A Journey To The East

A Journey To The East

Photos: Ismail Malallah

Arabs travelled to the East in the past by way of exploration. They were merchants in search of raw materials to earn their living, scholars in pursuit of knowledge, conquerors to spread religion and extend the boundaries of the emerging Islamic empire, or, as a reaction and on a journey backwards, to fight against counter conquests or invasion by warriors from the Far East who also planned to add new territories to their lands. But the Arabs centuries long journeys continued even after the Silk Road and sea routes, which in times of war and peace linked our near and middle Arab East with Asian countries, ceased to exist, as reported in historical facts or legends. In this way, Al-Arabi annual symposium The Arabs Heading East is a new journey to the East by sailors from the participant countries on board a new dhow named Al-Arabi which set sail from the port of Kuwait en route for rehabilitating Eastern-Eastern studies.

On a winter evening, at a hotel in the capital city of Kuwait (popularly called Deera ), and under the patronage of HH the Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser Al-Muhammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Shaikh Ahmad Al-Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Minister of Oil / Minister of Information opened Al-Arabi tenth symposium, an annual convention initiated by Dr Sulaiman Al-Askari shortly after he became editor-in-chief of the magazine out of his belief that Al-Arabi s dialogue with intellectuals should not stop at the monthly paper publication which appeared in 1958, but should extend to other spheres where it plays its role in stepping up its cultural activity worldwide. That led him to establish Al-Arabi s website: www.alarabimag.org, to attract new readers who may not be able to receive the paper magazine outside the countries where it is circulated.

Speeches and tunes

The opening evening included speeches, honouring a number of guests and institutions and a choral concert. In his speech, Shaikh Ahmad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah said he was pleased to represent the symposium patron, HH the Prime minister, may God protect him, and convey His Highness s greetings to the guests, wishing them a successful symposium and a pleasant stay in their second home. He welcomed the ambassadors and warmly greeted the academics from friendly countries in East Asia: Iran, South Korea, Singapore, Turkey, Tatarstan, as well as Kuwait s guests from brotherly Arab countries, and said:

As we celebrate the 50th anniversdary of the independence of the State of Kuwait this year, this forum of guests from about 20 brotherly and friendly countries, demonstrates that Kuwait is not only the land of the Arabs but the home of all human cultures at large, and the meeting ground of views calling for the interaction of civilizations and diversity of cultures.

We in Kuwait feel that the Arabs heading towards the East is not an immediate response to new political or economic events as the symposium title may give this impression but is the fruit of deeply-rooted historical relations established by Kuwait s captains and sailors and its merchants later. Scholars and researchers are today continuing this positive trend which places Kuwait in the core of relations with East Asia as well as with East-West Arabs relations. The state in general, and Ministry of Information depart-ments in particular, are keenly interested in East Asia. The Asian communities in Kuwait enjoy such a favourable healthy, cultural and media environment that they regard it as their second home. This is not confined to allowing them to open their private schools and places of worship as well as music troupes and social clubs, but includes providing them with print and audio-visual media in their own languages, out of the state s belief hat rational dialogue is a problem-solving, anti-violence approach, he said.

Sheikh Ahmad highlighted Kuwait balanced East-West media approach: Over four decades ago, or more exactly on 15 December 1969, Um Al Aish station for communication by satellite was officially inaugricated with two live TV programmes simultaneously, the first from Washington DC, the second from Tokyo. That shows how our media approach has since the early days of progress been balanced between East and West, he said. He referred to the launch in February 2009 of Al-Arabi cultural channel by Information Ministry to cover culture in its broad sense.

Kuwait s cultural institutions heading East

Talking about Kuwait s cultural heading East approach as represented in the titles of more than one cultural institution, Shaikh Ahmad said, It gives me great pleasure to highlight the role the Museum of Islamic Antiquities (MIA) has been playing since it was opened about 30 years ago, or more exactly on 23 February 1983 in a Kuwait National Museum building. It had 1200 artefacts then, rising to over 30,000 now collected from Muslim cities in the East, representing the journey of Islamic art since the 8th century AD and for ten centuries later and so on. The MIA houses antiquities from the Arab world in addition to China, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, India as well as Cyprus and elsewhere.

