“The Sheikh’s Sermon”… The first work of fiction by Taha Hussein to see the light in English

“The Sheikh’s Sermon”… The first work of fiction by Taha Hussein to see the light in English

The novel takes place in the year 1913 and consists of 15 letters

Sunday – 28 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1444 AH – 23 October 2022 AD Issue No. [

Taha Hussien

Dr.. Maher Shafiq Farid

In 2017, the late Egyptian critic, Dr. Jaber Asfour revealed an unknown novel written by Taha Hussein titled “The Sheikh’s Sermon” and he published this novel with an introduction in a book.
Today, the Egyptian General Book Organization publishes a translation of this novel in English, completed by Dr. Mohamed Anani, to bring to the attention of researchers, both Arabic and English readers, one of the first works of the Dean of Arabic Literature. previously translated two works of Taha Hussein, namely “The True Promise And the first part of “On the margins of the biography”.
Taha Hussein set his novel, written in the form of letters alternating between five characters, in France
During his scholarship to obtain a doctorate, it was published in the monthly “Al-Sfour” magazine, which was published in Cairo. Written over a century ago (Anani describes it as a “little gem”), this novel is set in 1913 and consists of fifteen letters. It continued to be published in the magazine “Al Asfour” from October 20, 1916 to October 19, 1917. The style of the letter it produces is a style that was popular in the European novel in the eighteenth century (Goethe in German literature, de la Clos and Rousseau in French literature, Samuel Richardson in English literature).
The characters of the novel: Ihsan, the heroine of the novel, who receives the sermon, the names of Ihsan’s friend and the subject of her secret, Sheikh Allam Al-Jizawi who suggests Ihsan’s sermon, Sheikh Zahran, the friend of Sheikh Allam and the subject of his secret, and Ihsan’s father.
Ihsan works as a teacher and knows that if she gets married, she will have to leave her job according to the laws of the Ministry of Public Education at the time (the ministry was forced, under pressure from growing protests from community forces, to cancel this law later).
Asmaa does not view the institution of marriage with satisfaction and sees it (at least in its current state) as a restriction on the woman’s personality and freedom, and therefore decides to continue her profession as a teacher and not marry. As for Ihsan, she believes that marriage is the natural path for the girl and the way to renew the generations as long as the man fulfills his duties to the satisfaction of God.
It is from the contrast between these two positions that the two girls’ discussions arise and issues related to women’s rights and duties, and the nature of the relationship between man and woman, are raised, issues that are still raised today.
As for Al-Khatib – Sheikh Allam – he is an Azhari graduate at the age of twenty-eight. Taha Hussein does not paint a good picture of him as he portrays him as an opportunist who wants to marry into a rich family (Abu Ihsan, an old man who was over seventy and very rich, owned five hundred hectares of the possessed most fertile land. Menoufia). Allam reveals his intentions to his friend, Sheikh Zahran, who – like him – suffered from poverty and torment during childhood, youth and youth. Why does he now want to make up for what he missed in his past, and enjoy a reduced life, and what money will bring (after the death of his father-in-law) of prosperity and pleasure. But the interesting thing is that Zahran disagrees with his friend about this view of things, and then the polemic takes place between them, as happened between Ehsan and her friend.
If we move to the fifth character in the novel, who is the father of Ihsan, we will find him an enlightened man who has advanced opinions according to the standards of that time. He allows his daughter to exchange messages with the applicant, to get to know his personality, tendencies and morals and to accept or reject him with knowledge. This also allows her to go out into public life and engage touch on teaching.
Ehsan decides to ask her father to disinherit her – or pretend to do so – to test Allam’s feelings and make sure if he wants her for her person or for her money.
And the novel ends with Ihsan rejecting Allam’s hand.
Jaber Asfour takes the novel that despite the presence of five characters in it, each character does not have an independent voice, but is dominated by all the author’s voice and the character’s introduction of his ideas in life and society . So it is not a polyphonic novel. Ihsan writes in the language of al-Jahiz, Ibn al-Muqaffa, and perhaps Abdel Hamid al-Katib, not in the language of a young Egyptian girl who is supposed to represent the “new woman” that Qassem Amin spoke of . His call to liberate and educate women was one of the influences on Taha Hussein’s thinking. It was also supported by a number of modern thinkers such as Ahmed Lutfi al-Sayed, Muhammad Hussein Heikal and Mansour Fahmy, while others opposed it. , including poet Ahmed Shawky and economist Talaat Harb.
And honesty requires me to say that this Taha Hussein novel – although it has the merits of leadership and clarity of statement – is not a work of adult fiction, but rather like what are known as “works of youth.”
(Juvenilia) in the lives of writers before they complete their preparation and harvest their powers and reach the stage of intellectual maturity and artistic mastery. The importance of “the Sheikh’s sermon” is more historical than artistic, but it derives its value from three considerations: The first is that it is always important to get acquainted with the beginnings of great writers (Taha Hussein was undoubtedly a great author) in to see in them the seeds of their later development. The second is that the novel is a mirror of social development in its time, reflecting people’s ideas and tendencies in a part of the Arab East at the beginning of the twentieth century and the forerunners of intellectual transformation from a traditional society to reflects a modern one. The third is that it enables the foreign reader to get acquainted with one of the beginnings of the Arabic novel writing art and to compare it with the beginnings of the novel in other eastern and western literatures, opening a wide horizon for students of comparative literature. Therefore, we say that Anani’s translation of the novel into English – a translation that combines honesty of transmission and smoothness of style – and the important critical introduction of Asfour is a literary achievement that deserves the attention of scholars, critics, writers and readers , as well as a scientific and literary addition to the critical lesson, literary history and the art of the novel.



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