Most countries and cultures in the Middle East don't focus on reading for understanding, so it is a challenge to encourage Arabs to read books, including their Holy Books. Watching television is competing with reading. The top intellectuals in Middle Eastern society read books, but Open Doors hopes many others will also read so they can understand God's Word and the Christian faith and beliefs. Christians know from experience that it's important to read the Bible, Christianity's "Holy Book," to find teaching from it.
Open Doors is providing an increased variety of titles to the libraries in the Middle East, so it will be easier for Christian Arabs to get a book to read, and to find books that will deepen their faith and beliefs. We want to encourage Christian Arabs to read the Bible and other Christian books, so Open Doors is selecting books of good content and quality, books full of pictures and colors that present the information in an attractive way.
Televisions, Nice Cars and the Newest Mobile Phones
When you travel in the Middle East, you are often surprised that many houses don't have much furniture and decoration, but a television is always present. Poor people live on concrete floors, between walls without windows or a roof, but 'the eye of the world' is central to their lives. Plus the owner has a nice mobile phone and usually a second-hand car. "Our culture is all about visualizing and picturing and not about letters and content. The size of the library is not important to us, but the size of our television-screen is," one of the local Christian leaders says.
This is generalizing the Arab culture and way of living, but there is truth in it. The statistics about the publication of new books in Europe and in the Middle East report that the Middle East is publishing books in limited number compared to Europe.
One of the reasons the Arab World is not (yet) a reading culture involves an issue of language and education. The Arab language consists actually of two languages: the classical ('fusha' in Arabic) and the colloquial ('Ameya') in the different dialects. The 'Ameya' is the spoken language, the 'Fusha' the reading and writing one. In many other cultures over time, the language develops, both in writing, speaking and reading. The written and spoken English of 100 years ago is quite different than today, and that is true for many other languages except for Arabic. Written Arabic has stopped developing (and changing) over the last few centuries, but the spoken Arabic has changed.
Since the 15th century, the Arabic written language is tied to the Quran. It is forbidden to modify or modernize the language of the Quran, and therefore it is also indirectly forbidden to change the classical Arabic. After so many centuries it still means that the Arabs are learning a written language in school which they barely understand and will seldom use. Plus an Egyptian speaks Arabic in a different dialect than a Jordanian, but they write the same script and words. Most Arabs only operate daily in the spoken dialect, so they are not really able to read books. Some publishing houses and linguists have tried to modify the classical Arabic by writing down the spoken Arabic, but most efforts have failed. One attempt has not failed and that is to have other Bible translations next to the classical standard translation (called The Van Dyck Bible).
However, the availability of several translations is also reason for discussion and one of the reasons that Muslims are saying that the Bible is 'corrupted.' They say, Christians have been 'changing' the original words of the Bible, and that will not happen with the Quran. Changing the words of the Holy Books is a difficult debate in the Middle East. It is one of the reasons that the first translation of the Bible into Arabic (Van Dyck) is still the most accepted and known translation in the Middle East, but a modernized version Good News Arabic Bible (GNA) has been accepted too in some Arabic countries and that has helped Arabs to read and understand the Bible more and more.
Open Doors is looking into different ways to enrich and encourage Christian Arabs to read and study their Bibles so they can grow in their faith and be spiritually strong when they face increased suffering and persecution. Open Doors has cooperated with a publishing house to publish the Illustrated Family Bible in the Good News Arabic Bible-translation. This is a complete Bible from Genesis to Revelations, including all the great stories God has told us in His Word and 550 colored illustrations that will captivate children and adults alike. It is a book for families to study and enjoy together. Open Doors has ordered 25,000 copies, and in the coming months, these Bibles will be distributed throughout the entire Middle East. Pray for the distribution and pray for the readers.