The Dubai of Bodour Al Qasimi
One of the most influential women in the Arab culture tells us about her country, her hometown and her brave cultural and social initiatives
The daughter of the Ruler of Sharjah, following her studies at the University of Cambridge in London, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi started a career in the publishing world. Over the years, she successfully carried out several initiatives, which made a significant impact on the UAE’s Arab Emirates’ cultural scene. The outgoing president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), she was the first Arab and the second woman ever to hold one of the most important and influential positions in the publishing industry across the world. In 2009, she started the Emirates Publishers Association which, three years later, joined the IPA. As the CEO and founder of Kalimat Publishing Group – the leading publishing group of Arabic books - she has been an avid advocate of the role of books in building bridges and promoting cultural dialogue. More recently, Bodour has been named President of the American University of Sharjah.
How did this cultural and entrepreneurial venture of yours start?
I grew up in a household in which books and culture were greatly appreciated. My father is a great storyteller and an avid reader, so he imparted his love of books and reading through the stories he shared with us. During my formative years in Sharjah, I witnessed and absorbed everything he did to create a cultural hub for the UAE and the whole region. Since then, the Emirate’s reputation has grown, and now it houses one of the world’s largest book fairs and was recently nominated UNESCO’s World Book Capital. It’s natural therefore for me to champion my father’s vision, build on his legacy, and continue the journey he started decades ago.
Any curious but essential information for those visiting Sharjah for the first time?
Sharjah has something for everyone. Whether it’s shopping in an old Arab market, eating authentic local food, or immersing yourself in Islamic and Arabic culture, you will find an activity. I recommend starting your day at one of the coffee shops in the heart of Sharjah, watching the fishing boats from the waterfront. It’s something all new visitors to Sharjah enjoy.
Sharjah, the Emirate’s cultural capital, is very art and music-oriented. What are the must-see places and events in this field?
It’s essential to visit the Sharjah Art Museum, a state-of-the-art facility over three floors and one of the largest in the UAE. It focuses on Arabic art from throughout the Arab world. Close by on Arts Square is the Emirates Fine Art Society which is designed to support and stimulate the arts scene in the UAE. Its Annual Exhibition is the longest-running art exhibition in the Emirate. It has a beautiful courtyard open to visitors, who can attend workshops, seminars, and lectures on painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphics, photography and calligraphy. If you enjoy calligraphy, the Calligraphy Museum is in the Sharjah Heritage Area. It explores this ancient Arab art form, with galleries exhibiting works from the finest calligraphy artists from the Arab world.
In the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, you will find Islamic arts and crafts dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries. You will also find interesting sculptures dotted around Sharjah during your visit.
If you are a nature lover, you will enjoy Al Noor Island, which blends art and nature into its design and features gardens with modern art sculptures and installations created by some of the world’s most renowned artists.
What do you recommend to visit and see to learn more about the past and history of Sharjah, one of the UAE’s oldest cities?
There’s a wealth of history in Sharjah, which can give you a real insight into not just Sharjah, but the whole region. In 1998, we were recognised by UNESCO in our efforts to preserve the area’s history and was given the title of Cultural Capital of the Arab World. With an extensive archaeological program, we are constantly discovering new and fascinating details of Sharjah’s past. That’s why the Sharjah Archaeological Museum is a must-see, giving visitors an insight into the region from the Stone Age period to the Islamic era. There are an incredible number of things on display, many of which are in wonderful condition. Just outside of the city is the Mleiha Archaeological Site, which offers desert activities along with tours of the UAE’s most significant sites.
What are the must-see places in modern Sharjah?
One of Sharjah’s most spectacular leisure developments is the Al Heera beach, a 3.5 kilometre stretch of golden sand along the Arabian Gulf. It’s been carefully designed to blend in with the surrounding landscape and includes a marina, great restaurants, watersports and lots of activities for children, including a skatepark. Further inland there are many sports, adventure trails and shopping centers to enjoy. You can even go sand skiing! One of our newest additions to our cultural landscape is the House of Wisdom. It’s a beautiful library which opened in 2019 and was inspired by the original House of Wisdom in Baghdad during the Islamic Golden Age. Its iconic architectural design makes it a wonderful space for the community to learn, share and inspire one another. I highly recommend visiting it to see how Sharjah is reimagining libraries for the 21st century.
What attracts you to Italy and the Made in Italy culture?
When you’re born in a city like Sharjah, full of culture and history, it’s natural to enjoy and appreciate others’ cultures and history. Italy has a lot to offer for art and culture lovers like myself. Italy’s family values and appreciation of life are contagious and are similar to our culture in many ways. I love the attention to detail in Italy’s old buildings and monuments, which reveal the country’s rich history and invite everyone to explore and learn from.
What are the destinations you love most in the nearby Emirate of Dubai?
Dubai and Sharjah are different despite the proximity. Dubai offers a different experience for visitors which makes the journey between both Emirates an interesting and memorable one. I appreciate Dubai’s resilience and story from humble beginnings to a global tourist destination. It says a lot about the spirit of its people and in general that of Emiratis.
Before being a great publisher, you are a great reader. What book would you say changed your life?
The Alchemy of Happiness by Al Ghazali.
And the best book to plunge into the spirit of UAE?
My Early Life by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
What is your motto?
Always remember to fall asleep with a dream and wake up with a purpose.
What is your dream?
To see all children given access to books and reading. Literacy is the key to knowledge and opportunity.
5 things not to be missed
House of wisdom
It’s a beautiful library, which opened in 2019. Its iconic architectural design makes it a wonderful space for the community to learn, share and inspire one another.
Sharjah Archaeological Museum
It is a must-see, giving visitors an insight into the region from the Stone Age period to the Islamic era.
Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization
Here you will find Islamic arts and crafts dating from the 7th to 19th centuries.
It explores this ancient Arab art form, with galleries exhibiting works from the finest calligraphy artists from the Arab world.
Al Heera beach
A 3.5 kilometer stretch of golden sand along the Arabian Gulf. It is one of Sharjah’s most spectacular leisure developments.