Going the Arab way

Arab thought, Arab writers, Arab science, Arab politics! The 23rd Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF), which came to an end on Monday evening, took a sharp turn towards the Arab book industry.


Silvia Radan

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Published: Tue 30 Apr 2013, 8:58 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 7:56 AM

“I had a good time today touring the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. It was very well-organised with a large variety of books,” His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, tweeted after visiting the fair over the weekend.

The large majority of the 1,025 exhibitors came from the Middle East, some of them being good old friends of the fair.

“The Arab book market is very difficult now because of the political and economic instability in Arab countries. We’re not really sure where the Arab readers are and what they want, but for the past year novels have been selling better than political books, which could suggest escapism,” said Rania Mouallem, editorial manager of Dar Al Saqi, a Lebanese publishing house that has been part of ADIBF for 17 years.

Among the 59 authors invited to speak at the fair was Iraqi-British writer and scientist Jim Al Khalili, who brought along his two most recent books: “Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science” and “Paradox: the Greatest Enigmas in Science”.

In the first, he tells biographical stories of the most important scientists in the medieval Arab and Islamic world — a few are well known like Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina (known as Averroes and Avicenna in the West), but most hardly heard of outside the Middle East, like Ibn Al Haytham, born in Basra in 965 AD.

“I regard him the greatest physicist in the 2000 years between Archimedes and Newton,” said Al Khalili. Nicknamed “Ptolemy the Second”, Ibn Al Haytham was considered the father of optics, as well as making significant contributions in physics, astronomy, mathematics and philosophy.

He was also a colourful character, having to feign madness twice! After claiming that he could regulate the floods of the Nile by building a dam across it, the sixth Fatimid caliph in Cairo asked him to do it. When Ibn Al Haytham realised his plan would not work, he pretended to be mad fearing the caliph might execute him.

“Lots of people ask me ‘why don’t we know about these scientists the same way we know about Galileo, Newton and others’,” pointed out Al Khalili.

Lamia Ouni, who bought his book right after Al Khalili’s talk on Sunday evening, was one of those who raised this question.

“These type of books should be read is schools. Not only would it help preserve our Arab heritage, but it would also help children fall in love with science, as they tell life stories of scientists, not just present their work,” she thought.

Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, organiser of ADIBF, estimated that nearly 200,000 people, including 25,000 school children have visited the fair this year, but the final numbers are yet to be released.— silvia@khaleejtimes.com

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