First mega encyclopedia on Arab-Islamic civilization completes

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (MBRF), a leading organization committed to the dissemination of knowledge across the Arab world, has announced the completion of the first encyclopedia in English on the Arab and Islamic Civilization in Sicily documenting the period from the 8th to 13th century.

Following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by MBRF with Dr Salma Al Khadra Al Jayyousi, author of the compilation and eminent Palestinian translator and academician, MBRF retains sole rights to publish, market and distribute the tome within the UAE and around the world. As part of the agreement, MBRF will also have the exclusive right to translate the book into any foreign language.

The agreement to publish the compilation of Dr Salma Al Khadra Al Jayyousi articulates MBRF’s efforts to spread the values of Arab and Islamic thought and history across Western societies and further their understanding of the Middle East region, its people, culture and way of life.

The completion of the encyclopedia, which is set to be published later this year, was announced at a ceremony headlined by His Excellency Jamal Bin Huwaireb, Managing Director of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, Dr Salma Al Khadra Al Jayyousi, Dr Salah Al Qassim, Advisor to the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, Dr Muhammad Abdul Rahman, Director of the College of Islamic and Arabic Studies, Dubai, and Professor Ahmad Al Serkal, Director of Al Serkal Cultural Foundation, as well as eminent media personalities and staff of the Jamal Bin Huwaireb Library.

The encyclopedia traces the significant impact of Islamic civilization on the small Mediterranean island of Sicily, particularly on diverse aspects of life such as agriculture, commerce, architecture and the economy. It comprises over 33 research studies that trace the history of the Arabic and Islamic civilization at a time when it was considered a radiant cultural hub in the Mediterranean basin. The encyclopedia focuses on Sicily's Islamic and Arabic heritage including art and literature, while detailing the circumstances that brought together three Arab geographers on the island - Ibn Hawqal, Ibn Jubayr and Al Idrissi.

The encyclopedia particularly focuses on key topics such as the history of Sicily before, during and after the 200 years of Islamic reign. It also explores the domination of the Arabic and Islamic identity for a further two centuries following the departure of the Muslims.

Interestingly, 33 researchers including 15 Italians and others hailing from different Arab and Western countries have helped in collating information for this multidimensional publication. Some of the wide variety of themes the encyclopedia covers include: the Italian language and the impact of Arabic on the Italian language, the arts of Islamic architecture that are prominent in the alleys of many towns and cities, and the different literary works, sciences, music and literary styles that characterized the era of Arab rule of Sicily. The impact of Arabic literature and culture on different Italian literary works that in turn helped shape the growth of Italian civilization are also discussed.

Jamal Bin Huwaireb, Managing Director of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, said: “Through partnering in the publication of this pioneering work, MBRF aims to fulfil one of the important objectives that led to its inception through a grant by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai – the dissemination of knowledge and literary innovation with the view to empowering and embracing talented thinkers, emerging innovators and prominent Arab intellectuals and developing a knowledge economy as envisioned by our leadership.”

He noted that MBRF’s initiatives not only aim to enhance the knowledge capabilities of the Arab world, but also serve to highlight the status of the Arab culture on the international arena.

Bin Huwaireb added: "Achieving this objective requires concerted intellectual and cultural dialogue with the rest of the world. Other cultures would be part of such dialogue only if they are aware of the essence of the Arabic culture, and understand its phenomenal contribution to world civilizations. The encyclopedia of Arab-Islamic civilization in Sicily marks a first-of-its-kind milestone for MBRF in producing an encyclopedia. This magnificent work involved considerable effort and time by the author and researchers to collate a fitting history of our ancestors.

“The encyclopedia will serve as a ready reference to many researchers and historians interested in understanding the influence of Arab and Islamic civilization on Sicily and the trade routes that connected it with the Arab and Islamic civilization. We are confident the encyclopedia will find strong resonance among researchers and Western historians who in the past were limited by the lack of information in English on this crucial historic period.”

Dr Salma Al Khadra Al Jayyousi said: "I have known of the MBRF since its inception and was keen to have the Foundation involved in the publication of this work. The project has required five years of hard work – to begin with it was not easy to identify qualified researchers and specialists who could effectively collate valuable information across various themes, especially in the complex literary areas of Sicilian music, culinary arts, as well as Sicilian culture and how it was influenced by Arabic culinary traditions. "

Al Jayyousi added: "This encyclopedia sails across the pages of history documenting the rich Arab influence through interesting examples. The Normans who invaded Sicily were impressed with the greatness of Islamic civilization. They benefited from the knowledge of the Arabs in administration and statesmanship, and admired Arab lifestyle. The Islamic presence in Sicily lasted over a 250 year-period and contributed to many of the literary and scientific achievements of our time."

Al Jayyousi urged sustained efforts at translating Arab literary works of merit by academicians and authors. She pointed out that during her stay in the US where she worked as faculty at universities she had realized the weak influence Arab literature in contemporary Western societies primarily due to the lack of access to effective translations of such works in English. This prompted her to introduce Arabic literature to Westerners.

In 1980, she established the Project of Translation from Arabic (PROTA), a translation initiative to spread the works of Arab culture in the US and Western countries. The project aimed to rectify misconceptions in the West about Arab civilization, through the translation of selected literary texts from Arabic to English.

She also established the East-West Nexus in 1991 - an association of translators and writers seeking to increase intellectual property and content about the Arab and Islamic civilization with well-documented scientific studies. The Encyclopedia of Islamic Civilization in Andalusia, published in 1992, is an example of such efforts.

Dr Al Jayyousi has been awarded for her leading role in promoting education and culture in the Arab world and for her yeomen service to promoting Arab and Islamic literature and history across the globe.

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