Thursday, August 31, 2006

Farewell To The Legendary Naguib Mahfouz

Norbert Schiller for The New York Times

There are few strings that connect me to my Middle Eastern roots. Egyptian literature is one of them. I grew up reading Ihsan Abd-Qadoos novels. His books make women feel good about themselves. I also read Nawal Al-Saadawi books. Nawal fiercely advocates women's rights in the Middle East. As expected, her activism is not welcomed by the Middle-Eastern forces of backwardness.

Then there's Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz. How should I describe his writings? In a nutshell, his books brought Cairo to our lives. My knowledge of the Egyptian society comes from his books. Many of them were made into successful movies.

Mahfouz was an advocate of women rights in the Middle East. He believed that democracy can't be achieved in that part of the world when 50 percent of the population -- Middle Eastern women -- are not liberated. His progressive thoughts and novels challenged our ways of thinking, and they almost cost him his life in 1994. Big Pharaoh wrote:

Mahfouz is the first Arab writer to win the Nobel prize. One of his most famous novels was his masterpiece "Awlad Haretna" or "Children of our Alley." The book was attacked by the religious authority when it was published over 40 years ago. It was accused of being blasphemous and propagating atheism. It was banned from being published in Egypt. In 1994, a member of a terrorist group who didn't even read the book stabbed Mahfouz damaging nerves leading to his right arm seriously impairing his ability to write.

Imported copies of Awlad Haretna continued to be available in very few bookstores and over the internet. A decision to lift the ban was taken last year. Mahfouz though insisted that a moderate religious thinker write the novel's introduction as well as get the official approval of the highest religious authority. Several intellectuals criticized Mahfouz for this yet it seems that the great man who knows Egypt just as he knows the palm of his hand knew that a religious seal of approval is a must if the book is to be released to the public.


The Egyptian government held a military funeral for Mahfouz. I'm certain many people who criticized his writings and wanted to see him dead attended his funeral today. Probably to make sure his voice has been silenced for good. Mahfouz words and thoughts fill his many books. So, let them try to kill his words or burn his books. They will fail.

R.I.P dear Naguib Mahfouz

AP Photo / Ben Curtis

A mourner arrives carrying a placard in arabic that reads 'Goodbye Shakespeare of the Arabs, Goodbye Leader of The Harafish, Naguib Mahfouz, special by Muhsin'.

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