We love listening to stories. The endless possibility of one’s imagination always adds depth to simple words innocently told over a steaming cup of Turkish coffee. We hear stories wherever we go, from visits to the beauty salon that allow us to dubiously indulge in the hushed whispers of gossip overheard in between hair blow-drying sessions to unbelievable tales shared over dessert at weekly family gatherings. There are these types of stories, usually wondrously exaggerated, and then there’s the incredible selection of short stories presented in The Black Book of Arabia by Emirati Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassemi.
Like most of us, Sheikha Hend has always loved stories. Her grandmother used to tell her old Arabic tales from memory ever since she was only a child. She said, “The first book I ever read in Arabic was 1001 Arabian Nights, the first English books were the C.S. Lewis classics.” While a passion for listening to stories comes easily to most, the ability to tell these tales does not. With The Black Book of Arabia, Sheikha Hend does not only showcase her first debut book, she masterfully displays an uncanny ability for storytelling. Sheikha Hend believes in the power of these amazing stories she heard from women she knew, and with their permission, she first published the stories in a column titled “True Stories of the Middle East” in Velvet magazine. She added, “Soon after, people began to tell me or send me their own true stories. I collected the best of these and expanded on them to create The Black Book of Arabia.”
For Sheikha Hend, the title ‘published author’ arrives alongside a list of accomplishments. She is an artist, photographer, entrepreneur, and committed philanthropist, editor-in-chief of Velvet, a high-end fashion and lifestyle magazine published in Dubai and distributed around the world, which is known for championing up-and-coming talents from the Middle East. She also runs a fashion label, House of Hend, and was chosen as the World Fashion Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for Qatar. Having studied Architecture and Design Management at the American University of Sharjah, she is a part-time researcher for the reconstruction of Doha’s Old Town.
Currently residing between Sharjah and Doha, Sheikha Hend sees creativity all around her. Her attraction toward the world of publishing comes naturally; writers, artists and designers from all walks of life inspire her. Still, she felt dissatisfied that no one shared her vision for publishing, especially as a woman based in the Middle East. She wished to create content that inspires, hence the birth of Velvet. She said, “The vision for Velvet is quality of people; experiences, values and products all packed in one. This is the meaning of the core value of being a person from the Middle East.”
While the idea behind publishing The Black Book of Arabia wasn’t there from the beginning, Sheikha Hend kept hearing from her Velvet readers, and how the stories published in the “True Stories” column not only entertained, but also inspired them. “I, too, was inspired by the strength and resilience of the women who told me their stories. The Black Book of Arabia is a way to share those stories with a wider audience. I believe that readers will learn that people from different walks of life face incredible struggles and challenges with courage and dignity.”
It takes genuine inspiration to continuously deliver on amazing projects. For Sheikha Hend, it is her love for adventure and the incredulous adrenalin rush that she gets from her discoveries or her audience’s reaction that keeps her going. She is currently working on a cookbook, a book about the original entrepreneurs in the Middle East, as well as a historical novel about the lives of three children set in medieval Spain. Sheikha Hend will also be making an appearance at the upcoming 2015 Kuwait Arabic Book Fair this November to speak about her publishing ventures and, as she gracefully concludes, “to visit my many family members and friends in Kuwait.”
up close and personal questionnaire:
What do you most value in your friends?
I value loyalty most.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness is finding peace within myself and taking pleasure in the happiness of others.
What is your greatest fear?
I fear losing the will to fight for what I love.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I try not to deplore anything in myself, but rather to recognize my shortcomings and improve on them.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
My idols are Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and my Prophet Mohammed in their teachings and way of life. Their persistence and loyalty in what they believe are godly and inspiring. We strive, and the bare attempt is enough. Perfection is divine; to err is human.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I love to travel.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Some people might think I overuse the word love, but I don’t believe that’s possible. Love is the reason we are here.
What is it that you most dislike?
Deception. Liars make fools of the ones who trust them.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I try to be satisfied with the talents I have and strive to make the most of them. There are many talents I don’t have, and I try to appreciate and support them in others.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
I already have jobs that let me do the things I love—write, paint, design, publish.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Creating a balanced life that lets me express my ideas and my creativity.
What is your most treasured possession?
It is not a material thing, but an attitude: An optimism about life and its inexhaustible beauty.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Fearlessness. I am not afraid to try things, because I am not afraid to fail.
Where would you most like to live?
I would either live in the beautiful wilderness of Vail, Colorado; the bustling cities of New York or Dubai; or the quiet peace of Sharjah.
What are your favorite words to live by?
Live, love, learn.
The Black Book Of Arabia (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing) is out now. Follow Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassemi on Instagram.