Millennials invited to rediscover the timeless literature of Arabia 

The book introduces the 10 timeless odes that represent the finest of early Arabic poetry produced in the pre-Islamic era to Arabic and English readers. (Getty Images)
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The book introduces the 10 timeless odes that represent the finest of early Arabic poetry produced in the pre-Islamic era to Arabic and English readers. (Getty Images)
Millennials invited to rediscover the timeless literature of Arabia 
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The book introduces the 10 timeless odes that represent the finest of early Arabic poetry produced in the pre-Islamic era to Arabic and English readers. (Shutterstock photo)
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Updated 12 March 2021

Millennials invited to rediscover the timeless literature of Arabia 

Millennials invited to rediscover the timeless literature of Arabia 
  • The book aims to educate new generations about the human, aesthetic and philosophical values of these ancient poems

JEDDAH: Arab and Islamic history is full of artists and poets whose works transcended time. 

Like any literature, Arabic authorship was not born out of a void — it is the culmination of human experiences, emotions, knowledge and vision of the universe documented via poetry. 

Poetry has enjoyed a celebrated position among Arabs, so its value goes beyond the documentary role of portraying an age. It makes preservation a duty toward younger generations, a role which the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has taken on. 

In collaboration with Saudi Aramco’s Al-Qafilah magazine, Ithra recently completed a year-long project to publish the “Al-Mu’allaqat for Millennials” book. This introduces the 10 timeless odes that represent the finest of early Arabic poetry produced in the pre-Islamic era to Arabic and English readers. 




Tariq Khawaji

The book interprets poetry and its literary history, as well as providing introductions to poets’ lives and works in both Arabic and English. It was a joint effort of a team of nine Saudi and international scholars and experts in Arabic literature, poetry and translation.  

“The decline of literature is actually the decline of a nation,” said the German poet and critic Goethe. As the linguistic and literary foundation of Arab-Islamic civilization, along with the Qur’an, to forget about Al-Mu’allaqat for Arabs is similar to abandoning Shakespeare for the English. 

“We want it to reflect the beginning of a base of Arabic literature, as it portrays shared human characteristics. The goal of this project is to showcase essential literature on the same influential scale of works such as Shakespeare and Homer, in a modern way that can be enjoyed by all,” project manager and editor in chief of Al-Qafilah, Bander Al-Harbi, told Arab News. 

The 1,500-year-old poems are considered masterpieces of both Arabic and world literature, hence many books and translations had studied them over the past centuries. However, what distinguishes this project is its goal to educate new generations about the human, aesthetic and philosophical values of these ancient poems, and to share knowledge about their meaning and subject matter in a manner accessible to modern readers. 

The 500-page book was published on Dec. 18 last year on International Arabic Language Day, an occasion marked by the UN. International scholars participated in the project despite the challenges of COVID-19. 

“Our book aims to present Arabic poetry anew to the new generation, regardless of any cultural and linguistic boundaries. The human lessons of these timeless texts and their artistic originality make them appealing to all those who enjoy the verbal art,” said Dr. Hatem Al-Zahrani, the project’s content and international communication supervisor and reviewer.

“Al-Mu’allaqat” was composed by accomplished authors of the pre-Islamic era, including the 6th-century warrior-poet Imru’ Al-Qays, known as the wandering king, who traveled the lands of Arabia seeking revenge for his father’s lost kingdom — and who also wrote poetry. 

Al-Qays is hailed as the father of Arabic poetry because he established many of the conventions and themes that poets after him followed. He originated “ruin poetry,” where the writer begins with scenery lines describing a character stopping for a time at the remains of a campsite and remembering his beloved. 

Other renowned poets include the pleasure-seeking Tarafa, the moralist Zuhayr, as well as Antara, a black knight and romantic hero; the centenarian Labid; and grief-stricken knight Amr ibn Kulthum.

After a decade spent at different academic institutions in the US, Al-Zahrani decided that there was a genuine interest among students of different generations and specializations in the creative corpus of Arabic literature, including poetry. 

HIGHLIGHT

The official pdf copy of the book was made accessible to the public in January, and it is available at https://www.ithra.com/files/6516/1042/9658/compressed.pdf

He believes the need for a bilingual volume on Arabic poetry is not only necessary for general readers. It also especially needed for students majoring in Arabic and Islamic studies who are keen to learn the Arabic language in addition to enjoying its most important poetic achievements in English translations. 