The MIA puts these treasures on display and has organized exhibitions around the world acting as a messenger exhibiting the treasures of our Islamic civilization, particularly in East Asia. The MIA has organized three international exhibitions in 29 countries attracting over three million visitors. The MIA is planning to continue such a form of important cultural activity, holding exhibitions, four of which I had the honour of opening.

In addition, he praised the role played by Al-Arabi Since it appeared in December 1958, Al-Arabi s editorial staff have realized the importance of communication with the East. They have introduced its views and prominent figures, presented translations of its literature and explored its countries. Similarly, the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters publish the culture of the East in its monthly publications, such as World Drama and the World of Knowledge, which affirms the approach the state and its cultural institutions have adopted, encouraging dialogue between Arab culture and old Asian cultures, he said.

Shaikh Ahmad referred to Asia s progress, We have seen the experiment of the Asian economic tigers and their ever-increasing rates of progress as well as their technological advances, which has placed these countries on the world map as such as powerful force that South Korea has recently hosted the G20 summit to declare a new economic order. This significant economic growth has been running in parallel with similar growth in the areas of culture and tourism, attracting millions of tourists, particularly from our Arab region. Our historical relations with Asia are not limited to the past or visits in the present. Joint institutions seeking the welfare of the citizens in both sides have been established. The Arab world, half of which lies in Asia, needs to develop stronger commercial, cultural and political relations with the Asian countries. We have to restore the ways ancient civilizations had been established to enrich our own civilization with. The Arab Gulf region in the past was a point of contract between Asia and Europe through seaports and border crossings, and there are air links today with its major international airports connecting the continents of the Old World, he said.

Concluding his speech, Shaikh Ahmad said, The titles of the symposium s papers and sessions are related to heading East, past present and future, review early travels from the Arab world to Japan and China and explore the Silk Road and sea routes which linked the Arabs with the East. Similarly, they discuss heading East as covered in the visual and print media as well as he interaction between Arab and Asian art, architecture and music and the influence of Sufism in Asian on the Arab East. In addition, the symposium considers an important issue: the state of translation from Arabic into the languages of the Asian continent spoken by half the world s population and vice versa. The picture is not complete without Al-Arabi explorers accounts of their Asian travels. Since their inception in 2001, Al-Arabi symposia have been subject to development to meet the needs of Arab intellectuals for a new forum of constructive dialogue. Accordingly, Electronic publishing issues have been discussed to follow the latest developments in this field, particularly as the magazine s website attracts millions of visitors every year. Scientific culture , a pivot of development, has also been discussed, and the magazine started publishing the free Scientific Arabi supplement to satisfy the needs of Arab readers for accessible scientific material. In addition, the magazine expanded the scope of East-West Arabs Dialogue , not to cause disagreements but to build mutual trust between the two parts of the Arab nation based on greater openness. The symposium entitled The West through Arab Eyes was intended to identify the Arabs attitudes to and impressions of the West vis à vis the West s attitudes to the Arabs. In the light of the demise of specialized periodicals and appearance of new ones, the magazine found it apt to discuss the Future of Cultural Magazines.

Out of its keen interest in Arabic Language Issues as a mirror of the nation s identity, it called for attaching considerable importance to Arabic in all cultural activities. Other symposia discussed Arab Child Literature and Contemporary Creativity , and today s title is The Arabs Heading East. That all comes in the context of the cultural and media role played by state-run cultural institutions and cultural, art and research NGOs , he said.

The symposium is not limited to discussion but provides a vivid example of cultural activity. It has honoured institutions and individuals whose works promote its views. Furthermore, it has acted on behalf of Kuwait as the land of the Arabs and the world. It has hosted creative writers, thinkers, intellectuals and media practitioners from the Arab world and elsewhere. That s why we fully trust that this symposium will raise the awareness of the importance of more profound communication with the East, which Kuwait and the Arab are part of. As we are pleased to start the call for such intellectual and academic dialogue from Kuwait, we hope your papers and discussions will contain new ideas for a better future for dialogue and cooperation for the sake of the coming generations, Shaikh Ahmad said.

