April 13, 2019


Iraqis leading efforts to enrich Arabic Wikipedia (Gilgamesh Nabeel, April 13, 2019, Al Monitor)

Leading enlightenment efforts is not something new to Iraqis, who are the inhabitants of Mesopotamia -- once the cradle of civilization. In ninth-century Baghdad, Abbasid ruler Harun al-Rashid established Bayt al-Hikmah -- the Arabic name for the House of Wisdom -- to house the monumental activity of the translation of Greek and Persian works into Arabic. This institution flourished in the reign of his son al-Ma'mun, making Baghdad the world's biggest hub of science.

"We chose this name for its historical significance," said Rayyis. He added, "That institution was a beacon of science, tolerance and exchange of cultures. The passion for science brought people of different religions and cultures -- all Jews, Muslims, Christians and others -- into one institution altogether."

Rayyis dreams of recreating that atmosphere. "We want to rekindle our people's golden age and join the global civilization," he said.

For Omar Mohammed, a Paris-based Iraqi scholar and creator and administrator of Mosul Eye, translation is such a valuable magical means. "We need it to build a new future -- a future devoid of dictatorship and ignorance," he said.

This project reminded Mohammed of Farah Antoun, a pioneer Tripoli-born enlightenment figure, writer and translator in the 19th century when he translated works into Arabic. "Hearing of Mutar's translation project made me very happy, for the freedom to access knowledge is a way to achieve eternal freedom," said Mohammed.

Upon meeting Mutar in New York this month, Mohammed suggested some books be translated into Arabic.

"Mutar promised to dedicate the project to Mosul University," he said, adding, "We are trying to make the website accessible in Mosul with more contributions from Mosul University scholars."

Currently, the House of Wisdom 2.0 project has a Facebook community of some 84,000 fans.

"We have added more than 900 articles to the Arabic Wikipedia and translated 12 books," said Mutar. He noted, "We lifted the ranking of the Arabic language to the 17th language in Wikipedia from the 19th."

While Arabic is the fourth most spoken language among internet users, only 6% of online content is available in Arabic.

"With our project, the Arabic Wikipedia is ranked 17th, preceded by the Ukrainian Wikipedia," said Rayyis. He added, "There are more than 400 million Arabic speakers, while Ukrainian is spoken by about 35 million people worldwide. We are proud of translating the full English Wikipedia content on biological evolution into Arabic -- more than 500 essays."

What is special about the House of Wisdom 2.0, according to Rayyis, is that it is a nonprofit project. "We translate hundreds of articles every month, voluntarily upload them to the Arabic Wikipedia and make them available to everyone for free," he said.

While concentrating on topics debunking conspiracy theories, topics banned in some Arab countries and content that makes people question more, Mutar emphasizes that they have no agenda other than spreading knowledge.

"We are not a political or anti-religion organization, but we embrace some of these controversial books and content because we believe Arab youth should be allowed to make up their own minds about how they want to live their lives," he said.

The reactions they get are quite encouraging.

"Within a few months, 80,000 fans followed us on Facebook," said Rayyis. "The majority of them are from Iraq, especially Baghdad, Najaf, Mosul and Basra. We have received hundreds of supportive messages so far," Rayyis added.

"It is a forum for those who adore knowledge and want to be part of an enlightened society," wrote Ismail Berwari, a lawyer from Dahuk in Iraqi Kurdistan, advising people to follow the project's page on Facebook.

Posted by at April 13, 2019 7:34 AM