This new translation is the first to contain all 10 odes, as previous efforts did not include all of them. “It also presents the ten ‘suspended odes’ in a critical, fully vocalized edition, with new Arabic commentaries and introductions in the same volume with the English part. Thus, the book appears as an embodiment on paper of a civil cultural dialogue between Arabic and English, and between East and West,” Al-Zahrani said. 

He highlighted that there was a growing demand for more translations of “Mu’allaqat” into other languages; one of the most recent works was a Turkish translation by Mehmet Hakkı Sucin published in 2020.

“Part of the appeal of the Mu’allaqat for non-Arabic speakers are the legends behind them, whether Imru’ Al-Qays’s quest to avenge his father’s murder, or the treaty arbitrations between Amr ibn Kulthum and Al-Harith ibn Hillizah, and so on,” said Dr. Kevin Blankinship, assistant professor of Arabic Literature, Brigham Young University, and a contributor to the project. 

Blankinship continued: “Another reason the poems attract non-Arabic speakers is their distance in time and culture. This is a desert society where war and hardship are part of everyday life, to say nothing of romance, intrigue and murder. They have the dramatic tension of Greek tragedy, which is part of their appeal.”

Dr. Blankinship translated four of the ten odes, namely those of Antarah ibn Shaddad, Zuhayr, Amr ibn Kulthum, and Al-Harith ibn Hillizah. He also provided editorial feedback for other parts of the book.

“As a non-native speaker of Arabic and a specialist in classical Arabic literature, I enjoyed the chance to bring Arab cultural heritage to a wider audience of English speakers, and even to some Arabs who might not have read all of the Mu’allaqat,” he said. “The project is important because it invites continual meditation on writings whose richness outlasts any one generation, and so they must be revisited over and over.” 

To make the text accessible for the general reader, Blankinship’s translation approach was to use a more relaxed language than that used to address specialists.

“I also wanted the English to appeal at the level of sound and rhythm, so I used a loose meter and rhyme scheme. I tried to draw out as much vivid detail as possible since that’s one thing that makes these poems so enjoyable,” he said. 

The project comes to the defense of the Arabic literature against the orientalist stereotypical view that shows early Arabs as merely part of a desert and warfare culture, Tariq Khawaji, chief librarian at Ithra, explained to Arab News. 

“Arabs are viewed as if they lack concrete thought, philosophy and vision on the universe,” said Khawaji, “Al-Mu’alaqat is proof that all these stereotypes are not true, and you can find all components of human thought, including philosophical questions about life, existence, courage, fear, emotions, it is all there.”

Al-Zahrani agreed with Khawaji about the necessity to defend the sophistication of Arabic culture and “counteract the prevailing stereotypical misperceptions about the Arabs and their culture, especially that of the Arabian Peninsula, in the West.”

“A more civilized dialogue between East and West requires a better mutual understanding of the cultures of both parties, and we in the Mu’allaqat team hope this project will contribute to that effort,” Al-Zahrani said. 

“This project comes within a wider initiative by Ithra to enrich the Arabic visual, musical and written content in various fields,” Khawaji said.

He added that more projects to promote Arabic literature are currently in the works. The official pdf copy of the book was made accessible to the public in January, and it is available at https://www.ithra.com/files/6516/1042/9658/compressed.pdf


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 23 min 11 sec ago

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 7 min 54 sec ago

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia to hold green initiative summit

Saudi Arabia to hold green initiative summit
The initiatives are set to apply a number of ambitious programs that will reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent in the region and plant 50 billion trees. (SPA)
Updated 2 min 3 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to hold green initiative summit

Saudi Arabia to hold green initiative summit
  • Xi expresses support for Saudi measures to fight climate change

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday said the Kingdom is working to organize an annual summit for the Middle East Green Initiative.

He said this during a phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
During the call, the two leaders discussed the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative, which were recently announced by the crown prince.
The initiatives called for partnerships with regional countries to face the environmental challenges in the region, improve the quality of life, and implement the largest afforestation project in the world.
The crown prince and the president discussed the contributions of these two initiatives toward achieving global targets to combat climate change, and their influential role in raising the quality of life in the region and the world at large.
The Chinese president said Beijing supported both initiatives, stressing the importance of their support by the international community.
Xi told the crown prince that China wanted to advance its strategic partnership with the Kingdom. The crown prince and the president also discussed cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and technology.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The crown prince and the president also discussed cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and technology.