Asia through Al-Arabi s eyes

Dr Sulaiman Ibrahim al-Askari, Al-Arabi s Editor-in-Chief, started his speech by greeting the symposium patron s represent-ative and then welcomed the state s guests on behalf of Al-Arabi whose pages are open to all worthwhile views and creative opinions and said:

Ten years ago we started a new convention: holding a symposium which combines academics and writers from the Arab East and West, and today we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of this event which reflects Al-Arabi s role as a cultural institution addressing the world at large from Kuwait, welcoming its thought, promoting its culture and respecting its civilization. As Al-Arabi was the nucleus of its cultural project with continuous guidance and unfailing support from HH the Amir of Kuwait Shaikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, we wish to extend our congratulations to His Highness, may God protect him, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of His Highness accession. Likewise, we congratulate the people of Kuwait on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of liberation and the 50th anniversary of independence and birth of the constitutional state. The date of this symposium which coincides with these celebrations affirms the principles of Kuwait that Al-Arabi is its messenger to the Arab world and the Arabs messenger to the world at large.

Reviewing al-Arabia s march over more than half a century, Dr Al-Askari said, In December 1958, Al-Arabi invented the most well-known slogan it addressed its readers from the Atlantic to the Gulf with: Know Your Homeland, Arabs. Accordingly, its pages covered country by country, city by city and explored outlying and near places, thus becoming an open book, a wide window through which the Arabs identified their forgotten cultures ad great civilizations. In less than two decades Al-Arabi s dialogue with the world extended beyond the Arab world to the Asian continent, the guest of honour of this symposium, which the magazine s editors and photographers introduced to Arab readers, exploring twenty four countries, making Al-Arabi the anthology of contemporary Arab travels.

Dr Al-Askari referred to a selection of the explorations published during 30 years which have been compiled in a book entitled Asia through Al-Arabi s Eyes and published in celebration of this year s symposium and said, We still hope Information Ministry will continue its generous support to help the magazine travel to new areas in Asia, as its pioneering effort stresses he importance of travel into place and time, since most knowledge comes from seeing. Despite the increasing number of TV channels and the arrival of cameramen at remote areas, words and personal impressions still give pictures value and credibility. Not only has Al-Arabi published explorations of Asian countries but it has also given outlines of Asian cultures in the areas of economics and arts and has even received writers from these countries who cam up with exclusive contributions for the magazine in Arabic.

Pioneering and continuing mission

Dr Al-Askari added, We at this symposium do not claim to be boosting the heading towards East Asia, but we rather believe that we are continuing the mission started by our grandfathers adventurous travellers, merchants or students, even in China, as the East has always been carrying the seeds of prosperity and progress. The history of Kuwait s relations with Asian countries shows that they have always been exemplary. Thanks to their good relations with these countries, Kuwaiti merchants were able to open more than 300 commercial offices in India before the discovery of oil. From India they moved to other Asian countries. Kuwaiti investments in Asia today have increased consdieraly in such areas as energy, property, agriculture, infrastructure and finance. As we place a high value on investment in commerce, industry and infrastructure, in which the Asians have made remarkable technological advances worldwide, we equally attach great importance to cultural investment, which we regard as the most valuable, since it is a vital ingredient for material progress. That s what makes us seek greater cultural cooperation with those countries which are willing to set up joint cultural projects for the sake of dialogue and mutual understanding. We hope this symposium with its papers and discussions will serve as a good starting point for identifying the areas of cultural communication and boosting cultural interaction between the Arabs and Asia.

Next, Dr Al-Askari referred to Al-Arabi s current projects, We have started addressing non-Arabs in English on our website, established ten years ago, visitors to which will find English translations of the explorations which have received good response from many cultural institutions. Some of these travels have been translated into Asian languages, including Japanese, Korean and Russian. This makes Al-Arabi s message to the world a concrete cultural reality. We are also pleased this evening to welcome an elite group of institutions and figures who have contributed to this dialogue with East Asia. Honouring them is a signal to the institutions involved in this field to continue building bridges of dialogue with East Asia, hoping their efforts will bear fruit, wishing them long life, he said.

Warning of the threat to the Asian Arab identity. Dr Al-Askari said, The biggest danger to us in the Arab East, from the Atlantic to the Gulf: and in East Asia, from the Japanese islands to Arabia is that of marginalization, division and wrangling. Our symposium and appeal are just designed to support all rich national cultures in the face of such challenges, dangers and disasters. We do not approve of the rejection of other cultures, but rather call for understanding them for the sake of humanity at large. Arab civilizations on the Nile, Euphrates, Tigris and other rivers coincided with the rise of other civilizations in the East, and the interaction of these civilizations through the Silk Road and sea routes is the fruit of the seeds of development we today see.

Dr Al-Askari announced preparations for the publication of a new specialized magazine, I m pleased to announce at this forum that the Scientific Arabi magazine s zero number, which is among the symposium documents, will appear shortly. Our experiment in scientific publications started five years ago with the Scientific Arabi supplement, the popularity of which showed the need for a special scientific periodical in Arabic.

This publication marks the successful culmination of efforts to promote scientific culture for the Arab youth. This may drive us to seriously consider our next project: publishing an English edition of Al-Arabi to boost our communication with the entire world which we have experimentally started with the translation of the editorials and explorations into English on our website. This is intended to bluild bridges of cultural dialogue with the world at large. It is this publication that we aspire to bring about and request you to assist us in this endeavour, Dr Al-Askari said.

Half a century of enlightenment

Dr Khalid Ern, Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) in Istanbul gave a speech on behalf of the guests and honourees in which he hailed Al-Arabi s enlightening role for over half a century, continuous attempt to spread science and knowledge across the Arab and Muslim world, constant effort to bring about affinity all over the Muslim world at large and strengthen the ties of friendship between the Arabs and Muslims. Al-Arabi has thus become a beacon of knowledge, thought, literature and culture.

Islam has, no doubt, combined our cultures across this vast region stretching from China in the East to eastern Europe in the West, and from central Asia in the North to Africa in the South. It is Islam that unifies our hearts and sentiments, the common ground on which many things are built, and the main factor underlying the establishment of our centre to strengthen ties of cooperation in the Muslim world, Dr Ern said.

An affiliate of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference, IRCICA was founded in 1979 as its first cultural agency carrying out a lot of activities in the areas of research, publication, informatics, librarianship, documentation, encouraging academic studies in culture, art and science in the Muslim world, Islamic antiquities and restoration of cultural and architectural heritage and related areas. In addition, IRCICA organizes a number of events, such as conferences, exhibitions and international competitions in art, architecture and handicrafts in association with member states scientific and cultural organizations.

Another honoured institution was College of Arabic Language, International Studies University, Beijing, (about fifty years old) where leading diplomats, journalists, professors and other experts in the areas of exchange between China and the Arab world were trained. The College Dean Dr Qang Hong Bi Zahera received the symposium shield.

The National Translation Centre (Egypt) was also honoured and its president Dr Gaber Asfoor received the shield. The centre started its effort with establishing the National Translation Project, which celebrated the publication of its one thousandth book in about 30 languages in early 2006.

The shield was also presented to Dr Victor Alkak on behalf of the Department of Persian Language and Literature of the Lebanese University. Established in 1959; the department graduates researchers in comparative Arab-Iranian studies and media practitioners with good command of Persian as spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikstan and Central Asia.

The scholar Dr Abdul Hadi Altazi received the shield on behalf of the Royal Moroccan Academy, established in 1977 to serve as a permanent coordination office for Arabization in Morocco and the Arab world at large. From 1973 to 2002, about 132,904 terms were made available to scholars, professors and students to enable Arabic to face challenges. In 2002, the academy published 29 Arabized dictionaries and 82,910 terms in 29 disciplines.

From Kuwait, the film director Abdul Mohsen Almikhyal (Almikhyal Artistic Production) was honoured. He has produced a number of documentary films, a significant part of which is about Asia.

As this outstanding cultural activity coincided with Kuwait s national celebrations, the songs played by the musicians and chorus of the Higher Institute of Music Arts under supervision of Dean Dr Sulaiman Aldikan played the songs previously performed by Arab singers, including Um Kolthum, Muhammad Abdul Wahab, Fairuz, Abdul Halim Hafiz, Shadi Alkhaleej and others in celebration of Kuwait s national days. Song words, with biographies of singers, writers and composers, have been compiled in a booklet, and most of the original soundtracks have been recorded on a special CD. The booklet and the CD are the Al-Arabi s present to its guests.

The first session: early journeys

The symposium s eight sessions discussed historical relations as well as future vision. The first session, chaired by the poet Abdul Aziz Saud Ababtain, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of his Poetic Creativity Foundation, discussed heading East, past, present and future. Dr Masood Daher (Lebanese University) reviewed the attitude of Japanese Arabists to Arab causes in the 20th century, saying that there are over 600 Japanese experts in Middle Eastern affairs, about 20 of whom in Arab issues, who showed solidarity with the Arab peoples who are subjected to the worst forms of exploitation and injustice because of Zionist settlements in Palestine. As a prompt response to Dr Daher s paper, Albabtain decided to publish a translaion of one of the masterworks of Japanese Arabists about the Arabs.

The second speaker was Dr Jaafar Karar, a specialist in Sudanese Chinese relations from the pre-Islamic era to the early 20th century, with special reference to the strong relations during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907), the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279), the Yuan dynasty (AD 1271-1368) and the Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644). He has for years been engaged in excavations of Chinese antiquities in the port of Izab and elsewhere in Sudan. In addition, according to Chinese and Arab sources, Red Sea ports in general and eastern Sudanese and Ethiopian ports in particular had contacts with the Far East and China from about the first century to the 16th century AD.

The Silk Road and sea routes

In the second session, chaired by Dr Abdullah Yusuf Alghonaim, President, Centre for Research and Studies on Kuwait, the eminent historian Abdul Hadi Altazi, member of the Royal Maroccan Academy, read a paper about Maghrib ravellers to the East, with special reference to Ibn Battuta. Mixing history and life he said deep reverence for the name of Fatima gave her many nicknames, e.g., Ibn Battuta, which means that his name is synonymouse with son of Fatima. Altazi gave evidence from Ibn Battuta s travels which he considered historical leaks the Wikileaks of its time. Among the things he showed was part of a document engraved on wood in the capital of the Maldives mosque found by Ibn Battuta during his visit in AH 744 (AD 1344).

Hussein Ismail, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of China Today magazine, who spent about two decades in China, where he got quite familiar with the growth of this economic giant, gave a paper about a journey from China to the East: the seven travels of the Chinese Sindbad admiral Qing Kha. He was different from European sailors in that in his seven travels across oceans and seas he was a messenger of peace, making friends and exchanging presents, culture and knowledge, whereas the others were pirates and colonialists who used all means to achieve their ends, as Magellan did. His discovery of a new route to India was not designed to identify these countries and their culture but rather to occupy them and plunder their wealth, he said.

Heading East as covered in the media

The writer Hussein Ismail spoke again in the next session chaired by Waleed Alnisf, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Qabas daily (Kuwait), as he read the paper of Farida Wang Fu, Editor-in-Chief of the China Today magazine, a model of Asian cultural publications in Arabic which write openly on China, We write about everything, problems in China: unemployment, poverty and corruption. We write about success in China as well: rapid economic growth, the fruit of the reform and open-door policy. We also write about weaknesses at work and mismanagement. We publish analyses and studies of economic and social development and related problems and challenges based on accurate data. In addition, we write stories for the general public, such as stories about workers and farmers, university graduates employment and marriages of the new generation.

The next speaker was Samir Arshadi, Professor of Persian at Kuwait University, who presented a paper on Shiraz Shiraz magazine, which introduces modern Iranian literature to the Arab reader, and is another model of Asian cultural publications in Arabic. He blamed the Arabs for not doing translations from Arabic into Persian.

In my paper entitled An Arab viewer of Asian oriented TV channels , which I presented in the same session, I called for establishing a channel broadcast in the languages of China (1.328 bn), India (1.021 bn), Japan (127.590 m), South Korea (48.333 m) and Iran (74.196 m), five languages of countries accounting for a third of the world s population! I make this call having monitored our linguistic and cultural presence on these channels, as seen in hosting icons of Arab culture, in addition to tourism and drama presence, which Arab viewers do not watch on CCTV-Arabia. But the central Chinese TV channel started presenting the Egyptian series Arabesque, starring Salah Alsaadani, at the rate of two episodes daily as the first Arab serial on Chinese TV dubbed into Chinese to attract as many viewers as possible. There are other forms of presence charitable, official and professional.

Al-Arabi s travellers

The fourth session, chaired by the writer Fahmy Hweidi, was devoted to a review of Al-Arabi travellers experiences in Asia. Hweidi himself spoke first about his Journeys to Muslim countries, particularly those which formed part of the former Soveit Union. Though living far away, the peoples of those countries were deeply attached to religion and practised it out of piety, and found in Sufism what preserves Islam.

The novelist Muhammad Almakhzangi s account of his journeys took the form of a literary piece in which he stressed the need for reading demographic geography with all its ills in the basins of Asian rivers. That s what he did in his explorations which he chose their locations himself.

As Hweidi, Qandil and Almakhzangi belonged to generations who previously worked for Al-Arabi and were pioneers in its explorations, the current generation was represented in this session by the writer Ibrahim Al-Mulaifi and myself. Stressing the Malaysian and Vietnamese experiments in economic progress and modernization, Al-Mulaifi said the East possesses more than what we need. He gave a brief account of a rare journey to Japan in the 1930s by an Arab traveller who was eager to identify its early progress before World War II, advising us to follow the example of Japan and take the ingredients for its progress as guidelines to avoid failures that nations may suffer at the dawn of their progress and transformation.

Among other things, my paper entitled In the heart of Asia called for three approaches to rediscovering the East: looking for what is left of the ties with the Muslims and Arabs; exploring these regions characteristic arts; identifying the secrets of progress.

The East and West: interaction among the arts

The above-titled session took place next morning and was chaired by Dr Sulaiman Abdul Moneim, Secretary-General, Arab Thought Foundation (Beirut).

Dr Halah Ahmad Fuad (Egypt) gave a preliminary reading of Albairouny s book Invetigating India s Reasonable and False Arguments in which she attempted to reveal possible deception embedded in the text, i.e., mechanisms of more evasive interaction between the host and the guest civilizations subjectively worked out by the writer influenced by his cultural, cognitive and ideological attitudes and even his class and ethnic affiliation as well as his complex experiment which is full of rich ironies within his cultural reality which in turn is characterized by diversity, richness and sophistication.

Dr Nizar Ghanim (Yemen) discussed the relationship between Arabian and Asian music, with special reference to the Yemeni-Indian model according to two theories: the first (which he adopted) is the theory of cultural waves or widening circles formulated by the German Erick von Hornbosteil in the mid-19th century; the second is intertextuality, which features prominently in literary and artistic genres, not only in music and song as performance arts.

The Lebanese poet Abdou Wazin put Afghanistan on the symposium s map. He presented the works of the poet Bahauddin Majrouh Ajab, which have not been translated into Arabic (or any other language), except for a very few poems which do not do him justice or reflect his eminence. As his mother tongue was Persian, his works, like those of Persian (Iranian) poets, could have been translated into Arabic, but Arab and Persian translators neglected him. That might have been the fate of that poet, who started writing the Afghani Exile epic in 1979, that Afghanistan fell under Soviet domination. Ironically, he fled Communism to Pakistan, but was not safe from the Communists or the fundamentalists as he was killed in front of his house in Peshawer (Pakistan) in 1988.

East Asia reads Arabic literature

Dr Masood Daher chaired the above-titled session in which he spoke about the translations of Arabic literature into Chinese by Dr Qang Hong Bi. She sad that after a long, difficult beginning, translation developed in a climate of reform and became free and open. Now there are a number of good Chinese translators as well as official and academic publishers, with impressive results in this field.

Equally optimistic, the Indian writer/translator Shahjahan Madmabat said that in the light of the dramatic economic and cultural progress which Indian has recently witnessed and growth of the middle class who read international literature, there are bright prospects for introducing modern Arabic literature, which is full of vividness, to Indian readers in their own languages. In this connection, he called on the persons nd institutions concerned to double their efforts to translate Arabic literature into India s languages.

From another point of view, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Rahmat Allah (Head of Arabic Department, Calicut University, Kerala, India), spoke about the status of Arabic literature and its translations into India s languages, and presented good examples. Nonetheless, he was unhappy about the fact that Arabic literary works, whether original or in translation, receive no encouragement in India except from some academics, as the teaching of Arabic language and literatures is still the domain of dedicated religious scholars who have over the centuries preserved the language and refuse to teach new novels!

After reviewing the history of translation from Arabic into Persian, Dr Nesrine Shakibi (Alzahraa University, Tehran) said a large number of Iranian translators were poets, and, naturally, they were quite willing to translate poetry into their mother tongue. But the translation of fiction requires a considerable amount of patience, which modern man lacks. In addition, many conversations in Arabic works of fiction are colloquial, which makes translation a hard task if the translator has not lived in these countries, and translators are unwilling to translate the works which clash with the values and morals of Iranian society.

The Arabs and Asia: mutual influences

Dr Jaafar Karar chaired the above-titled session in which Dr Shihab Ghanim (UAE) presented a paper discussing Arab-Asian relations, with special reference to India. As he said, poetry is the spirit of a nation, and translating poetry promotes communication and dialogue of civilizations. He stressed that cultural relations with India and the East should be a top priority for the Arabs, as China and India are achieving extremely rapid progress. In her paper Dr Nouriya Krayeva (Tatarstan) looked at the 25,000 Arabic manuscripts in Tatarstan; which were academically collected in 1807 by Kazan Imperial University (est. 1803) on the opening of the Oriental College, the first in Russia and the start of teaching Oriental languages into Arabic.

Away from poetry and the treasures of manuscripts, and in the sphere of science, Gamal Ghattas, Editor-in-Chief, Language of the Times magazine, stressed the need for heading East as far as academic issues are concerned, as this eliminates the unfavourable terms dictated by the West in research and technical cooperation agreements with the Arab countries. He gave several examples of what Egypt faced in this respect.

The Arabs read Asian literature

In the closing session, chaired by Dr Sulaiman Ibrahim Al-Askari, the speakers gave in depth accounts of their experiments in translating Asian literature into Arabic. Dr Sulaiman Abdul Moneim, Secretary. General, Arab Thought Foundation, gave a report on the recommendations put forward concerning the translation of Asian works. Dr Victor Alkak spoke about translations between Arabic and Persian, affirming that Arabic had always been the language of the elite rather than the general public. He looked forward to affinity between the Arab and Persian cultures, even after a century!

The Egyptian translator Kamel Yusuf Hussein, who has translated about 80 Chinese and Japanese books through English, raised many question marks about the criteria for choosing Asian literary works for translation into Arabic, either directly or through another language, the projects which combined such translations and the secrets about the total absence of particular literary works from translations into Arabic.

Dr Gaber Asfoor gave an account of the early plans for the National Translation Project in 1995 under the Higher Culture Council, which became an autonomous National Translation Centre later, and how translations into Arabic centred round European-American sources. The language of most of the creative and intellectual works in these sources is English, which is unacceptable if we want to carry out a translation project free from European-American influences. Any national translation project must be open to all cultures of the globe.

As the project is based on the promotion of cultural diversity, and recognition that translation contributes significantly to development and progress and is a vital means for a balanced dialogue of civilizations, it was only logical that cultural diversity would manifest itself in the choice of the project books at the Higher Culture Council, then the National Translation Centre. That was designed to broaden the scope of dialogue and present direct and indirect examples of the ways and means of overall development across he world translated directly from their original languages to ensure grasping the meaning and significance of the text readily easily.

The symposium final statement

The statement which Dr. Sulaiman Al-Askari read out, referred to all issues raised in the discussions. Dr Al-Askari thanked HE the Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser Al-Muhammad Al-Sabah for his patronage o the symposium and said:

We have for three days had the pleasure of the company of elite Arab thinkers and creative writers as well as researchers and media figures from Iran, India, Tatarstan, Singapore, Turkey, China and South Korea. Our gathering has crowned an idea initiated by the Arab pioneers of travel to East Asia-students, sailors or merchants, who set sail East, as have the participants in this symposium. I would also like to highlight the participation of Arab and international institutions: Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (Istanbul), Arab Thought Foundation (Beirut), National Translation Centre (Cairo), Union of Asian Journalsits, (Seoul) University of International Studies College of Arabic Language, Royal Moroccan Academy, in addition to a number of universities and press organizations across the vast expanse which the symposium covers.

The in-depth discussions that followed the presentations of scholarly papers and eyewitness accounts of travels in Asia prove beyond doubt that heading East is not a new trend, but a natural activity and approach and a strong need for culture. The symposium s conclusion stresses the need for better understanding of contemporary East Asia, for, as historical studies support the present, the study of the present explores the future. We also stress that we should head towards the East as an Arab nation rather than individuals. We should specify what we need from the East more imaginatively in the context of a long-term strategy for decades rather than one or two years.

Translation from Arabic into East Asian languages plays the key role in the promotion of dialogue with East Asia. We should therefore make concerted efforts as part of a more ambitious plan to build on previous achievements. There should be further coordination between institutions and individuals in translating literary works, as well as human, scientific, professional and educational experiences.

