A Riyadh exhibition showcased a priceless treasure trove of Arabic and Islamic texts

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The ‘Asfar’ exhibition is a showcase of some of the world’s rarest Arabic and Islamic texts. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)
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Rare religious works dating back to the 15th century are on display in the ‘Gutenberg’s World’ section, which details the arrival of the printing press. (AN photo / Huda Bashatah)
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Manuscripts and books are stored in climate-controlled conditions for protection after being examined by experts. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)
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KFCRIS applies the traditional conservation methods according to UNESCO standards. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 08 January 2023
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A Riyadh exhibition showcased a priceless treasure trove of Arabic and Islamic texts

  • Asfar exhibition has given visitors a rare cultural experience by putting on display ancient manuscripts 
  • Established in 1983, KFCRIS houses one of Saudi Arabia’s foremost cultural and religious collections

RIYADH: Ancient manuscripts held by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh are a priceless treasure trove of religious, historical, scientific, and philosophical knowledge that has allowed scholars to unlock the region’s remarkable past.

Created long before the invention of the printing press in the 1400s, these writings have provided religious and academic authorities with rich insights into how Middle Eastern civilizations were born, flourished, and evolved and over many centuries.

These handwritten texts, many of them beautifully decorated by skilled calligraphers, with ornate illustrations and elaborate maps distinct to their era, are still pored over by librarians, scientists, archivists, and curators even to this day.

Everything from pre-Islamic hanging odes to the earliest editions of the Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an were painstakingly compiled, often over many years and by multiple authors, all for the sake of preserving history.




Elaborate maps and handwritten texts offer insights into some of the most dramatic events in Middle Eastern history. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

KFCRIS has an extensive library of such artifacts, including more than 28,500 rare physical manuscripts and 120,000 photographed pieces.

Established in 1983, the center serves as a repository for the Faisal Family Archives and is today considered one of the foremost cultural collections in the Kingdom for its contribution to the humanities and social sciences.

“Asfar,” KFCRIS’ year-long exhibition which ends in February 2023, has featured some of the world’s rarest Arabic and Islamic texts, including 36 manuscripts and printed works carefully selected from 178,500 original and photographed pieces held in its archives.


ALSO READ: Arabic calligraphy: Ancient craft, modern art


The exhibition, named after the plural for sifr in Arabic, a Qur’anic word that means “large book” or “tome,” has put on display some of the world’s rarest texts and manuscripts dating back hundreds of years.

“The term ‘asfar’ could mean travels and voyages where the visitor can journey through the contents of a book,” Rasha Ibrahem Al-Fawaz, the center’s director of museums, told Arab News.

“The exhibition sheds light on the most distinct and unique of books and manuscripts at KFCRIS.




Rasha Ibrahem Al-Fawaz, KFCRIS director of museums. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Divided into six sections, the first being the journey of knowledge, the exhibition tells the story of how science was transmitted across civilizations, while showcasing various manuscripts, one of which — “Kalila wa Dimna” — was owned by King Faisal.

The second section showcases three manuscripts that are more than a thousand years old, displayed as examples of Arabic calligraphy down the ages, including “Al-Bayan wa Al-Tabyin,” which translates as “Elegance of Expression and Clarity of Exposition,” by Al-Jahiz.

The next section showcases three works reflecting the contributions of women to their respective societies, including Bab Bashir, consort of Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta’sim, and Umm Al-Husayn bint Shihab Al-Din Al-Makki.

The fourth, “By the Author’s Hand,” exhibits nine works of copyists.

“The most distinct of the items showcased in this exhibition is a Mamluk Condex of the Qur’an, an endowment of Sitt Miska, the caretaker of Sultan Ahmed Qalawun,” said Al-Fawaz.




KFCRIS has more than 28,500 rare manuscripts. (AN photo / Huda Bashatah)

“One of the fourth section’s most unique manuscripts is ‘Kitab Al-Ibar wa Diwan Al-Mubtada wa Al-Khabar,’ by Ibn Khaldun.

“The fifth section, titled ‘Rare Manuscripts,’ showcases eight manuscripts, which are single copies in the world written by their authors, hence the title. 

