Arab Reading Challenge contestants showing special ARC stamps in passport on arrival at DXB
Arab Reading Challenge contestants showing special passport stamps commemorating the event, upon their arrival recently at Dubai International Airport Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: Emirati Mohammed Eisa Alhammadi, 18, is excited for the seventh edition of the Arab Reading Challenge (ARC). He is one of the candidates pitted to win the Challenge, which is expected to announce winners tomorrow (October 31).

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Mohammed Eisa Alhammadi Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

Another candidate from the UAE – an Emirati schoolgirl Amna Al Mansouri, who read 128 books during the academic year and took top spot to become UAE champion - is also in the race to become the Arab champion.

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Amna Al Mansouri Image Credit: Supplied

Mohammed Ghareeb, is also representing UAE in the “People of determination” category.

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Mohammed Ghareeb Image Credit: Supplied

In an interview with Gulf News, ahead of the Awards ceremony, Alhammadi said reading changed his life. The two-time champion of ARC said the Challenge also made him a more mature individual. He said his personality has changed for the better after he registered for the Arab Reading Challenge.

The Medical student at University of Sharjah and two-time winner of the Challenge for UAE – said – reading helped him to grow and mature as an individual. “I was very shy before. But thanks to all the reading I have been doing – it has helped me to grow as an individual.”

Alhammadi who read 300 books for this edition of ARC, said his decision to become a doctor was also based on the inspirational science books he read.

Winners of the seventh edition of the ARC will be announced on Tuesday, October 31. It is an initiative launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to encourage students to read.

Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama, CEO of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, said: “When the first edition was launched, 3 million students participated. Today in the seventh edition, we have more than 24 million students taking part from 46 countries for the Award. This just goes to show how successful the initiative has become.”

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Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

Al Olama also said 188,000 schools are contesting for the Best School award, while over 150,000 supervisors are in the race for “Outstanding Supervisor” award. This year, over 22,000 students are contesting in the “people of determination” category.

“The biggest achievement we have made so far is that the Challenge has encouraged students to read. They are expected to read at least 50 books to participate in the Challenge, so you can imagine the vast knowledge gained by the students,” said Al Olama, adding over 2,500 students have also come from other parts of the world.

“For me everybody who read and took part in the Challenge is a winner all the way.”

Prize pool

Winners of the Award ceremony will walk away with prize monies. The best school earns a prize money of Dh1 million. Winner of the Champion award will take home Dh500,000, while the best supervisor will take home Dh300,000. Winner in the “Community” category will take home Dh100,000.

Former UAE expat, now living in Norway, is short-listed in the “community” category. Reetaj Ourwa Baath, 11, a Grade 7 student living in Norway but originally from Syria, said she fell in love with books when she was five years old. Today she has read over 500 books so far. “I love reading. Fiction is my favourite genre of books, but I love reading generally. I read many books.”

Reetaj Ourwa Baath Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

Hussain Al Mahdi, 16, a Grade 11 student living in Al Ahsaa, Saudi Arabia said he is excited to be shortlisted for the ARC. The Reading Challenge champion of Saudi Arabia said his favourite writer of all time is William Shakespeare. “His stories have touched me very closely.”

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Hussain Al Mahdi Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

Belal Alturkmani, 17, living in São Paulo, Brazil, another candidate at the ARC said books give him hope. The Brazilian national with Syrian origin said his favourite author and book happens to be Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani. “Reading is a great tool that empowers individuals. I am so happy to be taking part in the ARC. I feel happy to be short-listed.”

Belal Alturkmani Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

British national Fatima Abdullatif Noor, 14, said one of her favourite author is Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. “His writing and books touch my heart. They are very inspirational.”

Fatima Abdullatif Noor Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

Other candidates - Nagm Aldin Bazel Hamed 12 of Djibouti, Malak Omrani, 12, of Morocco, Wajd Fantool Aloun, 17, from Mafraq, Jordan also expressed pride and excitement to be part of the ARC.

Malak Omrani Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

The final round of qualifiers on Monday, underwent several qualification stages at the Mohammed bin Rashid Library to select the Community Champion of the seventh edition of the Arab Reading Challenge.

The winner will be announced on Tuesday out of 26 Arab students at Dubai Opera.

Wajd Fantool Aloun Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

The finalists underwent several qualification stages to demonstrate their Arabic fluency in speech and writing despite living in non-Arabic speaking countries.

The specialised jury will select the winner based on the comprehension of text, ability to communicate accurately in Arabic, overall language skills, as well as critical and creative thinking. Participants are also evaluated based on the diverse selection of books and ability to demonstrate an analytical understanding of the texts.

The Arab Reading Challenge has allocated Dh200,000 for the Community Champion award with aims to encourage participants to continue expanding their knowledge in the Arabic language. The first place winner walks away with Dh100,000, second place winner receives Dh70,000, and third place winner gets Dh30,000.

Strengthening Arab identity

Mohammad Al Gergawi, Secretary General of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, said the significant additions to the seventh Arab Reading Challenge, and the Challenge itself, reflect the vision of Sheikh Mohammed of promoting knowledge and highlighting the importance of the Arabic language.

“The success of the Challenge in its seventh edition is testament to its importance and role across the Arab world. Not only does it reinforce the status and presence of the Arabic language among the young generation in the region, but the Reading Challenge also seeks to bolster the sense of belonging among Arab communities abroad, encouraging them to hone their Arabic language skills and solidify their cultural identity,” he said.

Active reading

Participants from foreign countries demonstrated an active reading and understanding of books, despite the difficulties that faced some students Arabic articulation.

The finalists competing for the Community Champion category are: Bilal Al Turkmani (Brazil), Mousa Al Ibrahim (Canada), Ahmed Salah Sabah Al Naqeeb (China), and Mohannad Ashraf Hassan Al Basyouni Hassan (Greece), Haneen Elaf Tahsin (Iraq, Kurdistan), Mohammad Abd al-Raqib Ali Ahmed Al Kawkabani (Malaysia), AbdulRahman Ahad Rayhan (United Kingdom), Fawzia Musalman (Saudi School - India), Maria Rayhana Al Rahman Lopez (Indonesia), Ruqaya Saleh Hassan Al Hassan (Finland), Ratel Ahmed (Switzerland), Malak Al Aqla (Germany), Nour El-Din Ahmed Hawa (New Zealand), Sana Fadi Amroush (Spain), Lilas Hamad (Denmark), Zaid Mohammed Sarmini (Netherlands), Retaj Orwa (Norway), Maram Saddouki (France), Abdulqader Debbas (Sweden), Inam Kurdi (Austria), Omar Yaqoub Agha (United States of America), Wafa Jihad Musa AbulRab (Italy), Fatima Abdulatif (Australia), Omar Rashid Al Ibrahim (Belgium), Hala Younis (Russia), and Hussain Mustafa Ihsan (Turkey).

Promoting Arabic

The Community Champion category comes under the Arab Reading Challenge’s mission to promote the Arabic language and culture across different parts of the world. The challenge aims to connect Arab students living in foreign countries and encourage them to learn the language.

The challenge also presents a platform for Arab students living abroad to engage with the Arabic culture and explore its rich literature.

The 7th edition of the Arab Reading Challenge witnessed a record participation of 24.8 million students, including over 22,506 people of determination, from 46 countries, representing more than 188,000 schools under the guidance of around 150,000 supervisors.

As the region’s biggest knowledge initiative, the Arab Reading Challenge aims to spark passion for knowledge and foster the habit of reading among the young generation to broaden horizons and boost critical, analytical, and creative skills.