Arab numerals and tourism
Islamic Tourism Prospects
Arab numerals and tourism
My questions and interest in figures have been crystallized day after day since the beginning of the eighties, following my publication of two reviews, “Al-Hidhaa” (the Shoe) and “Arridaa" (the Garment) issued in Arabic and English. Both publications were concerned with scientific, economic and professional questions and needed tables and figures.
During the preparation of each issue of these reviews, I felt certain pain and stress, because I did not see any reason to use two types of figures, which were, incidentally, both Arabic. The Eastern figures are more difficult to read and write and errors are more likely. I believe that use of the two types of figures was a waste of time and effort, as well as an obstacle which hindered the artistic and scientific creativity of page-setting and production. The international Arab numerals were definitely more suitable then Eastern figures.
As time passed, I used the international Arab numerals more often. They are commonly used in the Occident and in most countries instead of the Eastern figures, called “Indian Figures”. For the sake of clarity, I will call the former international Arab numerals, and the latter Eastern numerals.
I insisted that international Arab numerals were used in the type-setting of the two reviews and purchased the appropriate computers to enable me to do this. But Arab computer programmes only functioned with Eastern figures.
The change from Eastern figures to international Arab numerals was a complex and long operation. Each figure had to be individually altered and a mixture of Arab numerals and Eastern figures appeared in Arab texts. The need for a viable solution was in my mind whenever I published magazines or books.
When I published “Financial Worship in Islam" I was determined to practice what I had been preaching and used international Arab numerals, even for Quranic verses. I was convinced that these figures have a promising future. The Western wing of the Arab world (Maghreb) uses international Arab numerals. The Moslems of North Africa must take the credit for introducing these figures into Europe through Islamic Spain (Andalusia). Consequently, there are two types of figures used in the Arab world: international Arab numerals in the Maghreb and Eastern figures in other countries.
Arab numerals in the era of the computer
The founders of Diwan, which specializes in the production of Arabic software, were three young Iraqi geniuses whose programs used Eastern figures. Several years later, these programs were developed in parallel with the products of large companies (Microsoft, APPLE and others) which sought the development of similar software.
There were different programmes tailored to the requirements of various countries and their languages. Two programmes were developed for Arab countries, one comprising of Eastern figures and the other of international Arab numerals. The programmers have now made it possible for computer users to change between Arab and Eastern numbers.
The Eastern figures are no longer the only figures used by modern Arab mass media. Certain Arab TV channels started to make use of international Arab numerals. But this is not happening in accordance with a strategy or universal decision to change: the same channel may use both Eastern and Arab numerals - the winds of change are blowing randomly.
The local Arab press adopts the figures in use by the country in which the newspaper is published. However, the international Arab press, such as “Asharq Al-Awsat”, “Al-Hayat”, “Al-Quds” and others, adopted international Arab numerals. Sadly many publishers of Arab books and reviews are still not aware of the problem and conform to local practices. This is also true of the education sector.
The relevance of figures to tourism
It is obvious that tourism and travel are a permanent feature of 21st century life, as important as food, air, the nourishing of body and soul and the enhancement of human culture. So what is the relationship between Arab and Eastern figures and tourism? A third of the communication in the tourism sector is confined to figures. If the figures are uniform both parties can communicate. The use of Arab numerals can also make life easier for tourists who do not speak the language.
The time has come for the Arab League and the Academy of the Arabic Language to embark on a revolutionary initiative by issuing a call to replace Eastern figures with international Arab numerals throughout the Arab world. This would help to unite the Arab world in a scientific, organised manner along the lines of the European model where the Euro started to unify the currencies of its 25-member states.
It would not be difficult for the Arab world to reclaim the figures which carry its name and are a permanent feature of modern life. Modern software packages have made it possible for typesetters and computer users to change from Eastern to Arab numerals with the click of the mouse.
If our community intends to enter the era of globalization and wants the world to become acquainted with its proud legacy and civilization, it must adopt international Arab numerals. This will solve 33% of the communication problems with the rest of the world and will facilitate the task of researchers and readers. It will also be greatly appreciated in the fields of artistic creativity and the manufacturing sector. The Arab world can easily overcome one of the major obstacles to its integration into the international community.
The return of the Arab numerals
Before any real progress can be made it is essential that the project for changing the figures be presented for adoption at a summit of the heads of Arab States, so it can be implemented within the next three to five years.
Committees from ministries of education, planning, information and culture must be formed independently to give their recommendations. Representatives of these committees will meet afterwards to finalize the details of the change within a fixed, defined period.
Let us make this change in the figures a true cultural revolution which will allow the release of the scientific and creative energies of our community, particularly in the fields of new information technology and programming, by opening the way to researchers and the private sector so they take an active part in this change. This will create new employment opportunities and profits for thousands of researchers and entrepreneurs in our community and relieve governments from yet another responsibility.
The countries with the oldest languages, particularly in Asia, such as China, Japan and others, changed their old figures to our Arab numerals. But few Arab countries have followed suite. Would there be a positive response to our call aiming at the return of our beautiful Arab numerals within our alphabet?
May God guide us to success.
A. S. Shakiry