“One of these manuscripts, ‘Women News’ by Usama ibn Munqidh, an equestrian and an Arab poet who lived to the age of 96 years during the Ayyubid dynasty, specifically during the reign of Salahuddin Ayubi, the sultan of Egypt.

“The manuscript is one of many from his biography ‘Al-Itebar,’ and in it he mentioned that he wrote the ‘Women News,’ which was believed to be missing for many years until we discovered it in the center, and is under investigation and research where we will soon print it and distribute it.”

The sixth and final section, titled “Gutenberg’s World,” showcases ten printed books from Germany’s first modern printing press in the mid-15th century. According to Al-Fawaz, the most famous of the earliest prints is the Hamburg Qur’an, the second oldest printed copy of the holy book after the Venice copy.

FASTFACTS

KFCRIS possesses more than 28,500 rare manuscripts and 120,000 photographed pieces.

Established in 1983, the center houses one of the Kingdom’s foremost cultural collections.

The “Asfar” exhibition is a showcase of some of the world’s rarest Arabic and Islamic texts.

The treasures obtained by the center constitute a precious national asset. Furthermore, the center has trained many Saudi scholars on the process of manuscript preservation and restoration using traditional methods.

“In 1986, experts specializing in paper manuscript and artifact restoration visited the center to train those working in the center in the field,” said Al-Fawaz.




Scholars at KFCRIS are trained on the process of manuscript preservation and restoration using traditional methods. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

“Since then, the center applies the traditional conservation methods according to UNESCO standards. The center has provided 20 training courses to government, private and international entities and we have annual training for men and women interested in working in the field. Last year, we trained eight men and women, some of which are college students.

“This is an important and rare field that achieves sustainability and preserves the treasures at hand.”

When visitors descend into the center’s basement, home to the treatment and restoration department, they can witness for themselves the crisp, clean laboratory where specialized staff test the ink, paper, and binding of old manuscripts.

With extreme care, each delicate page is examined, photographed, and tested using chemical solutions to ensure no damage is caused during the preservation process.

To minimize the rate of deterioration, experts first ascertain the ink’s stability, remove acidity, soften dry and yellowed papers, and reinforce weak materials. Holes are filled and tears are repaired.




Manuscripts and books are stored in climate-controlled conditions for protection after being examined by experts. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

Preservation of these delicate documents depends to a great extent upon the physical conditions in which they are stored. Fluctuations in room temperature and humidity can have a significant impact on papers and fabrics.

Maintaining a consistent level of humidity of around 40-60 percent and temperatures of 16-21 C under low-energy ultraviolet light is essential to preserving these rare items.

As soon as the documents have been treated and repaired, they are immediately packed away in boxes away from natural light.

“Manuscripts are the major source of information to know about the historical facts, cultural and old traditions of the past,” said Al-Fawaz.

“They are scattered all over the world and we’re privileged to have such a vast variety at KFCRIS. It’s our duty to protect such rare treasures and display them for all to examine their intricate details.”

 

Decoder

Asfar Exhibition

Asfar is the year-long exhibition launched last year by Riyadh's King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies to showcase some of the world’s rarest Arabic and Islamic texts. These handwritten texts, many of them beautifully decorated by skilled calligraphers, with ornate illustrations and elaborate maps distinct to their era, are still pored over by librarians, scientists, archivists, and curators even to this day. The exhibition ends in February 2023.


How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

Updated 21 June 2024
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How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

  • AI solutions designed to solve specific business problems are having a profound impact on how firms operate
  • Braincell leverages AI to enhance processes, from logistics and healthcare to banking and smart cities

RIYADH: Automated decision-making allows businesses to make faster, more accurate and more consistent decisions by analyzing large datasets without the risk of human error. That is why, as Saudi Arabia expands its digital economy, such tools are becoming more widely used in the Kingdom.

One firm that is leading the charge in this area is the Saudi startup Braincell, which helps businesses streamline processes and enhance decision-making through automation and artificial intelligence integration.

“Braincell has created a data governance platform and data workflow platform that enables AI solutions to be connected at ease, making it a one-stop shop for data needs,” Abdulhameed Khairaldeen, Braincell’s business development director, told Arab News.

AI solutions, which leverage AI techniques and technologies to solve specific business problems, are poised to have a profound impact on how firms operate. Already, large language models like ChatGPT are taking on rudimentary tasks in a range of industries.

