Sharjah International Book Fair: Beacon of knowledge


I CONSIDER myself to be one of the lucky ones to have been invited to attend the Sharjah International Book Fair, for not only is it a book lover’s treasure trove, but it also made me read into the emirate’s silent but gigantic effort in boosting books.

Last Wednesday, at the opening ceremony of the 36th edition of the Book Fair, I was amazed at the level of organization of this major event in the region and in the Arab world. This would have not come to reality if it had not been for the efforts and care of the Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi. The ruler has worked so hard to make the city of Sharjah a beacon of knowledge.

The city that might be small in size yet is big in action, for it celebrates and hosts throughout the year events that care and celebrate the book and the author. Such events work on encouraging people to read, targeting in specific the young generation, thus aiming at the future while building a strong generation that reads and is full of knowledge.

The efforts by Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi earned the city the title of the Cultural Capital of the Arab world in 1998 by UNESCO, the Islamic Culture Capital of the Arab Region for 2014 and selected to be named the World Book Capital in 2019. The book fair attracted non-Arabs with sections that celebrated English authors and books of even other foreign languages, such as providing a whole section for Kerala, India, the only state of that nation that attained near 100 percent literacy where reading is encouraged and writers respected for their works in their native language Malayalam.

This swiftly brings us back here to a sad yet scary reality that the new generation virtually does not read as they are focused more on new technologies. It is my belief, and I could be wrong or right, that the new generation rarely reads because everything around them is happening too fast and they don’t have the time, even if they had nothing to do, to ascertain and understand anything as the world whizzes by.

We live in a fast-paced age where the new generation relies heavily on technology. Though they delve into this tech world deep to master it, their insulated knowledge however leaves them inadequately prepared in other areas. With so much involvement and time in the swift-changing technology, they do not see the necessity in allocating time to reading, while neglecting it as unimportant.

The first word ever that came in the Holy Qur’an was ‘Read’ “Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created.” In another verse of the Noble Qur’an, it reads, ““My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” Where would knowledge would come from, if it was not from reading?”

I have always wished that our schools would encourage our students to read at least one book a week and summarize it as a class exercise or explain to their classmates, in a form of presentation, their view on what the book is about. Here their being tech-savvy could be an important tool in discussing and disseminating the book through Power Point presentations or use of the Smart Board.

The book that the school would ask the student to review must be based on the student’s choice after the teacher had enlightened them on the relative merits of the books on offer. I would then expand the reading horizons, by making the students explore other languages — especially English — as they grow into the intermediate and senior levels.

This in my opinion would strengthen the habit of reading books in our students from a very young age. We must find ways to strengthen this reading habit, while inculcating a love relationship between our young students and books, which is sadly the opposite nowadays. I believe both parents and teachers have a leading role to play in devising enterprising ways to encourage and entice children toward reading.

However, what we see by the end of each semester year is the ungainly sight of books being thrown to the ground while some just torn apart. Positive actions like reading should always start at home, where the family elders should set the example by reading and encouraging reading. Families should inject in the heart and minds of youngsters to love books, which not only enables them to savor the richness of the language while making them adept at it too, it also expands their thought process with the infusion of fresh ideas.

The Jeddah International Book Fair will be held soon and I hope and wish that the organizers take a leaf out of the Sharjah International Book Fair’s flair, and emulate them to drive home the point of reading. A must should be for all schools to organize school trips for their students to the fair, like the one I have seen at Sharjah.

The main reason for such a move is not to force books on them, but to expose them to books. What was more beautiful sight was the families taking their children to the book fair and helping them make a choice. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing the youngsters organized in lines and visiting their favorite book sections and holding a book in their hands.

I wish also to see the organizers of the Jeddah Book Fair donating at least two books for free to each visiting students. I am sure that they will find what they want since all bookstores and major publishing companies are gathered in one place, instead of visiting multiple bookstores to find their choice material.

Margaret Fuller once said, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” While Sir Francis Bacon also said: “Reading maketh a man.” Such enlightened personalities could state this with conviction only because they knew that ‘with knowledge comes wisdom and with wisdom enlightenment’ — a need for any society.

Book fairs are a way to restore links and reconnect people with books and knowledge. The future will be bright if we have a generation that reads. For reading not only nourishes the intellect it also nurtures the imagination.

I would like to round off here by extending my gratitude to the organizers of the Sharjah International Book Fair for a wonderful event and experience. This city and its leaders are on a cultural mission to spread knowledge. My sincere advise to readers is that if there is time to visit the book fair do it, and if not, to mark it in the calendar for next year.

— The writer can be reached at Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng