Dubai: The semi-finalists of the sixth Arabic reading challenge, who are Arab students living abroad, gathered at the Mohammed bin Rashid Library in Dubai on Wednesday for a final interview, on the eve of the awarding of the champion of Arabic reading which will be announced on Thursday, November 10.
They came from various parts of the world – from Europe, North America, Asia – all vying for the top honors of the largest ever Arabic literacy initiative launched in 2015 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.
The award ceremony, which will be held in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place at the Dubai Opera on Thursday, and the total prize to be awarded is 1.9 million dirhams, divided in 1 million Dirhams for the best school, 500,000 Dh for the first champion, 300,000 Dh for the outstanding supervisor and 100,000 Dh for the community champion (a category for Arab students living in non-Arab countries).
Millions of young people
More than 22 million students from 92,000 schools participated this year. Sheikh Mohammed earlier tweeted: “Millions of young Arabs rush to read 50 books every year which is a push towards a better future for all of us… Since its launch in 2015, the Arabic Reading Challenge has attracted the participation of nearly 79 million students. They are the beacon of knowledge that will guide our development in the decades to come.
Sheikh Mohammed also pointed out that the Arab Reading Challenge is the most important and successful investment in Arab minds, to recapture the glories of Arab civilization, creating new generations capable of advancing their societies.
Meet the Readers
On Wednesday, Gulf News spoke with some participating Arab students living in foreign countries.
Habiba Mousa Eid, 9, representing New Zealand
Nine-year-old Habiba Mousa Eid is taking part in the Arab Reading Challenge for the first time, representing New Zealand in the category of Arab students living abroad.
Habiba was born in Egypt and her parents moved to New Zealand when she was five. She is now in grade 5 and attends an English school, but her first language is Arabic.
She is fluent in Arabic and English. His mother, Rehab Abdelmoniem, was his first teacher, who taught him to read and write in Arabic.
For the reading challenge, Habiba said she read about 50 Arabic books and another 50 English books for a total of 100 titles in the past year. His favorite book is Saher Oz El Ageeb, originally written in English and titled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by author Lyman Frank Baum and illustrated by WW Denslow.
Yousef Al Awadhi, 16, representing Italy
Kuwaiti teenager Yousef Al Awadhi is an 11th grade student at Marymount International in Rome. Her father, who works in the oil industry for the Kuwaiti government, brought the family to Italy five years ago.
Yousef is fluent in Arabic, English and Italian. He represents Italy and it is also the first time that he has taken part in the reading challenge. He said he became an enthusiast only five years ago.
He told Gulf News: “I wanted to understand world history and politics. I also wanted to learn more about the history of the Middle East and Europe. I also read economics and finance books.
“For the contest, I’ve completed a total of 25 books in the past year alone. The more I read, the more curious I become about things, which led me to read more books. Reading is a rich source of knowledge and it helps us better understand the world. That’s why I also encourage young people like me to read more,” he added.
Maroua El Bakri, 11, representing Spain
Maroua El Bakri is in her 6th year at the Escuela Parque de las Aguas in Spain. She was born in Morocco and her family moved to Spain in 2015. Her mother tongue is Amazigh, an indigenous language of North Africa. She is also fluent in four languages, including Arabic, Spanish, French and Catalan.
For the Arab Reading Challenge, she told Gulf News, she read a total of 65 books, mostly in Arabic and some were written in French, Spanish and Catalan. One of his favorite early books is called Al Bajaat Al Mutawahesha (Wild Swan).
Maroua credits her father, Abdelaziz El Bakri, as her first teacher and language mentor, who taught her to read Arabic when she was two years old.
His message to young people: “Read and discover the richness of Arab culture and history. Reading Arabic literature also helps us connect with our past, even if we live in other countries.
Sana Aziz, 11, representing the UK
Sana Aziz is currently in Year 7 at Cardiff High School in Wales. She was born in Iraq but her family moved to the UK when she was 18 months old.
Sana describes herself as an avid reader of Arabic and English books. She said that in the past year alone, she has completed more than 25 Arabic fiction and non-fiction books, as well as other books in English.
“It takes me about 3-5 days to finish a normal novel,” she told Gulf News, adding, “I love reading history, fantasy, and YA (young adult) novels.”
His mother, Semaa Ismael, was also his first teacher and the one who instilled in him a love of reading. As for her future career, she plans to one day become a scientist, pharmacologist or doctor.
Dora Alhalabi, 13, representing Norway
Dora Alhalabi is no stranger to the Arab Reading Challenge, having participated in the competition since 2020.
She was born in Syria and her family moved to Norway in 2008. She is fluent in Arabic, Norwegian, English and is now learning to speak Spanish.
Dora said she was six years old when she read her first book in Arabic and since then she has completed over 600 books in Arabic, English and Norwegian.
Dora is currently in 8th grade at Tonning Skule in Norway. She was a finalist in the previous edition of the Community Champions Award and her aim is to finish in first place this year.