The opening ceremony of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) is always a special occasion and this year’s did not disappoint. Once again there were swirling images and film on three giant, curving screens like the hulls of a ship, and eventually spelling out the message of this year’s fair: ‘There is a book for that’.
In his speech His Highness, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Member of the Supreme Council, chose the Arabic language itself as his theme and talked about a project close to his heart: the publishing in several volumes of a dictionary of classical Arabic.
This is a project that His Highness has been working on for several years, along with Arabic language experts from Cairo to Mauritania, some 15 or so who gathered on stage for a special picture with His Highness.
“This has been a joint effort involving several different bodies,” His Highness said. “The Arabic language is so rich and so vast – and the dictionary we are working on is a work of great beauty.”
The first volume of the dictionary has now been published and there is also a digital version at www.almojam.org
Among winners of honours and awards at this year’s fair was Kuwaiti writer Taleb Al Refai, who was named Cultural Personality of the Year. He gave a poetic address in which he said that Sharjah “quenches the thirst of the spirit and spreads happiness and pride”. Sharjah is different he said, “because it has a Ruler who has adorned the emirate with love, with his love for the book – he has created a state of culture”.
He thanked both His Highness for his support for books, and the work of the Sharjah Book Authority, Ahmed al Amri who, earlier on, had greeted the audience – which included Nobel Prize for Literature winner Abdulrazak Gurnah – with a warm smile, and no wonder. “We are the number one book fair in the world,” he said. “We are now the biggest book fair in the world. Since 2011 we have given out 1649 translation grants, and 1493 books have been published because of the support of Sharjah.”
Representing guest of honour country Spain, Patrici Tixis, acting president of the Spanish Federation of Publishers, said: “It is a great honour to be here, to share this deep concern about culture and to recognise that books and culture build solid bridges between all of us”.