Nearly four decades ago, His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Muhammad Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, made an appeal to stop building concrete structures.

Instead, he had a vision to make Sharjah, which is the third largest city in the United Arab Emirates, as the nation’s cultural and knowledge capital.

While its neighbouring city Dubai saw buildings and mega attractions rising from the ground at breakneck speed, Sheikh Dr Sultan called upon the people of Sharjah to build upon knowledge and culture.

His vision came to fruition as Sharjah has recently been named by Unesco as the World Book Capital 2019.

It is a title currently held by Athens, Greece and also cities like Incheon (South Korea), Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Montreal (Canada), and Bangkok (Thailand) in the past.

This year, Sharjah held its biggest edition of its annual Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) yet.

The 37th edition of the SIBF, which organisers say is the world’s third largest book fair, opened at Expo Centre Sharjah on Oct 31 with 1.6 million titles, of which 80,000 are brand new. The fair, themed “Tale of Letters”, ends on Nov 10.

Participation at SIBF 2018 saw a total of 1,847 publishers from 77 countries with 20 million books, and more than 1,800 activities on the programme.

“In 1979, I launched an appeal to stop building concrete structures and build knowledge and culture. In 2019, it’ll be 40 years since that appeal,” said Sheikh Dr Sultan, who launched the SIBF 2018, on Oct 31.

sharjah

The 37th edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair, which organisers say is the world’s third largest book fair, opened at Expo Centre Sharjah on Oct 31 with 1.6 million titles. Photo: AFP

“When we look back, we can see that we have built a 40-year legacy of exceptional cultural achievements,” he added.

Last year, 2.38 million people from all over the world visited SIBF, according to the Sharjah Book Authority, curator of the book fair.

SIBF also recorded RM234.28mil (AED206mil) in books sales in 2017.

Sheikh Dr Sultan, an avid reader and writer, who has penned many books, remarked on mindful reading.

“People do not always seek the truth, but side with what they like to believe in, which may not be the truth always. This way, the truth is often neglected. I say to such people – look carefully, and the truth is right there,” he said.

Sheikh Dr Sultan also launched his latest novel entitled Bibi And The King’s Sons at this SIBF.

This year’s guests at the SIBF 2018 included British writers James E. Montgomery, Bruce Parry and Emma Gannon; American authors Dr Leonard Mlodinow, James W. Parkinson and A.J. Finn as well as Canadian YouTuber and “Superwoman” Lilly Singh.

Big names from India include actress and writer Soha Ali Khan; motivational speaker Gaur Gopal Das; actress, director and social activist Nandita Das; L. Subramaniam, composer, conductor and violinist; Karan Thapar, journalist and TV commentator; and film actor and director Prakash Raj.