The Power of Words Issue

Foreword: The Power of Words Issue

'We desperately need words to caress our souls and help us heal.'

By Bodour Al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association

President of the International Publishers Association Bodour Al Qasimi. Illustration by Alexandre Troin for Sekka.

The Arabic word for literature is adab.

The word originally referred to an individual’s good manners, elegance, respect and courtesy. The word adab later evolved to encompass literature, poetry, history, oratory skills and philology.

‘Al Adeeb,’ or a man of literature, was revered in medieval Arab society and so enjoyed a privileged life because his words mattered. In this period, poetry and rhetoric were used to celebrate a tribe’s accomplishments and assert power against its enemies. Words were, indeed, mightier than the sword.

Today, words still matter. The world is in a fragile state, with everything from a seemingly endless global pandemic to wars and conflicts, from climate change challenges to social injustice as well as deepening racial and ideological divisions. We desperately need words to caress our souls and help us heal.

Words, literature and stories are now our refuge, our teachers and our creative space. We have a choice: our words can either have the power to build bridges and understanding between people, or they can deepen prejudice and destroy hope for a peaceful co-existence. As the saying goes, words can be ‘bullets or seeds.’ Writers and poets now have a moral responsibility to plant seeds for a more compassionate world.

If words and language are power, then having no voice makes you powerless. Those who are silenced or overlooked become marginalised, an afterthought, a negligible dot on the vast canvas of life. Writers, poets and creatives must therefore be the conscience of society and have the responsibility to speak their truth, share their stories and help them realise their hopes and dreams.

Publishers have a vital role to play, too. Through the books they decide to publish, publishers can be a force for peace by uniting people in times of conflict, celebrating communities’ diversity and building greater understanding and appreciation of cultural differences.

My understanding and appreciation of the powerful role books play in building bridges have been strengthened during my current role as president of the International Publishers Association. From Argentina to Georgia, from Cairo to Nairobi, and from London to Amman, I have engaged with publishers from different markets. Over the past two years, since the onset of Covid-19, the publishing world has had serious challenges to contend with. However, there is still incredible energy and passion running through the industry, igniting our desire to continue publishing stories, empowering voices and readers and, in doing so, building bridges.

For the first time in human history, modern technology enables us to engage with the daily lives of others around the globe. Yet, although we are closer to each other virtually, we are at the same time at risk of losing sight of our shared humanity and inherent interconnectedness. We need to be mindful of this, as we all have a role to play. Sekka Magazinedoes so by telling stories in authentic voices, uncovering talent and sharing Arab culture with the rest of the world … with adab!

In this new issue, Sekka plays a constructive role in showcasing Arab culture by sharing the stories and poetry of Jokha Alharthi, Marilyn Booth, Bushra Khalfan and Huda Hamed as well as many other shining lights. It also includes feature interviews with some of my favourite writers from around the world, including Bothayna Al Essa, Hoda Barakat andAbdulrazak Gurnah. I have always found these writers so fascinating, as they give me a glimpse into another world and other cultures. Even if their characters’ day-to-day lives may differ from my own, the stories have a transcendent quality that speaks to me as a reader and always resonates with me as a human being.

Now is the moment for Arab culture to be given a platform, not just for new writers but also for rediscovering our legends and ancient writings. There is much talent waiting to be uncovered across the Arab world. I am excited to discover the winning submissions from Sekka’s annual literary prize in this issue. Initiatives such as these encourage new writers, which is vitally important if we are to ensure creativity continues to flourish. 

Under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates and the Ruler of Sharjah, my home of Sharjah has become central to this mission in supporting Arab culture, with its aim to create a dialogue and an understanding with others through books, art, and literature. There is an excerpt from one of His Highness’s speeches delivered in 1995 in this edition, where he calls for the necessity of Arab cultural development so we can be ready to participate in the global cultural civilisation. His guidance and consistency are helping us to build more cultural bridges and enrich our human experience. 

I would like to see the same in every language and culture from around the world – showcasing talent, telling stories and expressing joy and pain. Think how many wonderful stories are out there, as yet untold.

Books, words and literature can spread messages of love and peace throughout the world, so I hope that different cultures approach their differences with the original sense of adab in mind by using elegant words and language to convey respect, gentleness, humility and humanity. We can only hope to resolve humanity’s current challenges with more understanding, education, respectfulness and bridges.

I hope you enjoy this edition of Sekka Magazine—its philosophy chimes with my own, and I am honoured to be a part of this edition.

To read The Power of Words Issue in its entirety, click here.