ibn battuta
Moroccan adventurer Ibn Battuta is believed to have spent nearly 30 years covering 75,000 miles across Africa, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia Image Credit: Shutterstock

Sharjah: A 14th century book, The Rihla, penned by Moroccan adventurer Ibn Battuta was the focus of a discussion at the 41st Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) at Expo Centre Sharjah.

“It’s a masterpiece, a treasure from which we can take information about each and everything,” said Dr Claudia Maria Tresso, a professor of Arabic language and literature, who translated The Rihla from Arabic to Italian in 2006. The word Rihla means ‘journey’ in the Arabic language.

“Ibn Battuta is one of the greatest medieval travellers of the Muslim world. He has even mentioned style of fashion in each country. He mingled with both the rich and the poor, and with everyone - he cared about the masses. He was interested in telling the next generation what he saw during his travels.”

Dr Tresso, who spoke in fluent Arabic throughout the session, added: “He has even written about the problems people were facing, such as black death. It is very rare in history to find people who are not interested in power or politics. Ibn Battuta’s book focuses on Arab heritage and researchers from all corners of the world are still using it to learn about Islamic culture.”

Dr Claudia Maria Tresso during the session at SIBF Image Credit: Supplied

75,000 miles covered 

Born in 1304 in Tangiers, Morocco, Ibn Battuta left home in 1325, with the aim of going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. When he started travelling, Ibn Battuta decided he must visit as many places as possible and is believed to have spent nearly 30 years covering 75,000 miles across Africa, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia.

Emphasising that it is in the nature of human beings to want to travel, Dr Layla Al Obaidi, a professor of Arabic language and literature in Tunisia, explained a pertinent difference between a travelogue such as Ibn Battuta’s and an ordinary voyage.

She added: “When we read his book we get anthropological and historical information about that period in time. Ibn Battuta was a globetrotter. His narrative is unique and special, he describes what people are eating, how they are dressing. A true traveller travels from one country to another and conveys everything he sees in a truthful manner.”

The 12-day SIBF was this year held from November 2 to 13.

Bilingual books

The intertwining of books and culture was also evident at SIBF owing to the demand for bilingual titles where one story is told side-by-side in two languages. Several publishers showcased a range of dual-language books in various genres including children’s books, short stories, poetry and even rare coffee table books.

Silvia Vassena, International Publishing Consultant for Milano, was showcasing several bilingual children’s titles in English and Italian, including Green Flower, a story about friendship. She said: “Readers at SIBF have expressed interest in reading this book in English and Arabic and our title, I Love You Prune Tree, will also soon be printed in Italian and Arabic.”

Silvia Vassena with a dual-language book at SIBF Image Credit: Supplied

Rooted to home culture

While printing dual language books is a challenging task for publishers, it ensures that children growing up away from their homeland remain rooted to their respective cultures by reading in their own mother tongue, publishers said.

The National Trust of India also brought bi-lingual children’s books to SIBF this year. “India’s National Education Policy lays emphasis on inculcating the reading habit in one’s mother tongue. Quite often, quality books are available only in English, which is why we are focusing on producing bilingual works to enrich the reading habits of a wider audience,” said Twijendra Kumar, Assistant Editor, National Trust of India.

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Boon for students

Idris Mears, owner of Blackstone & Holywell, a regular to the annual SIBF for the past 20 years, believes dual language books are becoming popular because people are serious about learning both Arabic and English as languages. “Books in two languages are very useful especially when students are eager to learn or improve their knowledge of Arabic,” Mears said.

Meanwhile dual books of one of Urdu’s greatest poets - Allama Iqbal - were available at the Blackstone & Holywell stand. “There are certain texts people can’t really appreciate unless they get it in the original language. Iqbal in English is not the same as Iqbal in Urdu,” Mears added.

Attending SIBF for the first time this year, Mohammad Reza Anvar, owner of San Francisco based Anis Press, which concentrates mainly on antiquarian rare books or first editions had coffee table book written in four languages.

“Before the creation of photography many different French artists and orientalists wanted to preserve their art, mainly Arabic art. This Third Edition is in English, Arabic, Persian as well as French. The descriptions are also given in all four languages,” Anvar said.

Preserved between the crafted pages of this photo book are motifs, miniatures and decorative art images from Oriental and Middle Eastern countries. Reza believes these could be an invaluable source of inspiration for architects, interior designers, painters and graphic artists interested in creating original work using traditional designs.