We have noted before that the Islamic tendency to consign all non-Muslim achievement to the realm of jahiliyya — the society of unbelievers, which is worthless trash — has led to a certain closed-door tendency both historically and today. When, in defiance of this tendency, the door was opened a bit to non-Muslim knowledge and experience, the Islamic world flourished. When the door was closed again, or dhimmi communities utterly stripped of intellectual and financial resources, Islamic culture and society likewise suffered. In modern times, fewer books have been translated into Arabic than into almost any other major human language; here is an initiative to change all that.
Which brings me to my question: which books do you think ought to be slated next for translation? Let’s help out the good folks in Abu Dhabi and make a list here.
By James Adams in the Globe and Mail (thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist):
It’s been 375 years since Galileo published his earth-shaking Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, 336 since John Milton wrote Paradise Regained and nearly 40 since James D. Watson had an apparent international bestseller with The Double Helix, about the discovery of the structure of DNA. Amazingly, however, none of these books, and thousands of classics like them, has ever been translated into Arabic, the first tongue of more than 300 hundred million persons worldwide. Indeed, according to a 2003 United Nations report into human development in the Arab world, more books are translated into Spanish each year — 10,000 — than have been translated into Arabic in the previous 10 centuries.
Now this situation is being rectified by the sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven Muslim United Arab Emirates, which last month officially revealed its plans to translate 100 epochal foreign-language texts into Arabic by the end of next year.
The translations, from 16 languages including Latin, Japanese and ancient Greek, are being undertaken by Kalima, a non-profit corporation established earlier this year by Egyptian entrepreneur and former McKinsey & Co. management consultant Karim Nagy. Kalima — Arabic for “word” — is being funded almost entirely by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, that city-state’s equivalent to the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Six books are scheduled to be published early next year, their eclecticism reflecting what Nagy deems “the real gaps in the Arab library.” They are Umberto Eco’s The Sign, a history of semiotics; The Halo Effect and the Eight Other Business Delusions that Deceive Managers by Philip Rosenzweig; The Future of Human Nature, an examination of genetic engineering by the noted neo-Marxist philosopher and sociologist Jurgen Habermas; Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time;, Kafka on the Shore, a novel by Haruki Murakami; and Charlemagne, Muhammad and the Arab Roots of Capitalism by Gene W. Heck. So far four publishers, most based in Beirut, have signed on as partners for the program, including Centre Culturel Arabe and Arab Scientific Publishers.