted entirely in Arabic, and featuring a decades-old photo of the professor lounging in Damascus

How to get involved: Students who want to submit or work as contributing editors can contact uchicagomajalla@gmail.com

Where to find it on campus: New print issues released biannually, but the Editorial Board is looking to expand to a quarterly schedule; a digital version of the publication is available online through Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations website

Chicago Majalla is one of the newest publications on campus and easily one of UChicago’s most distinctive offerings. Featuring prose, poetry, original research, interviews, photography, and artwork in equal measure, Chicago Majalla embraces stylistic diversity. Plus, unlike any other publication on campus, the entire magazine is written in Arabic.

Third-year and current editor-in-chief Madeline de Figueirido was on a summer Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) grant to study Arabic in Tangier, Morocco, when she met Nick Posegay (A.B, A.M, ’17), who was interested in unifying those passionate about Arabic language and culture outside the classroom. Inspired by this idea but unsure of how to develop it, Posegay, de Figueirido, and Elysa Bryen (A.B. ’17) found inspiration from Arabic Lecturer Osama Abu-Eledam, who had a novel idea.

“[Professor Abu-Eledam] had this vision of a magazine, and we had been trying to develop this idea of how to create a cohesive Arabic community, and we saw these 2 things really coalescing and merging together to basically fulfill our idea,” de Figueirido said.

Thus, Chicago Majalla—named after the Arabic word for magazine—was born.

A photo of a city provided by Elijah Alperin for Chicago Majalla

Gabe Davis, a third year who now serves alongside de Figueirido as editor-in-chief, is likewise motivated by the idea that this campus magazine can unite a campus community.

“I think that Majalla starts with the premise that Arabic is more than just a language you speak. It’s a way to connect with people,” Davis said.

Considering the diversity of the Arabic-speaking community on campus and the editors’ commitment to highlighting as many experiences of Arabic culture as possible, it’s no surprise that the content of Chicago Majalla is far-reaching.

Pieces from beginning speakers—some only in their first or second year studying Arabic—are paired with contributions from doctoral candidates, professors, or students who have been speaking Arabic their whole lives. Thorough summaries of academic research stand alongside more mundane tales, most amusingly including one student’s retelling of the worst date they’d ever been on. Photography of vacations to Arabic-speaking countries and artwork color the pages; interspersed with Arabic characters, already fluid and lyrical even to those with no understanding of the language, the magazine feels as artistic as it is linguistic.

Such a broad range of content highlights “the incredible versatility of the language,” said Davis.

A photo of a well by Lydia Yousef for Chicago Majalla

“I think it’s nice to show those pieces side by side as well to see ways people choose to use their language and can use their language in different ways,” de Figueirido added.

Photography and artwork additionally allows students less comfortable with the language itself to express their interest in Arabic in more atypical ways. In their endeavors to foster a diverse community of Arabic speakers on campus, de Figueirido and Davis want to make Chicago Majalla as accessible as possible.

For students interested in learning Arabic but wary of its notorious difficulty, Chicago Majalla and the diverse types of pieces it highlights might be an important stepping-stone.

“I think the magazine can be quite useful…as a way to attract people who maybe weren’t sure [about Arabic], were looking for something more. It’s a very unique thing,” Davis said.

Davis and de Figueirido know firsthand the challenges and thrills of learning Arabic. Both started learning the language in high school, Davis after a personally transformational trip to Israel in 2012 and de Figueirido through courses at a local college. These early experiences with the language cemented their still-burgeoning passion for learning and sharing Arabic.

“I took the trip, and I realized this was such a rich culture, and I knew that my school offered Arabic.… From there, I’ve been really fascinated with it as a language, and I can’t seem to shake it,” Davis said.

A photo of spices by Olivia Rosenzweig for Chicago Majalla

“It was so immediately clear to me that everybody [in class] was really united in this language learning process and that we were really a community…it made me really dedicated to the idea that language can unite people,” de Figueirido added.

Now led by an Editorial Board of five students and featuring an increasingly wide-reaching array of contributing editors and contributing writers—including one especially motivated student from Princeton also submitting pieces—Chicago Majalla is growing without losing sight of its initial goal of cultivating an Arabic-speaking community.

“The Arabic language can be a really powerful tool for communicating a shockingly diverse number of experiences… Anyone, even if you’re just taking photos, can be a part of that process from the ground up,” Davis said.