Under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region, the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre (ALC) has announced the winners of its inaugural Sard Al Thahab Award, which honours Emirati, Arab and international storytellers and narrators of literature and folktales.
In the ‘Unpublished Short Story’ category, four short stories were recognised for their outstanding quality and artistic excellence. ‘Zilzal’ (Earthquake) by Moroccan author Abdelrahim Selili tells the story of the earthquake that shook Morocco, across 11 sections, skilfully depicting the events and portraying the emotions they stirred. It revolves around the character of a grandmother who urges the narrator to awaken her for the Fajr prayer, but never gets to perform it. The story’s language is dense and poetic, capturing intricate details and gradual transformations, delicately blending events and emotions to reflect the magnitude of the tragedy.
‘Ibn Aarous: Almataha w Alkhalas’ (Ibn Aarous: The Maze and the Salvation) by Mahmoud Saeed Mohamed from Egypt explores the transformation of Ahmed Al Mansour from a rebellious character who cuts off roads and intercepts caravans to a refined poet of delicate emotions. The writer effectively utilises a historical narrative to depict a life’s journey that unfolds seamlessly, using beautiful language and precise storytelling.
Meanwhile, ‘Ma Bayn Shiqqay Raha’ (Between Two Millstones) by Egyptian author Rania Ahmed Helal Kamel introduces the concept of the traditional grinding millstone, which was an essential part of village life. The millstone is highly valued by the mother character in the story, who insists on returning it when borrowed, but it is damaged at the end. The author cleverly employs the millstone to describe the village’s atmosphere and build a world around it, using precise language and interweaving narration, description, and dialogue to highlight a strong bond between the millstone and the mother, paralleling their tragic endings.
The fourth winner in this category is ‘Marthiyat al-’Itr wal-Bahr’ (Elegy of Fragrance and the Sea) by Huda Al Shamashi from Morocco, which combines Andalusian heritage and the Mediterranean Sea. It beautifully juxtaposes the exodus from Andalusia in the past with contemporary clandestine migration to Spain. The teacher, inspired by her new village, falls in love with a young man contemplating migration. The narrative provides a detailed depiction of village life while transitioning between history and the present, offering a multi-voiced text that goes beyond the themes of love, migration, and death, and successfully presenting contrasting worlds.
In the ‘Published Short Story’ category, the winner is ‘Indama Kanat al-Ard Murabaa’ (When the Earth Was Square) by Emirati writer Lulwah Al Mansouri, published by the Emirates Writers Union and Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation in 2020. The author drew inspiration from the local UAE environment. The collection reflects a desire to transcend logic into the realm of the irrational at times, all while maintaining smooth construction and navigation through worlds of wonder.
As for the ‘Popular Narratives’ category, the winner is the collection of stories ‘Banat Waq Waq wa hikayat 'ukhraa’ (The Girls of Waq Waq and Other Stories) by Dr. Abdulaziz Al Musallam from the UAE, published by the Sharjah Institute for Heritage in 2023. In this collection, the author revisits and reimagines 30 folk tales, breathing new life into Emirati and Arab folk storytelling and engaging new generations to preserve their cultural identity. The author becomes the modern narrator reviving various Arab folk tales, some inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, particularly the story of ‘Banat Waq Waq’. This collection is significant as it celebrates and revives Emirati and Arab cultural heritage, presenting it in a way that appeals to a younger audience.
The ‘Illustrated Story’ category has awarded ‘Al Zahra allati la Tamoot’ (The Flower That Never Dies) by Emirati artist Mohamed Hassan Ahmed. It is a cinematic piece with deep and innovative ideas, enchanting and poetic cinematography, concise dialogues, and a unique local and human narrative style. It discusses how despite the flower being merely an ornament on doors, clothes, and windows, its fragrance in this documentary film precedes or follows us. The work is multi-faceted, delving into its unprecedented philosophical concept and exploring the depths of human meanings.
The ‘Narrators’ category has seen Dr. Najima ThayThay Ghazali from Morocco win for her storytelling, which preserves the original narrative language and presents it in a suspenseful style that showcases her dedication to preserving this heritage and presenting it in a new and contemporary way that resonates with modern audiences.
Finally, the ‘Emirati Narration’ category award has gone to French-language novel ‘Le Faucon’ (The Falcon) by French author Gilbert Sinoué, published by Gallimard in 2020. The novel revolves around the character of the Founding Father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, styled in a way that makes it seem self-narrated in Sheikh Zayed’s voice, recalling key moments in building the nation, and interweaving the modern UAE’s political and cultural landscape with personal family details.
Sinoué masterfully handles these narrative junctions and storytelling keys in the character of the Founding Father, starting from the personal to the establishment of the ambitious Union, its achievements, and its commitment to values of openness to others and cultural tolerance. The novel documents the narrative of Sheikh Zayed’s life, using the metaphor of the falcon with all that it symbolises – from authenticity to strength, wisdom, foresight, and ambition to soar to great heights. The narrative recounts the significant historical milestones in Sheikh Zayed’s life, which align and resonate with the modern history of the UAE.
H.E. Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, Undersecretary of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, said: “Our Arabic language undeniably possesses an illustrious narrative heritage and extensive history, and it is essential today to acknowledge, build upon, and accumulate experiences to ensure its continuity and longevity. We take great pride in our continuous efforts to enrich the written word in Arabic with new and outstanding publications that reflect the rich heritage of our nation. Today, we celebrate those who have gone beyond traditional narrative conventions with their creative works, offering new and thought-provoking content, contributing greatly to Abu Dhabi’s standing as a cultural and artistic hub, rooted in the region and connected to the world.”
H.E. Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Chairman of the ALC, said: “The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre is committed to documenting the treasures and creative works of the Arabic language, celebrating new and notable projects which elevate the intellectual and cultural awareness of our society. With the Sard Al Thahab Award, we aim to shine a light on the art of storytelling, which is the cornerstone of literary creativity. The Award recognises creative pioneers and supports an environment that nurtures quality, authenticity, and individuality in storytelling.”
H.E. Abdulla Majed Al Ali, Chairman of the Sard Al Thahab Award’s Higher Committee and Director General of the National Library and Archives, said: “The Sard Al Thahab Award is a new step forward in Abu Dhabi’s cultural journey, honouring an inspiring group of creators whose works present innovative takes on Emirati folk and narrative arts and track the UAE’s history and development through local, Arab, and global studies. The inaugural edition has been a remarkable success, receiving a diverse range of submissions boasting a strong connection to the deep-seated traditions of Emirati and Arab culture. We are confident that the award, in all of its upcoming editions, will contribute to enriching the local and international cultural scene by highlighting unique new voices.”
The Higher Committee of the Sard Al Thahab Award is set to hold a special award ceremony for the winners at 6:30pm on Wednesday, 6 December at Al Dhafra Castle, in parallel with the Al Dhafra Book Festival.