An Emirati teenager and a schoolboy from Qatar have been crowned the first joint winners of the Arab Reading Challenge in Dubai.
The UAE's Amnah Al Mansoori, 17, and Abdullah Al Berri, 12, will share the Dh1 million ($270,000) prize after votes were tied following an international competition which attracted 24.8 million entrants.
The young literature lovers were honoured at a ceremony at Dubai Opera by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
A smiling Amnah, draped in the UAE flag, was handed her trophy by Sheikh Mohammed.
The Abu Dhabi pupil earned her place in the grand final by winning the UAE Arab Reading Challenge in July.
She read an impressive 128 books during the academic year.
Celebrating the written word
She said her passion for prose runs in the family.
“My grandfather, father, mother and older sister were all avid readers,” she told The National.
“I often saw my grandfather stay up late at night to read.
“Sometimes I would help him memorise Quranic verses.”
She has contributed to her family's extensive home library with her own collection of cherished books.
“My favourite books are The Beginning and The End series by the renowned Islamic Imam Ibn Kathir,” she said.
She said her treasured collection of books has helped shape her as a person.
She aims to use her winnings by helping financially disadvantaged students pursue their education.
Abdullah booked his place at the Dubai showpiece when he won the Qatar's Arab Reading Challenge.
He has read 120 books for the challenge, spanning a diverse range of interests.
He has set his sights on becoming a doctor to make a significant contribution to society.
Yousef bin Daoud, from Tunisia, was named the inaugural winner of a new category celebrating the achievements of young readers with disabilities.
He secured a Dh200,000 prize after seeing off competition from more than 22,500 participants.
King Abdullah II School for Excellence in Irbid city, Jordan, was named Best School, collecting a Dh1 million prize.
Fedaa Dawud, who received the prize on behalf of the school, said 450 of its 630 pupils read at least 50 books for the competition.
“I tell my pupils that this initiative begins with a book in a pupil’s hand but leads up to a nation's progress,” she said.
She said the school had emphasised to pupils the power of reading to shape and inspire young minds.
“This is why many of them are reading on their own, not only for the purpose of taking part in this competition,” she said.
Jordan celebrated another notable achievement, with Samaher Al Sawaee receiving Dh300,000 for claiming top spot in the outstanding supervisor category.
Mohammed Al Kawkabani, from Malaysia, received Dh100,000 for securing success in the category recognising Arab pupils studying overseas.
Sheikh Mohammed praises learners
Sheikh Mohammed hailed millions of young learners for their "pursuit of knowledge and excellence" in a message on social media.
"I am proud of the sons of the Arab nation who gathered today in Dubai for the finals of the Arab Reading Challenge, in which more than 24 million students from 188,000 schools in 46 countries participated," Sheikh Mohammed wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
"Congratulations to Abdullah Al Berri from Qatar for winning the first place, sharing it with Amnah Al Mansoori from the United Arab Emirates.
"The Arab students' passion for reading in such numbers reflects a pursuit of knowledge and excellence.
"We see in them goodness and envision a brighter future for our Arab nation, by the will of Allah."
Sheikh Mohammed attended the seventh instalment of the challenge along with Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister and First Deputy Ruler of Dubai.
The Arab Reading Challenge was launched by Sheikh Mohammed in 2015 to encourage a million young people to read at least 50 books in a year.
The annual winner is selected based on the pupil's ability to articulate general knowledge, their critical thinking and communication skills, plus the diversity of books they have selected.