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


Makkah’s Grand Mosque ready to receive worshippers at full capacity

Makkah’s Grand Mosque ready to receive worshippers at full capacity
Updated 16 October 2021

Makkah’s Grand Mosque ready to receive worshippers at full capacity

Makkah’s Grand Mosque ready to receive worshippers at full capacity
  • Visitors to the mosque will still be required to wear face masks and make reservations through the relevant apps
  • Workers at the mosque on Saturday were seen removing stickers reminding people to socially distance

RIYADH: The Grand Mosque in Makkah is ready to receive pilgrims and worshippers at full capacity on Sunday as Saudi Arabia loosens COVID-19 restrictions, an official said.

The Under-Secretary-General for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque, Dr. Saad bin Mohammed Al-Muhaimid, said that a plan has been implemented for the mosque to operate at full capacity whilst ensuring the safety of all.

Al-Muhaimid added that visitors to the holy mosque will still be required to wear face masks and make reservations to perform Umrah and prayers through the Tawakkalna and Eatmarna applications.

Workers at the Grand Mosque on Saturday evening were seen peeling stickers reminding people to socially distance off the floor, marking an end to the era of people in the Kingdom praying with 1-2 meter gaps between them due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Sunday, social distancing will no longer be mandatory at social gatherings or in public settings including on public transport and in restaurants, cinemas, and malls.

Face masks will no longer be mandatory in outdoor settings, except for certain specific locations including the two holy mosques.


Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 16 October 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 536,900
  • A total of 8,760 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced two deaths from COVID-19 and 45 new infections on Saturday.

Of the new cases, 20 were recorded in Riyadh, five in Jeddah, two in Tabuk, two in Makkah, two in Al-Khobar, and two in Yanbu. Several other cities recorded one new case each.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 536,900 after 41 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,760 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Over 44.4 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


KSA, Egypt discuss environmental cooperation

KSA, Egypt discuss environmental cooperation
Updated 16 October 2021

KSA, Egypt discuss environmental cooperation

KSA, Egypt discuss environmental cooperation
  • The men praised their countries’ successful cooperation in the field of environmental protection

CAIRO: Egypt’s Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad and her Saudi counterpart Abdulrahman Al-Fadley discussed environmental cooperation between their two countries.

They praised their countries’ successful cooperation in the field of environmental protection, with Fouad saying the environment is a priority for Egypt’s leadership.

She also welcomed cooperation with Saudi Arabia in terms of converting waste into energy.

The two sides discussed cooperation in the fields of coastal management, marine policies, environmental monitoring, management of chemicals and hazardous waste, and integration of environmental knowledge into educational curricula.

Al-Fadley expressed his aspiration to cooperate with Egypt in the field of water desalination and reusing extracted salt.

The two sides agreed to focus on cooperating to preserve the Red Sea, with Fouad noting its richness in coral reefs and marine life.


Saudi envoy to UK details rapid modernization under crown prince

Saudi envoy to UK details rapid modernization under crown prince
Updated 16 October 2021

Saudi envoy to UK details rapid modernization under crown prince

Saudi envoy to UK details rapid modernization under crown prince
  • Prince Khalid: “We have a very young population. They want a different world”
  • “I grew up with religious police telling us what to do, but now it’s about letting people make their own choices”

LONDON: The Saudi ambassador to Britain has praised the wide-ranging modernization efforts carried out by the Kingdom’s leadership.

“In the last five years the pace has been huge — 1,000 laws have been altered or removed,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan told The Times.

“There is a misconception about Saudi that we never change, but going back 100 years it’s been dramatic. My grandfather went to work on horseback, my father flew fast fighter jets, and my cousin went into space.”

Prince Khalid said the way the Kingdom legislates for women is also changing. “Just before I was posted here (in the UK), I went back for two days and I called one of my sisters and said, ‘Let’s go for a coffee. Shall I come and pick you up?’ and she said, ‘No, I’ve got my car.’ It brought a real smile to my face,” he said.

“Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable for her to have a job, let alone drive. We are still a very conservative society but we have a very young population. They want a different world.”

The ambassador, who attended the prestigious Eton College before Oxford University and Sandhurst, said: “I feel very Saudi, but I was brought up in the West.” 

His links to Britain are strong, not only through being educated in the UK but also through his English wife Lucy Cuthbert, a niece of the duke of Northumberland.

Prince Khalid has seen some of the modernization he witnessed in Britain appearing in his homeland, including mobile phones, which he said have made a huge difference to Saudi society.

“We have one of the highest percentages of phones per capita in the world, nearly three phones per person,” he added.

“The young are all over Instagram. In my generation, there wasn’t much entertainment at home so we had to go abroad. Now the young want to go to shops and cinemas, and there has been an explosion of events,” he said.

“There are women-only sections but no enforced separation. I grew up with religious police telling us what to do, but now it’s about letting people make their own choices.”

He told The Times that his sister said she “discovered there wasn’t a glass ceiling — it was more of a soft tent and she could push it out.”

The ambassador said 34 percent of the Saudi workforce is made up of women, dramatically leaping from 18 percent in 2016.

“We have had our first graduation for women in the army, there are women in government, in the police, we are training female judges, we have an equal opportunities and equal pay law,” he added.

Prince Khalid also detailed the rapid expansion of the Saudi tourism industry, including the giga-projects being planned. 

“In 2019 we launched our tourist visa online. We issued 440,000 visas before the pandemic started, 60,000 to the UK,” he said.

“We are developing resorts with a Red Sea project and NEOM, a new futuristic city. Saudi Arabia is the size of Western Europe. We also have 330 heritage sites.” These giga-projects are part of $7 trillion of investment under the Vision 2030 reform plan.

The Kingdom is expected to participate in the UN Climate Change conference, also known as Cop26, in Glasgow later this month. 

“We decided to move away from fossil fuels in 2016. We don’t want to be an oil provider but an energy provider,” said Prince Khalid. “We have committed to producing 50 percent of our energy by renewable sources by 2030.”


Who’s Who: Alaa Abdulaal, VP at the global Digital Cooperation Organization

Who’s Who: Alaa Abdulaal, VP at the global Digital Cooperation Organization
Updated 16 October 2021

Who’s Who: Alaa Abdulaal, VP at the global Digital Cooperation Organization

Who’s Who: Alaa Abdulaal, VP at the global Digital Cooperation Organization

Alaa Abdulaal has been the vice president of strategy and governance at the Digital Cooperation Organization since September 2021.

The organization, a global multilateral entity that aims at increasing social prosperity through accelerating the growth of the digital economy, was established by a group of countries that share an interest in collaborating to realize their collective digital potential. These countries are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, and Pakistan.

Prior to joining the organization, Abdulaal had served for more than a year as the director of IT strategy and governance at the Ministry of Transport and Logistic Services. For over nine years, beginning in 2011, she worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a database unit leader, technical operation strategist, and a strategic planning and development manager.

In the latter role she established key performance metrics, designed reporting solutions, and promoted the use of structured information to drive enhanced business performance. She also led critical communication development and business reporting.

In 2015, she spent eight months as a research intern at Riva Modeling Systems in Toronto, where she demonstrated a strong interest and aptitude for user experience.

Before that, she worked for more than four years as a database administrator at the Saudi Exchange Market. There, she helped enhance the database’s performance and security. Her job responsibilities also included evaluating the proposed auditing systems and developing the availability process from scratch with the IT service management project consultants. Moreover, she created availability dashboards for Tadawul production services.

Abdulaal received a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2006 from King Saud University, where she graduated with first class honors. In 2014, she obtained a master’s degree, majoring in applied computing, with the highest GPA result.

She is a certified strategic business planner and a professional business process manager.