“Braincell clients can choose to work on their own LLMs and on-premises models or even connect to the likes of OpenAI’s ChatGPT,” said Khairaldeen.

Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies. (Supplied)

With the Kingdom’s mission to become a global leader among data-driven economies, new AI startups are emerging every day with the goal of contributing to the fast-growing sector. Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies.

Since its establishment, Braincell has focused on empowering businesses through technology, data and interconnected systems with the mission of enhancing efficiency in business flow regardless of the sector.

In particular, Braincell is connecting leaders, executives, organizations and governments to systems that will allow faster and more effective decision-making.

Braincell leverages AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations. (Supplied)

Asked how Braincell helps firms improve their employee productivity, the company’s senior data consultant, Shatha bin Shaalan, said: “We use AI and automation in our platform to automate the repetitive tasks that we do every day, ensuring that our clients get the benefit of maximum efficiency while reducing human errors and manual efforts.”

Braincell is leveraging AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations across sectors including healthcare, data, banking, supply chains, manufacturing, and smart buildings and cities.

In healthcare, Braincell’s technology fosters an environment for improved patient outcomes by working with clients to build metric-driven healthcare systems, creating scalable digital health ecosystems that reduce errors through automation.

DID YOUKNOW?

• In healthcare, Braincell improves patient outcomes through metric-driven systems that reduce errors.

• In banking, it performs real-time monitoring, streamlines processes, detects fraud, and monitors risk.

• In smart buildings, it collects data on energy consumption, air quality, and occupancy to improve efficiency.

Some of its services include comprehensive insights into personalized care and streamlined clinical processes.

In banking, Braincell is utilizing AI to enhance the customer experience by streamlining and organizing processes that in turn will reduce manual errors.

Shutterstock illustration image

Through Braincell’s banking command center, real-time monitoring also detects fraud, monitors risk management and enhances strategic decision-making.

Applied to smart buildings and cities, Braincell offers new ways to improve the experience of residents. One example is the firm’s data integration and sensor deployment that collects data on energy consumption, air quality, occupancy levels and other relevant parameters.

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Braincell’s use of automation in smart buildings and cities also improves energy efficiency by using advanced AI algorithms to control smart lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that adjust settings based on occupancy and environmental conditions.

The company has more than 100 active users, and boasts the ability to process 120 billion records in a matter of seconds using AI.

It aims to help businesses make reliable decisions by connecting data sources and consolidating them in a comprehensive way that is easier for clients to access, resulting in higher quality, accuracy and consistency through the use of AI automation.

“The data platform is highly customizable with a very simple setup,” said Bin Shaalan, the firm’s senior data consultant. “It’s dynamic and fits all needs as it integrates with many systems adopted here in the Kingdom.”

Braincell has signed memorandums of understanding with multiple partners including the Ministry of Health, the Public Investment Fund, the National Unified Procurement Company and supply chain specialist XPL Solutions.

The firm has also created a data governance and data workflow platform to help companies comply with National Data Management Office regulations in the Kingdom.
 

 


No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

Updated 21 June 2024
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No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

  • Prince Khalid bin Bandar was speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference
  • Said Kingdom’s position on Arab-Israeli conflict has never changed

LONDON: Saudi Arabia will not normalize ties with Israel at the expense of Palestinian statehood, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK said on Thursday.

Speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference, Prince Khalid bin Bandar said that normalization remained important to Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region because it would ensure peace, stability and security.
He admitted that “compromises would have to be made” to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he said affected the world in a way other conflicts did not.

“If what is happening (in Gaza) keeps happening, we are going to go down a path that is irreversible,” Prince Khalid said. 



“The further we get away from finding a solution, the more people lose hope, the more we’re at that point, it’s going to spread to a regional conflict. It’s important for everyone to recognisze the danger of what lies ahead. The conflict will not remain regional, it will become international very quickly,” he said.

But Prince Khalid said that normalization would be “irrelevant” until the plight of Palestinians was resolved.

“We believe in the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the conflict,” he said. “If it was easy, we’d have done it by now but without that, normalization is irrelevant. There is no point having normalization because we would still have conflict and conflict is the problem, not normalization.

“There is no point in discussing everything else until we find a solution. Once we do that, everything is on the table.”

Prince Khalid said that the Kingdom was “one of the most important countries in the region,” which had “leverage” in opening up the Arab and Muslim world to Israel and for it not to play a role in brokering a solution would be “silly.” 



But he added for that to happen, Israel “needs to play ball as well,” adding that the price for finding a solution was an independent Palestinian state.

The ambassador bemoaned how little global coverage the Saudi position on the crisis received, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent Hajj address, in which he reiterated calls for an immediate halt to attacks in Gaza.

“It’s important to recognize our position, which has never changed, despite people never listening to us,” Prince Khalid said.

“The crown prince’s positon, Saudi Arabia’s position, his majesty (King Salman)’s position, the government’s position and the will of almost every Saudi I know is we need a Palestinian state.



“The offer was made in the Arab Peace Initiative; on 1967 borders, a Palestinian state, a two-state solution and everyone lives happily ever after. It goes back to 1982, King Fahd presented the same offer, it has not been taken up, I find it mystifying.

“The crown prince stated very clearly, we need a ceasefire, an irreversible solution for the Palestinians and then there’s peace everywhere, it wasn’t even reported.

“It’s annoying and frustrating for us because the world assumes something totally different and that’s not helping the situation,” he said.


Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

Updated 20 June 2024
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Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

  • Event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies
  • Forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies

RIYADH: The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center is set to host the Advanced Therapies Forum which will take place from June 23-24, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies. It will aim to foster a collaborative environment where industrial partners can showcase their research and forge strategic alliances with healthcare institutions.

The forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies. It also strives to increase the number of clinical research studies in the fields of T-cell therapy and gene therapy.

Industrial partners, including pharmaceutical companies of all sizes, will have the opportunity to explore avenues for launching clinical research initiatives at KFSH&RC.

The forum will feature 15 keynote speeches, over 30 presentations on ongoing projects by industry leaders, five panel discussions, and numerous other sessions. The goal is to cultivate a shared vision for the future of advanced therapies in the Kingdom and to localize manufacturing technology for cellular and gene therapies.

In recent years, KFSH&RC has emerged as a beacon of hope for patients who faced limited treatment options, using genetically modified immune cells to successfully treat more than 120 individuals.

The journey began with a positive outcome for the first child from the region to be treated using T-cells. More recently, the hospital successfully applied advanced gene therapy to eight patients with hereditary hemophilia. The single-dose therapy effectively elevated levels of the missing clotting factor, empowering patients to reclaim their lives.

KFSH&RC has been ranked 20th among the top 250 academic healthcare institutions worldwide, according to SPA, and has held the top spot in the Middle East and Africa region for two consecutive years.

Currently, more than 30 gene and genetically modified cell therapies have been officially approved for clinical use. Experts predict that the global cell and gene therapy market is poised for exponential growth, outpacing the traditional pharmaceutical industry to surpass a staggering $50 billion annually by 2027.

It is estimated that more than 2 million patients will benefit from T-cell therapy within the next decade, with more than a thousand clinical research studies actively underway across the globe.


Award-winning Saudi film ‘Norah’ premieres in theaters across the Kingdom

A special screening of award-winning Saudi film “Norah” was held on Wednesday night at Roshn Front’s Vox Cinema.
Updated 20 June 2024
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Award-winning Saudi film ‘Norah’ premieres in theaters across the Kingdom

  • “Norah” achieved great success at the 78th annual Cannes International Film Festival
  • Film was first screened last December at the Red Sea International Film Festival, where it won the “Best Saudi Film” award

RIYADH: The award-winning Saudi film “Norah” made its premiere in the Kingdom on Thursday after its international success at the Cannes Film Festival.

A special screening was held on Wednesday night at Roshn Front’s Vox Cinema, where director Tawfik Al-Zaidi was in attendance alongside the film’s star, Maria Bahrawi, and her acclaimed co-stars Yaqoub Al-Farhan and Abdullah Al-Sadhan.

Al-Farhan told Arab News: “To be accepted in Cannes is an indication of how important this film is, and also an indication of how much progress the film industry (has made) here.

“Although it’s still the beginning of it, we’re starting to see the results of the huge work that’s happening right now.

“I’m very positive about the future. If this is the beginning, I think after five or 10 years, we’ll be seeing a lot of great films from Saudi.”

“Norah” achieved great success at the 78th annual Cannes International Film Festival, where it was the official selection for the “Un Certain Regard” competition, one of the most critical titles of the event. It also received the Special Mention from the jury, making it the most notably recognized Saudi film at Cannes.

The film takes place in a remote Saudi village in the 90s, where Norah (played by Bahrawi) dreams of seeing horizons beyond her small village. As a new teacher, Nader (played by Al-Farhan) makes his way to her hometown, and Norah’s world begins to open up through art, knowledge and creativity, leading her to discover more about her own family history.

“The fact that they chose me for the role only two weeks before production was a surprise for me. But, thankfully, my first role in a film was a success and reached international audiences. I’m very proud and happy that today it’ll be in cinemas and the world can see it, and I’m excited to see people’s reactions,” Bahrawi told Arab News.

While it was first screened last December at the Red Sea International Film Festival, where it won the “Best Saudi Film” award, the nationwide cinema premiere is a culmination of the film’s journey to its intended audience: the Saudi public.

Bahrawi said: “The fact that they chose me for the role only two weeks before production was a surprise for me. But, thankfully, my first role in a film was a success and reached international audiences. I’m very proud and happy that today it’ll be in cinemas and the world can see it, and I’m excited to see people’s reactions.

“Since I was young, I’ve always dreamed of being an actress, and today I can say that I’ve reached that and acted in my first film as a lead role… AlUla was the city that made my first dream come true.”

Taking public participation even further, a competition was presented to the public last Thursday inviting all girls named Norah to play a part. About 500 girls took part, and two winners received tickets to the special pre-screening event.

“Norah” is the first Saudi feature to be filmed entirely in AlUla. “The city itself and its locations really complemented the film’s story, so that was a wonderful choice for the location,” Bahrawi said.

While the film is both Bahrawi’s debut on the big screen and Al-Zaidi’s first feature film, it was also a personal experience for Al-Farhan, who is widely known for his role in the TV mini series “Rashash.”

“There’s so many similarities between me and the character, which is why it’s a very personal project for me and it’s so dear to my heart, especially after the achievement of the Cannes Film Festival,” he said.

In preparation for the role, Al-Farhan spent time with a professional sketch artist in order to learn the craft for his role — even simple things like holding a pencil the right way.

He said that the beginning sketches featured in the film were his own work, but the final results were “by a real artist.”

Production was supported by the Film Commission through Daw, a national initiative to support and encourage Saudi filmmakers. The film also received support from Film AlUla, the Red Sea Film Fund and Generation 2030.

The inspiration for “Norah” came to Al-Zaidi in 2015 from his need to express something within him. In the same way that Al-Farhan’s character, Nader, portrays his feelings on sketchbooks and canvases, Al-Zaidi uses the big screen.

He told Arab News: “I’m a lover of art in all its forms, whether its music, drawing or visiting museums, cinema encapsulates all of these arts and shows them beautifully through a film’s crew.

“I wanted to create these emotions between two people who love art, Norah and Nader. Art is a means of communication between people, and a means of expression as well.”

As the Saudi film scene continues to develop and grow toward global horizons, Al-Zaidi is confident that the industry can overcome challenges.

“Challenges will always be there, but as they say, ‘success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’ ... if you believe in yourself, you will get there,” he said.


Saudi pavilion at Beijing International Book Fair showcases KSA’s culture and history

Updated 20 June 2024
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Saudi pavilion at Beijing International Book Fair showcases KSA’s culture and history

  • Saudi Arabia was invited to participate at the event as guest of honor

BEIJING: Saudi Arabia, represented by its Heritage Commission, is taking part in the Beijing International Book Fair, which began on Wednesday and continues until Sunday. The Kingdom was invited to participate at the event as guest of honor.

The Saudi pavilion offers visitors a chance to learn more about the nation’s heritage, diverse culture, historical landmarks and overall historical significance, officials said. It includes displays featuring archaeological reproductions that illustrate the Kingdom’s rich culture and expansive history over thousands of years.