The East s libraries house treasures of Arabic manuscripts, which form a considerable part of our heritage and civilization. These need to be restored, archived or edited in order to bridge the gap in the collective memory of man s civilization in which it has for centuries been the cornerstone.

In addition, the symposium endorses the ideas which call for two-way communication and exchange of knowledge beween the Arabs and the East through a media window addressing a third of the world s population in their own languages. The symposium also calls for incorporating sufficient information about East Asia into school curricula to ensure that the coming generations have a broader knowledge of cultures, civilizations and societies which we may differ from or agree with.

Exchange of art between the Arabs and Asia is also important for continuing centuries-long cultural interaction and enhancing understanding and dialogue. The proceedings for the symposium will be collected in one or more volumes to the published in a forthcoming issue of Al-Arabi Book series to be a document signed by participants from 20 countries.

(Translated by Dr Shaaban Afifi)


Ashraf Abul-Yazid


A scene from one of the meetings of the seminar magazine Arab Arabs heading east

Arab Symposium logo

HH Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the Crown Prince, State of Kuwait receives Al-Arabi symposium shield

Al-Arabi symposium guests hosted by the Crown Prince, State of Kuwait

VIPs at the opening ceremony: the Indian Ambassador to Kuwait, Gaye Melhutra; former Information Minister Muhammad Alsanoosy; Shaikh Ahmad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah, Oil Minister/ Information Minister; Sheikha Freiha Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah

Scholars, writers, thinkers and media figures from 20 countries were invited to the "Arabs Heading East” symposium

The ceremony patron, accompanied by the Editor-in-Chief, tours the "Asia through Al-Arabi’s Eyes” exhibition

Asian figures at the "Asia through Al-Arabi’s Eyes” exhibition

Asian figures at the "Asia through Al-Arabi’s Eyes” exhibition

Asian figures at the "Asia through Al-Arabi’s Eyes” exhibition

Asian figures at the "Asia through Al-Arabi’s Eyes” exhibition

Dr Khalid Ern, Director-General Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, receives the symposium shield

The symposium shield presented to Shaikh Ahmad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah, Oil Minister / Information Minister

The concert given by musicians and chorus of the Higher Institute of Musical Arts in Kuwait at the end of the opening ceremony

The 500-page Asia through Al-Arabi’s Eyes” book containing selections of Al-Arabi’s explorations in Asian countries

The Kuwaiti poet Abdul Aziz Saud Al-Babtain chairs the opening session in which Dr Masood Daher (Lebanon) and Dr Jaafar Karar (Sudan) gave a paper each

A copy shown by the historian Altazi of part of a document engraved on wood in the capital of the Maldives mosque, found by Ibn Battuta during his visit in AD 1344

The second session, chaired by Dr Abdullah Yusuf Al-Ghonaim, President, Centre for Research and Studies on Kuwait), in which the eminent historian Dr Abdul Hadi Altazi

The "Road and Sea Media Routes” session, chaired by Waleed Alnisf, Editor-in-Chief, Al-Qabas daily, in which Hussein Ismail, Samir Arshadi and Ashraf Aboul-Yazid presented a paper each

The "East and West: Interaction among the Arts” session, chaired by Dr Sulaiman Abdul Moneim, Secretary-General, Arab Thought Foundation, Beirut, in which Dr Halah Ahmad Fuad, Dr Nizar Ghanim and Abdou Wazin gave a paper each

Dr Jaafar Karar chairs the "Arabs and Asia: Mutual Influences” session in which Dr Shihab Ghanim (UAE), Dr Nouriya Krayeva (Tatarstan Republic, the Russian Federation) and Gamal Ghitas (Egypt) read a paper each

In the fourth session, chaired by the wirter Fahmy Hweidi, Al-Arabi’s travellers to Asia Muhammad Almansi Qandil, Muhammad Almakhzangi and Ashraf Aboul-Yazid spoke about their experiences there

Dr Masood Daher chairs the "Asian East Reads Arabic Lierature” session in which Nesrine Shakibi Mumtaz (Iran), Shahjahan Modmabat, Dr Ahmad Rahmat Allah (India) and Dr Qang Bi Zahera (Cina) read a paper

The closing session, chaired by Dr Sulaiman Ibrhaim Al-Askari, Editor-in-Chief, Al-Arabi, in which Drs Sulaiman Abdul Moneim, Gaber Asfoor and Victor Alkak and the translator Kamel Yusuf Hussein

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