Empires rise, countries thrive by reading, says UAE winner of Arab Reading Challenge 2024

Ahmed Faisal Ali, winner of UAE-level round of 8th Arab Reading Challenge
Ahmed said he is proud of his mother, Sheikha Al Falasi, praising her as ‘my number one supporter’ who made his win possible
Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

Dubai: Reading is probably a key reason why many empires rose and many countries are thriving, said the UAE winner of the 8th Arab Reading Challenge.

Emirati student Ahmed Faisal Ali, who outdid nearly 700,000 participants, was on Tuesday crowned the country-level winner of the world’s largest project to promote reading among students.

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A student of Zayed Education Complex in Al Barsha, Dubai, Ahmed will later this year vie for the overall Dh500,000 Champion title of the largest ever literacy initiative in the Arab region.

Ahmed being honoured by Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, during the award ceremony at Dubai World Trade Centre on Tuesday
Image Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

The Arab Reading Challenge was launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 2015 to encourage 1 million young people to read a minimum of 50 books in a year.

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Mother’s support

Shortly after multi-coloured confetti showered the stage upon the announcement of his victory, Ahmed called his mother on to the stage and gave her a hug. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude; it’s truly a great achievement,” the winner said.

“I am immensely proud and thankful to Allah above all. A heartfelt thanks to my dear mother, my unwavering support. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid once said, ‘A mother never feels full until her children are satisfied and she doesn’t sleep until they do, and her happiness is incomplete until theirs is’. Today, I echo Sheikh Mohammed’s sentiment: ‘Who is like my mother, who is like Latifa?’ And today I say, ‘Who is like my mother, who compares to Sheikha?’”

The duo received a loud round of applause as they embraced again on stage.

Speaking to Gulf News later, he said his mother, Sheikha Al Falasi, is an exceptional person. “There is no one like her… My mother has been my number one supporter and it is because of her unwavering support that I have reached this stage. I am incredibly proud of her.”

Inspiration for reading

However, he said it was one of his teachers, Dr Noor Fadel from Syria, who encouraged him to join the competition last year. “She saw something in me what I did not see myself…the love and passion towards reading and towards Arabic.”

Yet, the real spirit of the competition got on to him after he completed the seventh season of the Challenge, held last year.

“On October 31, 2023, I saw Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid honour the winners of the competition. He is my leader, my role model.”

Being a Dubai citizen, he said he is extremely proud of Sheikh Mohammed as an exceptional leader. “I saw him with the [grand finale] winner of the Arabic Reading Challenge and this ignited my real passion.”

Since then, it became his aim to be the next winner to receive the honour from Sheikh Mohammed. “This time I really enjoyed reading. I really liked Arabic and everything and I reached this stage.”

Asked about his plan to win the Dh500,000 title, he said: “I want to represent my country in the best way possible. This is my priority. I want to win this competition for my country. Yes, and this is what will happen.”

Ahmed said reading has opened up different worlds and cultures for him. “That is why reading is very important. It lets us learn a lot of new things. And reading is probably the reason why many empires rose and many countries are now thriving.”