Arab Literacy: Knowledge Transfer and Translation in the Arab World

KafkaOnTheShore Kalima

Into Arabic: Translation in the Arab World

Did you know that more books were translated into Spanish last year that have been translated into Arabic in the past 1,000 years?* That’s saying something serious about the cultural exchange between Arabia and the rest of the world.

So what’s the significance?

BrieferHistoryofTime Kalima

Thousands of books are published every year. Books– and the words therein– represent thinking, ideas, and conversation. Books in translation mark ideas and knowledge transfer across global cultures and communities. Without reading writings from other cultures, we can’t learn their thoughts firsthand, we can only speculate as to their thinking through their actions and policies.

If the Arab world is not translating books, it either means that their people are so proficiently multi-lingual that there is no need (the ultimate cultural connoisseurs) are they are not partaking in the exchange at all.

From common sense, we can legitimately deduce that no world culture today is sufficiently globally literate as to forgo translation.

(* Source. Pictured: Kafka on the Shore, A Briefer History of Time)

The Kalima Project

ArabRootsofCapitalism Kalima

A translation project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to change this. The Kalima Project, a government sponsored endeavor, recently announced that they will translate, publish, and distribute hundreds of books throughout the Middle East.

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal asks us to think about what books we would want included to best portray American culture. I can’t help but thinking that’s a little like the question of what to bring to a desert island (seeing as I equate water and books with survival).

Here are the titles on Kalima’s to do list. The first 6 translations are:

Kalima encourages you to leave your suggestions for future translations (coming soon). I will also be interested in following their discussion board, which is currently under construction.

(Pictured: The Roots of Arab Capitalism)

Arab Literacy

FutureofHumanNature Kalima

Curious as to Kalima’s viability? According to a survey by the Next Page Foundation, 75% of literate Arabs are regular readers, with the most bookish among them hailing from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

You may also be interested in reading about the Next Page Foundation’s Arabooks Iniatives, a translation project whose goals mirror that of the Kalima Project. Look to the link for the foundation’s surveys and findings.

(Pictured: The Future of Human Nature)


All images sourced from Kalima’s website.

Recommended Reading

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

And my series about technology integration in the Middle East and Muslim Countries:



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3 Responses to Arab Literacy: Knowledge Transfer and Translation in the Arab World

  1. […] Israel, Maya Norton writes about the UAE-based Kalima project, which aims to translate books written in different languages […]

  2. […] “Arab Literacy: Knowledge Transfer and Translation in the Arab World” […]

  3. This topic is quite hot in the net at the moment. What do you pay attention to while choosing what to write about?
    p.s. Year One is already on the Internet and you can watch it for free.

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