University hosts discussion on book celebrating life of female Arab astronomer

Birzeit University students and professors as well as representatives of scientific and astronomical societies discussed Ahlam Bsharat’s latest book, “Mariam Lady of the Astrolabe,” in a book-signing ceremony held at the university’s Michel and Sanieh Hakim Observatory on Saturday, September 14, 2019. 

Attended by Atef Abu Seif, the Palestinian minister of culture, the ceremony featured Aref Husseini, founder of Al-Nayzak Organization for Scientific Innovation, and Omar Obaidiah, a member of Nova Society for Astronomy and Space Science−Palestine, who discussed the novel’s literary and scientific content and impact. 

In her opening remarks, Bsharat explained that the novel was based on the life and works of Mariam al-Asturlabiyy, a 10th-century female astronomer and maker of astrolabes in Aleppo, and that she hoped the book would raise awareness of Asturlabiyy’s achievements and shed light on Arab scientific accomplishments in general. 

Husseini praised the novel for its ability to introduce complex scientific topics in a simple, fun-to-read way, interesting for teens and older readers alike. He added that the author uses both prose and poetry, switching between them in order to emphasize a particular idea or  concept. 

Obaidiah lauded the book for highlighting the scientific achievements of Arab women, stating that Palestinian society as a whole needs to encourage women to think, create, and test the limits of what is possible. He stressed the need for the Palestinian and Arab communities to celebrate their scientific heritage and to build on it to reach new frontiers in science and technology. 

Ahlam Bsharat is a Palestinian writer who grew up in a village in Northern Palestine and whose books have received many awards and recommendations. Her novel “Ismee Alharakee Farasha” (translated into English as “Code Name: Butterfly”) was included in the 2012 IBBY Honor List, a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books from more than seventy countries. 

“Ismee Alharakee Farasha” and “Ashjaar lil-Naas al-Ghaa’ibeen” (translated into English as “Trees for the Absentees”) were both runners-up for Etisalat Award For Children’s Arabic Literature in 2013. “Code Name: Butterfly” was shortlisted for the UK-based Palestine Book Awards in 2017.