EU-Oman: Peace through open books
As a special guest at the leading French book fair, Oman took the opportunity to remind attendees of its long history in both literature and cordial relations with France.
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On 16-19 March 2019, the ‘Livre Paris' book fair took place in Porte de Versailles. The Sultanate of Oman was this year’s Livre Paris Special Guest, the culmination of a long history of cultural exchanges between Oman and France.
It also recognises the pioneering role of the Omani book in the regional cultural landscape. Oman’s participation reflects the country’s reputation for open-mindedness and cultural diversity.
It also recognises its millennial history and its environment, which delivers a participatory, inclusive and peaceful democracy, which has allowed French and European visitors to discover - through this country - the magic of the East.
To mark this occasion, the Omani State has made a great effort in translation to ensure that French readers could access the wealth of the literary and intellectual production of this landmark country.
Dozens of Omani writers, intellectuals, novelists, historians, poets, publishers and painters were at the event. These included Seif Al-Rahbi, Aicha Al-Darmakiya, Shoumaissa Al-Nuumani and Mohammad Alzubeir.
In addition, Oman’s Royal Symphony Orchestra performed at the fair, placing a spotlight on Omani music.
Typical Omani book writing is noted for its encyclopaedic style, which sets Omani literature apart from the rest of the Arab writers.
“Oman’s participation reflects the country’s reputation for open-mindedness and cultural diversity”
Since the early years of the Islamic era, Omani authors have held a strong presence in scholarly domains - ranging from Holy Quran interpretation, hadith (the Prophet's sermons/sayings), jurisprudence, the origins of divine unity (tawheed), the Arabic language, history and spirituality as well as in medical sciences, astronomy and navigation.
Omanis are best known for their compact way of presenting scholarly subjects in poetic form, which benefits the Arab ability for rapid memorisation.
The oldest book written in this style is the Diwan (Poetry Book) of Imam Jabir Bin Zaid, which dates back to the 1st Century of Hijra (622-719 AD).
Although this Diwan was lost during wars, many older writers who happened to have read this book were able to describe it and some minor parts of it were retained.
A number of government institutions and private establishment are deploying extensive efforts to unearth such treasures and present them to readers in a user-friendly style.
This is being done through activating a traditional profession known as ‘Nassaakh’, literally “the man who makes many copies of the same book”.
When machine printing became known, Oman was among the first nations to make copies of their precious writings. Publishing activity attracts great public attention in Oman nowadays, as evidenced by the large volumes of Omani books read in different parts of the world.
“Oman and France share a long history of cultural relations, which goes back centuries”
Oman and France share a long history of cultural relations, which goes back centuries. This relationship has been documented in many books from as early as the mid-17th century, when French vessels used to transport goods to India and the Arab Gulf via the Port of Muscat, then the most important harbour in the region.
One of the oldest agreements signed between Oman and France was the Friendship and Commercial Exchange Agreement of 4 November 1844.
This helped develop a strong friendship during the current reign of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said and the French presidents since 1970.
This was confirmed by Sayyid Badr bin Hamoud al Busaidi, Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry of Oman, during the seminar on ‘Omani-French relations: Past and Future’ which took place in the framework of Livre Paris.
Sayyid Badr quoted Sultan Qaboos of Oman at the opening of the Oman and the Sea Exhibition in Paris in 2013: “It is our hope that this exhibition will help spread knowledge and deepen convergence and understanding among civilisations.”
Sayyid Badr said that the book is one of the most influential symbols of human culture. He highlighted the cultural and knowledge links between the Sultanate and France, which date back around 400 years.
In the eighteenth century, Omani-French trade grew following Muscat’s emergence as an increasingly important port for trade in the Indian Ocean region. Oman decided to grant France the official right to establish a trade centre in Muscat in 1775 and the right to appoint a diplomatic representative in 1786.
“Although France did not appoint its first consul in Muscat until 1894, these first links formed the background to Napoleon’s historic written message to the Sultan of Oman”.
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