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Hanna Mina,Sorrows and Joys

Hanna Mina is one of the most famous Syrian authors of our time; well-known to Arabic readers, virtually unknown to the international reading community. He has published 40 novels, written countless editorials, numerous television scripts and contributed to the shaping of the realist form of fiction in the Arab world.

The novelist, born in 1924, says he has had his fill of life's sorrows and joys. He retracted his earlier wish for his gravestone to be inscribed with: "The Woman, the Sea, and Unquenchable Thirst."

His cramped study is surrounded by portraits of Maxim Gorky, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov and  Ernest Hemingway. Chain-smoking, he recounts stories of distant rough seas, a tough childhood, mysterious women, and unforgotten memories. He is the Syrian Zorba completing his last dance.

His father moved in the 1930s from what had been the Syrian province of Iskenderun to Latakia, homeless and lost, but never found the safe refugee he sought. His son would also be made homeless and set off on travels of his own, albeit under different circumstances, which ended up taking him to China as an exile.

With only an elementary school certificate, Mina used to write letters and petitions to the government on behalf of illiterate neighbors. He later opened a barber’s shop in Latakia. But above all, Mina was a teller of maritime tales.

Mina introduced the sea to the Arabic novel, and took it into unchartered narrative waters."The sea has always been the source of my inspiration."The text of The Road and the Storm had its own long journey. The manuscript was lost three times in postage. He sent another copy from China to his friend Said Houraniyeh by sea freight. It too got lost between Shanghai and Beirut.

In the 1950s, Mina joined the Damascus newspaper al-Inshaa as a trainee editor. He wrote several short stories, which brought him into literary circles, and he co-founded the Syrian Writers Federation in 1951.

The fame he acquired and the prestige that came with it never stopped him from reflecting on the harsh details of his earlier life. In fact, they provided fuel for his novels, and he would invoke them like a mantra to protect his soul from damage. This pioneering novelist concedes that no matter how deep and moving writing can be, it cannot match his life's toughest experiences. "Reality carves its inscriptions on human skin with a hot iron that leaves permanent marks and scars," Mina says.

In the early 1980s, Mina made his famous declaration that: "In the 21st century, the novel will become for the Arabs what poetry is to them today." This prophecy appeared to be a cry in the wilderness at the time. But critics caught on to the idea and the term "age of the novel" began being widely used, ushering in a new emerging generation of Arab novelists. Some of them quickly overtook their elders, but Mina's novels have remained best-sellers.

Mina does not seek to create archetypes, and stresses that honesty comes first. Mina has authored about 40 novels, varying in imaginary value and narrative significance. But his achievement lies in the foundation he laid for this literary structure. Characters such as Zakaria al-Mirsanli in al-Yater, al-Turousi in The Road and the Storm, and Mufid al-Wahsh in The End of a Brave Man, are living examples of life experience intertwined with fiction.

Thus, he reduces the distance between the novel and autobiography, counting on life's paradoxes, follies, and recklessness. He sees the need to expose what has been left unsaid, guided by what forebears wrote centuries ago.


Nada Haj Khidr

“Reading House” opened today

DAMASCUS-(ST)  Minister of Culture Dr.Lubana  Mishaweh opens today “ The House of Arts and Literature” for the poet Adnan Mardam Bek in Damascus. The  activity came within the framework of the Ministry’s project.

The Reading House project is considered as one of the most important achievements of the Culture Ministry that aims at dissemination culture and enhance the role of reading  for youth and adults  to restore the status of book as the main source of culture and knowledge.

The houses will be distributed in Damascus quarters  as the first stage of the project  then in all Syrian cities as the second stage.


Caligraphy Exhibition"Whispering of Letters" Opened


Damascus(ST)-A Calligraphy Exhibition has  opened at the Arabic Culture Center at Abo Rumaneh district in Damascus.

The exhibition,entitled "Whispering of Letters", was organized by Caligraphy and Garnishing section at the Vocational Institute for Applied Arts.

Some 45 panels ,included different forms and types  of calligraphy that reflect the beauty of calligraphy,were displayed during the event.

Lubana Mushawih,the culture minister,brandeed the exhibition as rich in its intellectual content.

"the said exhibition is being held to mark the Arabic World Day as it was defined by the UN as the sixth official UN-adopted languages.The exhibition goal is to highlight the VIAA's activity,"added Mushawih.

Mushawih made it clear that the ministry will gain some panels in a bid to encourage participants.

For his part,the VIAA director Tarek Sawah underscored that the exhibition sheds light on the importance of calligraphy pointing out that the institution is the sole side that accords attention to this kind  of arts.

Maysa Wassouf

World Arabic Day

 Marking the World Arabic Day  on  December 18 of every year, the date on which the UN General Assembly designated Arabic as the sixth official language of the United Nations  and  it  becomes  a UN official language.

The World  Arabic Day's main purpose of celebrating  is to increase awareness about the cultural and social treasures of the Arabic language and gives an opportunity to discover more about the secrets of the language and its contribution to human civilization and culture. Besides, encouraging dialogue and communications among the member states United Nations member states.

Dr. Hussien  Juma'a ,Chairman of  The Arab Writers Union, made it clear that Arabic is the mother tongue for more than  300 million persons.

 It is a heritage –link language with a  deep-rooted  culture .Hence,that is why  the United Nations define Dec.18th ,1973 as World Arabic Day and consequently the Arabic language became   the  sixth  international official  language. All those  who speak Arabic should  be faithful to it and try to use all their  possible skills to speak good and accurate Arabic  at  all international forums in general and the UN –affiliated organizations in particular..

"A lot of  people  ignore the great value of  Arabic language by using  mixture of various languages, especially English, French and Spanish in their works which affect badly on the originality of Arabic." Dr. Juma'a concluded.

Maysa Wassouf

Top 50+ English Words—of Arabic Origin


Did you know that words like Adobe (nowadays of PDF Adobe Acrobat fame) and Safari (as in the Apple web browser) are actually Arabic?

  Of course, you already knew of the existence of so-called “loanwords” in English, meaning words which are originally French, German, Spanish, etc.


But were you actually aware that several of them also come from ARABIC?



•           ALCHEMY and CHEMISTRY (الكيميـــــــــاء.)

•           ALCOHOL (الكُحُـــــــــول.) 

•           ALGEBRA (الجبــر: More on the eponymous founder of Algebra as an independent mathematical discipline here.)

•           ALGORITHM (خوارزم: More on the eponymous founder of algorthimics here.)

•           ALKALINE (القلوي: Meaning “non-acid, basic.”) 

•           ALMANAC (المنــــــاخ: Literally meaning “climate”)

•           AVERAGE (From Old French avarie, itself from the Arabic term عوارية, meaning “damaged goods”, from عور meaning “to lose an eye.”)

•           AZIMUTH (السمــــــــت: This concept is used in several fields, such as الفلك/astronomy، هندسة الطيران/aerospace engineering، and فيزياء الكم/quantum physics.)


•           CIPHER (صِفـــــــــــــــــــــــــــر: The term “cipher” is now mostly applied in cryptography—see الكَندي/Al-Kindi’s work.)

•           ELIXIR (الإكسيــــــــــــــر: Something like a “syrup”—also an Arabic term, possibly borrowed from Persian.)

•           NADIR (نظيـــــــــــــر: It is the opposite of the zenith.)

•           SODA (صـــــــــودا.)

•           ZENITH (سمت الرأس: Literally the “azimuth of the head”، it is the opposite of the “nadir.”)

•           ZERO (same as “cipher.”)


The name of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice is an obvious pun on the Arabic-named star بيت الجــــــوزاء/Betelgeuse


From an Arabic-named star of a constellation to a Star of video games: Vega (the "Flamenco-styled" Street Fighter character hailing from Spain!)

(Altair: الطَّائـــــــــر meaning “the bird”; Betelgeuse: بيت الجــــــوزاء, meaning “the House of the Gemini”; Deneb: ذنب meaning “tail”; Fomalhaut: فم الحوت which means “the mouth of the Pisces”, Rigel: رِجـــــــل meaning “foot”, it stands for رجل الجبَّار, or the “foot of the Titan”, Vega: الواقع meaning “the Falling”, refers to النسر الواقع، meaning “the falling eagle”, etc.)



•           ADMIRAL (أميــــــــر الرحلة, meaning commander of the fleet, or literally “of the trip”) 


الرايس حمِّيـــــــــــدو (Rais Hamidou): A legendary Admiral who led the Algerian Navy before the invasion of his country by France

•           ADOBE (الطوب: meaning a “brick.” Next time you use an Adobe Acrobat product, you will remember that Adobe is originally Arabic!)

•           ALCOVE (القبة: meaning “the vault”, or “the dome”)

•           AMBER (عنبر: Anbar, “ambergris.”)

•           ARSENAL (Do fans of F.C. Arsenal today, including those living in the Arab world, know where the name of their favorite team came from? دار الصناعــــــــــــــــة : “manufacturing house”)

•           CALIBER (قـــــــالب: meaning “mold”)

•           CANDY (from قندي, itself from Persian for “hard candy made by boiling cane sugar”)

•           CHECK (from صکّ, also from Persian meaning “letter of credit.” It would give the Chess expression “Checkmate”, from “الشيخ مات”, or “the Shaikh is dead.”)

•           CORK (القورق)

•           COFFEE (قهوة: For long snubbed by Europeans as the “wine of the infidels”—that is, many centuries before the age of Starbucks and instant coffee!)

•           COTTON (قُطْـــــــــن)

•           GAUZE (either from قَــــــــــزّ, meaning “silk”, or from غَــــــــزّة, “Gaza”, the Palestinian city.)

•           GUITAR (just as LUTE, العود, a musical instrument known to Europeans through the Arabic قيثارة, itself possibly borrowed from a word of Ancient Greek.)

•           HAZARD (الزّهر: “the dice”—Think of an Arabic TV series hazardly titled “The Dukes of Al-Azhar”…) 

•           LAZULI (As in “Lapis Lazuli“, لاژورد: Arabic word for a semi-precious stone famous for its intense blue color. The Arabic word is said to come from a Persian city where the stone was mined.)

•           MASCARA (Just as with the English “masquerade” and the French “mascarade“, mascara comes from the Arabic word مسخرة, an event during which people wear masks, such as carnivals.) 


•           MATTRESS (مطـــــــــــــــــــرح.)

•           MONSOON (موسم: Arabic for “season.”)

•           MUMMY (مومياء: Originally from Persian root “موم”, meaning “wax”.)

•           RACQUET (As in a “tennis racket”. Some point to an Arabic origin of Tennis. The word racket comes the Arabic word “راحـــــــة“, as in “راحـــــة اليد“, meaning the “palm of the hand.”)

•           REAM (as in a “ream of paper”, it comes from Arabic رزمة, meaning a “bundle.”)

•           SAFARI (سفـــــــر: “travel”—As in Apple’s Safari web browser)

•           SASH (شــــــــاش.)

•           SATIN (زيتــــــــــــوني: “Olive-like”, perhaps related to modern Tsinkiang in Fukien province, southern China.) 

•           SOFA (الصُفــــــــة)


•           TALCUM (التلك)

•           SWAHILI (Comes from سواحــــــــــل: Plural of ساحــــــــــل, meaning a “coast.”)

•           ZIRCON (زرقـــــــــــــون: “golden-colored.” Zirconium is a chemical element with the symbol Zr and atomic number 40) 

•           TARIFF (تعاريـــــــــــــــف, plural of تعريـــــــــــــــفة, meaning a “fee”, or simply تعريـــــــــــــــف, as in “بطاقــــــــة التعريـــــــــــــــف“, meaning an “identity card.”)

Source:Advanced Study Center of the Arab World

Compiled by :Maysa Wassouf