Literature


In 1981, during a trip to Egypt, I bought the old multi-volume Cairo edition of the mother of all Arabic dictionaries: al-Zabidi’s Taj al-‘Arus. It took up an entire suitcase and was so heavy that I paid the porter extra. As I arrived home, the handle broke and the books spilled in the landing of my home. Those were the days when most Arabic books had to be physically bought in the Middle East and carried home in luggage. Books that used to be accessible only in major libraries are often available online today. If one is patient just about any classic Arabic text from the past is available online. Some are pdf scans, where there is a treasure trove at archive.org and 4.shared.com. It is usually best to search these sites in Arabic. But even a ouja-board Google search in Arabic can yield full texts.

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by Anouar Majid, Tingitana, March 1, 2014

With the intriguing illustration above, Afternposten, the largest Norwegian newspaper, published my article titled “Europe and the Challenge of Islam.” This is the opening salvo of a three-day event called Saladin Days that starts Monday in Oslo’s House of Literature, when I will give a keynote address by the same title. We will, in the course of the conference, discuss and debate issues related to religion, secularism and reflect critically on the legacy of Edward Said, the great literary and cultural theorist.


Cafe in Tangier; photography by Anouar Majid

by Anouar Majid, Tingitana, December 3, 2014

Say what you may about Tangier in Morocco, anyone who doesn’t know its cafe life and culture is missing out on the soul of the city. Cafes in Tangier are hard to describe; people gather in them, singly or in groups, talk about everything, and while away their days and nights to make room for the next cafe visit. Customers do read a lot of papers in them and, on occasion, as in these pictures I took around 10: 20 am on January 3, 2014 at the legendary Grand Cafe de Paris, even smoke cigars in the process.

Morocco is a nation of cafes. But the main reason Moroccans go to cafes is to talk and comment on everyday experiences; this is how communities are forged and cemented. Moroccans are different from Westerners in this sense—conversations to them are pure literature and theater. Who needs to write, read, or watch plays when one can experience literary euphoria orally?

BAGHDAD: CRADLE OF CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION, 1013-2013

On November 15-16, 2013 there will be a conference on Baghdad co-organized by the Iraqi Cultural Center (ICC) and The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII). The sessions will be held at the Iraqi Cultural Center, 1630 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, DC 20009

Draft Program

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15

9:00. Welcoming remarks. Mohammad Alturaihi (Iraqi Cultural Center) and McGuire Gibson (TAARII)

POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND SOCIAL LIFE OF MEDIEVAL BAGHDAD

Chase Robinson (CUNY Graduate Center), “Baghdad and Islamic Cosmopolitanism”
Stephen Humphreys (UC-Santa Barbara), “Islam’s First Imperial City: Baghdad from 763 to 945”
Sydney Griffith (Catholic University of America), “The Cultivation of Philosophy and Interreligious Colloquy in Abbasid Baghdad: A Convivencia of Jews, Christians, and Muslims”
Roy Mottahedeh (Harvard University), “The Twilight of Buyid Baghdad”
Richard Bulliet (Columbia University), “The Economic Rise and Fall of Medieval Baghdad”

12:30-2:00. Lunch

THE MAKING OF MODERN BAGHDAD
Abbas Kadhim (Boston University Institute for Iraqi Studies), “Baghdad’s First Encounter with Modernity (1869-1871)”
Sara Pursley (CUNY Graduate Center), “Familiar Futures: Reforming the Iraqi Family in the Age of Development”
Eric Davis (Rutgers University), “Pluralism or Sectarianism? Baghdad and the Production of Political Space in Iraq”

Discussion
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 16
9:00
LITERARY AND CULTURAL LIFE IN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN BAGHDAD
Samer Ali (University of Texas at Austin), “When the Night: Having Fun in Medieval Baghdad”
Suzanne Stetkevych (Georgetown University/Indiana University), “Arabic Poetry and the Invention of the Abbasid Golden Age”
Fawzi Kareem (Poet/Writer/Painter), “Witnessing Iraq’s Contemporary Culture”
Fatima Ali (Social Cases Performing Arts Company), “Being a Theatre Maker in Post-2003 Baghdad: Challenges and Realities” (more…)


Benjamin Disraeli
(1804-1881) was one of the most colorful and literary of British Prime Ministers in the latter half of the 19th century. Among his novels was one about a young conservative English lord named Tancred who made a spiritual quest to the “Holy Land.” This is his Tancred, of The New Crusade, originally published in 1877. In the novel Tancred is disillusioned with the lack of morality in British politics. Instead of taking his inherited place in high society, he chooses instead to go on a quest for spiritual meaning to the land where his religion began. Disraeli, as novelist, uses the Levant as a backdrop for his psychological portrait of young Tancred, but it is as much about the foibles of the British political scene as it is an “Orientalist” rendering of the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The novel is full of intrigue, as adventure stories should be. It has not made canonization as a “great” work, but it is still worth a read (if you can find a copy). (more…)

There is a valuable resource available for anyone interested in the interchange between Arabic texts and the Latin-writing world. This can be found at http://www.arabic-latin-glossary.philosophie.uni-wuerzburg.de/?nav=r&page=1


Mackintosh-Smith in China

One of the most celebrated Arab travelers was the 14th century Ibn Battuta. For a book on the travels of Ibn Battuta, Timothy Mackintosh-Smith literally followed in the footsteps that the Arab savant had taken some seven centuries earlier. In addition to the book, a documentary film was made. An excerpt of the film on Tim’s experience int he Chinese city of Zaytun is available on Youtube and well worth watching. Other Youtube excerpts are on an Ibn Battuta shopping mall in Dubai and on Turkey. Vimeo provides access to the entire first part of the three-part series. For more information on the work of Mackintosh-Smith, check out his website. An earlier documentary on the English Sheikh and the Arab Gentleman by Bader Ben Hirsi is available in its entirely on Youtube.


Abdel Sabour

By George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D.

[For Part 1 of this essay, click here. For Part 2, click here.]

7. Sabour’s Departure from Traditional Arabic Poetry

Up until now, I tried to demonstrate Eliot’s influence on Abdel Sabour’s poetry, especially with regard to his themes and techniques. Because of the vast gulf that separates the two poets culturally, spiritually, and educationally, it seems a vain effort to look for absolute similarities. On the other hand, it is easier for the critic with an adequate knowledge of the traditional models of Arabic poetry to notice that Sabour’s modern poetry departed almost completely from the classical tradition.

Prior to his exposure to the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Sabour wrote traditional poetry using the classical meters. After reading Eliot, the Egyptian poet adopted new themes, techniques, and structures. He no longer used traditional meters with the long, heavy lines, built on two hemistiches and rhyming with each other throughout the poem. This new type of poetry was able to come into existence and flourish after a long struggle led by contemporary poets like Abdel Sabour. (19)

Starting in the late 1950s, the experience of writing in free verse became a familiar occurrence. In the poetry of Sabour, not only the mood, style, use of myth and illusion, and the interior monologue resemble Eliot’s, but “we have a sense of aimlessness and isolation, of memory and futility, it is definitely the mood of The Wasteland and the Hollow Men.” (20) Moreover, there are clear-cut images in Sabour’s poetry which demonstrate Eliot’s great influence on the Arab poet’s attitude toward life and death. Sabour also makes use of Eliot’s theme of alienation and of his description of empty rooms. In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot says:
“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes.
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes.”

Sabour says, echoing Eliot in his “My Peerless Star”:

“Fingers of an eastern wind
Rub the window-panes.” (more…)

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