Friendship and mutual knowledge help to improve understanding of diverse cultures, said a top official from Casa Arabe – an institution from Spain conducting impactful initiatives to build a bridge between Arab and Spanish cultures.

Based in Madrid and Cordoba, the institution established in 2006 has been providing training to further Spanish professionals and students’ understanding of Arab culture, collaborating with Arab cultural institutions, authors and publishers to foster intercultural dialogue. It also hosts film screenings, art exhibitions and music performances by Arab creatives.

For its stellar role in improving the understanding of the Arab and Muslim world, Casa Arabe won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in the ‘Cultural Personality of the Year’ category. The organisation is backed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, among other government entities.

“The ministry realised that it was necessary to have an institution of public diplomacy, to foster a relationship between societies,” Irene Lozano Domingo, director of Casa Arabe, told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2024.

“We help the Spanish society to get to know the Arab societies in a better way and the other way around. This happened in the context of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’. So, the political position of Spain in the world is that we believe in the ‘Alliance of Civilisations’. And the way to improve mutual knowledge is by having institutions like Casa Arabe,” she added.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the context of the global war on terrorism, political scientist Samuel Huntington’s theory of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’, and a chain of terrorist attacks around the globe, previous Spanish prime minister Jose Luis formulated the idea of an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’. In his first speech to the UN General Assembly in New York on September 21, 2004, he proposed an “Alliance of Civilisations between the Western and the Arab and Muslim worlds”.

Casa Arabe belongs to a network of similar houses like Casa America, Casa Asia, Casa Africa, and more.

“In the beginning of Casa Arabe, the Arab population in Spain was smaller. So, we were working mainly in the intercultural dialogue between countries.”

In the past two years, Irene has started initiating a dialogue within Spain, including a renewed focus on the digital world.

“Now, we have 1.5 million people in Spain who are Arabs or Spanish people with an Arab background. So, we tried to foster mutual knowledge inside Spain. We are now programming things trying to reach this population in Spain.”

Arabic influence on Spanish language

Casa Arabe teaches Arabic to about 400 students per term. Irene noted that the Arabic language has a great influence on Spanish language.

“There is a long tradition of teaching Arabs that goes back to the 12th century. We have a lot of people interested in learning the Arabic language. At Casa Arabe, we have Arab courses for children. Very often, Arabs who live in Spain, and want their children to learn Arabic properly, bring them to us. The digital update helps in teaching online because we have realised that many people, either Spanish or Latin American, are interested in taking lessons in Arabic.”

Irene said that Spaniards love and admire the beautiful Arabic language.

“We know that our roots, our main source of vocabulary is Latin, but the second biggest influence is Arab language. We have about 900 roots that give birth to the 4,000 words we use nowadays in Spain. It came from the Arab language. So, there are old ties. There is also a world of opportunities as Spain is very close to Arab countries and the Mediterranean area.”

Irene underlined that Casa Arabe is committed to being a meeting point between Spain and the Arab world.

“Friendship and mutual knowledge is the only way forward. This award recognises our work. It also highlights the importance of Spanish culture and influence in the world.”

Casa Arabe is also collaborating with the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre for new initiatives.

“We are organising an event together. We are working more together now,” Irene noted.

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