• MBS said Saudi Arabia was ready to strengthen the interconnection between the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Prince Mohammed said his country was ready to strengthen the interconnection between the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
During the call, Xi said Beijing “is willing to work with Saudi Arabia and other members of the international community to build an equitable climate governance regime that is cooperative and beneficial to all,” Xinhua news agency reported.
The Chinese president also called for joint efforts to comprehensively and effectively implement “the Paris Agreement on climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.”
The initiatives are set to apply a number of ambitious programs that will reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent in the region and plant 50 billion trees.
The initiative will also work to increase the percentage of protected land to more than 30 percent, exceeding the global target at 17 percent per country. It will reduce carbon emissions by more than 4 percent of global contributions through renewable energy projects that will provide 50 percent of the Kingdom’s electricity production by 2030. The two initiatives come in support of the existing environmental efforts the Kingdom has supported in previous years as it continues to face its own challenges at home from desertification, low rainfall, and debilitating dust storms.

 


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.


Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign encouraging people to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan. (SPA)
Updated 20 April 2021

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
  • The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched ‘Step Together’ campaign to help people stay active during the holy month

JEDDAH: While consuming excessive food during the month of Ramadan goes against the purpose of the holy month, for many Saudis and people of the region, it is a time to indulge in special foods, which often leads to overeating.

For years, Saudis have been facing problems with obesity, with unhealthy diets leading to a variety of poor health conditions. While numerous campaigns have been launched to combat this issue, including by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA), their advice seems to fall on deaf ears during Ramadan.
Arab News spoke to experts — nutritionists and fitness trainers — who discussed their tips to help curb hunger and maintain a healthy weight.
Saudi fitness trainer Nouf Hamadallah, 37, explained that there is no best time to exercise during Ramadan; rather, the time and intensity of the workout can vary from person to person.
“Exercising during Ramadan depends on the flexibility of one’s schedule. There’s no specific time to work out. Most people who believe this are misinformed by what they read,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions of the Kingdom in June 2020 showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.

• It highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.

“One common bit of advice in popular articles says that if people work out before iftar, they will burn calories and lose weight. But this depends on their goals and calorie
intake. Some people cannot work out while fasting because they feel sick and nauseous, and their blood sugar drops. Then they become discouraged from exercising, not knowing that all they have to do is change the timing and nature of their workout. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
She added that it is easy to lose muscle mass if people do not choose the right foods for iftar and sahoor, also stressing that it is essential to hydrate during breakfast. Should one choose to work out right before iftar, a protein shake and a nutrient-dense meal with few carbs are advised in breaking fast.

If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

Arwa Bajkhaif, Dietician

“What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day, too. It should be a meal with a good amount of protein and vegetables,” said Hamadallah. “When your body is depleted of energy, the first thing you look for is sugar, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
Digestive problems such as acid reflux also occur due to poor eating habits in Ramadan, she added, and people with such digestive issues need to take note of the specific foods that irritate their stomachs.
She recommended that they avoid these foods if they are planning to exercise and instead have a few dates, soup and maybe a cup of coffee before beginning their workout, saving a full meal for afterward.
Iftar and sahoor also need to be divided into portions to avoid digestive problems, she added.
Saudi clinical and sports dietitian Arwa Bajkhaif, 29, said Ramadan is a “golden opportunity” to fast and practice self-control. If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day.

Nouf Hamadallah, Fitness trainer

“People should know their dietary requirements and follow a suitable diet for their particular health situation during the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajkaif told Arab News
“For individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend seeing an endocrinologist for insulin and medication adjustments and a clinical dietitian for follow-ups to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates accordingly.”
As for changing one’s eating habits, she suggested that people should not adopt more than three easy and healthy habits. “Being realistic and specific is key to achieving health goals.”
Saudi dietitian Alaa Gotah advised people to drink plenty of water between iftar and sahoor, avoid sugary drinks especially during iftar to maintain insulin levels, and eat plenty of hydrating food such as salads while limiting the intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
She stressed that fasting cleanses the body of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when a steady stream of fuel from food is always present.
“Sahoor should include a healthy amount of fiber, which stays for a long time in the intestines. To reduce the feeling of thirst and hunger, it’s recommended to eat fruits that contain dietary fiber and magnesium, such as bananas, dates and watermelon,” Gotah told Arab News.  
A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions in June 2020 titled “Obesity in Saudi Arabia in 2020: Prevalence, Distribution, and its Current Association with Various Health Conditions” showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.
The study highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign to help people stay active during the holy month, presenting the Ramadan edition of “Step Together,” where people are encouraged to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan.