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ghada wali 2

20 questions for: Ghada Wali (#20)

Episode #20 of my series “9273 roots”: 20 questions for the woman who uses LEGO to teach Arabic: Ghada Wali.

LAST UPDATED: 1 month ago

Lisān al-‘Arab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…

Ghada Wali


The woman who uses LEGO to teach Arabic

  • Date of birth: 14th November 1989
  • Place of birth: Cairo, Egypt
  • Place of residence: Cairo, Egypt
  • Website: https://ghadawali.com
  • Ghada Wali took part in TED Speaker (Idea Search) in Nairobi 2017 – she was the youngest female speaker representing MENA region. She believes that graphic design can change the world.
  • The multiple-award-winning designer developed an Arabic typeface that was chosen as one of the best 100 graphic design pieces in the world by the Society of Typographic Arts in Chicago. Her work has been featured in art exhibits around the world and showcased in various articles internationally such as the World Economic Forum.
  • Most importantly, Wali made it to Forbes Europe's List 2017 (Arts & Immigrants category) which makes her the first Egyptian woman ever to appear in this category.

ghada wali 3
Ghada Wali – one of the most influential designers and speakers in the Arab world.
photo credit: Ghada Wali

How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn't know you?

I am the founder of Wali's Studio. I'm a human, designer, and artist who believes that design can change the world.

What was your first Arabic grammar book?

It was called التلميذ.

silah talmeedh

What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?

Karnak Café by (1974).

What is the story?

Yūsuf Idrīs (1927 – 1991) was an Egyptian playwright and novelist who is often viewed as the father of the Arabic short story. He mixed colloquial dialect with classical Arabic narration . His main topics were stories about ordinary villagers. Yūsuf Idrīs studied medicine and supported the nationalist struggle in the 1950s. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature more than once – but never got it. When the prize went to Naguib Mahfouz (1988), Yūsuf Idrīs – as it was told – felt that he had been passed over because of his outspoken views on Israel.

How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?

It depends on the character, I believe we should tailor methods to individuals rather than masses.

Ghada – giving a TED talk. She explains how she used LEGO to teach Arabic.

What is your favorite Arabic word?

حُبّ (love)

Which Arabic word do you like least?


Cairo – where Ghada grew up and currently lives.
photo credit: pixabay (Simon)

Which Arabic dialect do you like best?

Egyptian Arabic.

What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?

O Lord! (يا رَبّ)

What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?

A quote by Ibn ʿArabī:

كنت قبل اليوم أنكر صاحبي
إذا لم يكن ديني إلى دينه داني
لقد صار قلبي قابلا كل صورة
فمرعى لغزلان ودير لرهبان
وبيت لأوثان وكعبة طائف
وألواح توراة ومصحف قرآن
أدين بدين الحب أني توجهت ركائبه
فالحب ديني وإيماني.

In elder days, I denied my friend,
If my own religion leaned not unto his.
But my heart has now transformed, to harbor all forms:
It is a meadow for gazelles, and a monastery for monks,
A pantheon of idols, and a pilgrim's Kaaba,
A Torah's tablets, and a Quran's text.
Love's creed is my credo, wherever I am or love is
There Love is my one true religion and belief.

Who was Ibn Arabi?

Muhyī el-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (1165-1240) was born in Moorish Spain. He is perhaps the most famous Muslim philosopher. Western scholars usually say that he was a “Sufi” – but he himself never said that. His work is deeply rooted in Islamic sources (Qur'an, Hadiths).

He has profoundly influenced the development of Islam since his time, as well as significant aspects of the philosophy and literature of the West. His wisdom has much to offer us in the modern world in terms of understanding what it means to be human. Over 800 works are attributed to him (of which 100 survived in the original manuscript). His largest work (originally published in 37 volumes) is called The Meccan Illuminations.

It deals with a wide range of topics from mystical philosophy to Sufi practices and records of his dreams/visions. Ibn ʿArabī travelled extensively in the Islamic world and died in Damascus in 1240 AD (638 AH). Ibn ‘Arabi's work remained unknown in the Western World until modern times.

What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?

A quote by Taha Hussein:

اللغة العربية .. لغة رصينة… اظها مصقولة… تصور بها صفاء اللغة … تملاء ألفاظها الفم … لها رنين تحبها الأذن… ولا يضيق بها الذوق… ولا ينفر منها الطبع

The Arabic language… a thoughtful language… the purity of the language, visualized by its words… its words filling the mouth…. it has a sound the ears like… and does not narrow the taste… and does not repulse its temperament.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

“It is about the journey, not the destination.”

Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?

I would choose my family every time!

What was the last great meal you had?

My mom's Pasta.

What is your favorite city?

Florence, Italy.

Florence in Italy – one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
picture credit: pixabay (MustangJoe)

Which book would you give to a dear friend?

A book I just designed.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

Disney movies!

What music do you listen to?

I listen to all genres.

When were you happiest?

At university.

What is your greatest fear?

Losing a loved one.

ghada wali 2
Ghada Wali – a designer living in Cairo.
picture credit: Ghada Wali

What is your life motto?

Turn pain into production.

Ghada Wali, thank you for your time.

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