Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel

Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel

Ziad Elmarsafy
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel
    Book Description:

    Close readings of 9 contemporary Arab novelists who use Sufism as a literary strategySufi characters – saints, dervishes, wanderers – occur regularly in modern Arabic literature. A select group of novelists interrogates Sufism as a system of thought and language. In the work of writers like Naguib Mahfouz, Gamal Al-Ghitany, Taher Ouettar, Ibrahim Al-Koni, Mahmud Al-Mas’adi and Tayeb Salih we see a strong intertextual relationship with the Sufi masters of the past, including Al-Hallaj, Ibn Arabi, Al-Niffari and Al-Suhrawardi. This relationship interrogates the limits of the creative self, individuality, rationality and all the possibilities offered by literature. In this dialogue with the mystical heritage, these novelists seek a way of preserving a self under siege from the overwhelming forces of oppression and reaction that characterised the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-5564-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Editor’s Foreword
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Rasheed El-Enany

    A new and unique series, ‘Edinburgh Studies in Modern Arabic Literature’ will, it is hoped, fill in a gap in scholarship in the field of modern Arabic literature. Its dedication to Arabic literature in the modern period, that is, from the nineteenth century onwards, is what makes it unique among series undertaken by academic publishers in the English-speaking world. Individual books on modern Arabic literature in general or aspects of it have been and continue to be published sporadically. Series on Islamic studies and Arab/Islamic thought and civilisation are not in short supply either in the academic world, but these...

  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction: Ouverture
    (pp. 1-22)

    The following monograph aims at studying the deployment of Sufi themes and ideas in the Arabic novel during the second half of the twentieth century. The frequency with which Sufi characters – dervishes, wanderers, disciples, saints – and themes occur in the Arabic novel means that the authors studied here are illustrative rather than exhaustive. My argument will be that, during the second half of the twentieth century, a significant number of Arabic novelists used the language and thought of the Sufis as a way of tackling problems that were aesthetic first and foremost, as a way of interrogating the limits of...

  7. 1 Naguib Mahfouz: (En)chanting Justice
    (pp. 23-51)

    Born in 1911 in the Gamaliyya (Jamāliyya) neighbourhood of central Cairo, Naguib Mahfouz went on to become the foremost Arab novelist of the twentieth century and the only Arab recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received in 1988. The sheer volume and variety of his literary output led Edward Said to describe Mahfouz as, ‘not only a Hugo and a Dickens, but also a Galsworthy, a Mann, a Zola and a Jules Romains’.¹ A prolific writer, Mahfouz published some thirty-five novels, sixteen short-story collections, a handful of plays, several volumes of essays and newspaper articles, as well...

  8. 2 Tayeb Salih: The Returns of the Saint
    (pp. 52-65)

    Tayeb Salih was born in the village of Kormakol in northern Sudan in 1929. After studying in Khartoum and London, he joined the BBC Arabic Service before embarking on a career as a civil servant at the Ministry of Information in Qatar and UNESCO in Paris. Salih’s first literary experiments came in the early 1950s, and over the course of the following two decades his literary production was such that he was described in 1976 as ‘the genius of the Arabic novel’.¹ Salih’s fiction centres on the village of Wad Hamid in northern Sudan. His works cover the political, economic...

  9. 3 Maḥmūd Al-Masʿadī: Witnessing Immortality
    (pp. 66-77)

    In his foreword to Mohamed-Salah Omri’s landmark study of the Tunisian writer Maḥmūd Al-Masʿadī (1911–2004), Tayeb Salih compares the latter to the ‘literary and political giants of the Abbasid period [c. 750–1258]’.¹ Salih refers to Al-Masʿadī’s successful revival of the tradition whereby politics served letters and vice versa. But Salih could also have been referring to the linguistic and stylistic innovation that Al-Masʿadī brought to his works, which combine a firm grasp of classical Arabic with memorable, if demanding, syntax and form. Between his writing, his teaching career, his positions at UNESCO, his tenure as Tunisia’s Minister of...

  10. 4 The Survival of Gamal Al-Ghitany
    (pp. 78-106)

    Apart from the name, the above data could easily have come from the identity card of Gamal Al-Ghitany himself: like Salāma, he was born on 9 May 1945 in Upper Egypt, once lived in the Gamaliyya district of Cairo and was briefly a carpet designer before taking up a career in journalism and writing.² Like Abdel-Hakim Kassem and other writers of the ‘60s Generation’, Al-Ghitany was imprisoned due to his critical views of Abd El-Nasser’s regime; an experience to which he returns in his fiction. On his release from prison he became a journalist, continuing to write and publish prolifically,...

  11. 5 Ibrahim Al-Koni: Writing and Sacrifice
    (pp. 107-138)

    Whereas Al-Ghitany’s employment of Sufism hinged on ideas of survival and baqāʾ, Libyan novelist Ibrahim Al-Koni’s many novels and short stories move in the opposite direction, continuously pushing the self in an ascetic space towards, and beyond, annihilation, fanāʾ.¹ This is not to say that Al-Koni is any less interested in being remembered than Al-Ghitany, as witness the moment in his fictional autobiography, Marāthī Ūlīs (The Elegies of Ulīs, 2004), where forgetting and being forgotten (al-nisyān) are described as a fate worse than death. The encounter with death defines and delimits the task of writing: both literal and figurative fanā...

  12. 6 Tahar Ouettar: The Saint and the Nightmare of History
    (pp. 139-161)

    Tahar Ouettar was born into a rural Berber family near the town of M’Daourouch in eastern Algeria in 1936. He studied in Algeria and Tunisia, maintaining a strong commitment to Arabic literature and culture throughout his life in opposition to the practice of writing in French, which was widespread in the Maghreb even after independence from France. Ouettar joined the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale; National Liberation Front) during the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62) in 1956, remaining active in politics well into his later years. His fiction features bold reflections on Algerian history and the failures of post-independence...

  13. Epilogue: Bahaa Taher, Solidarity and Idealism
    (pp. 162-167)

    An Egyptian man in love with a European woman goes to a desert temple. Once there, he attempts suicide. This is, in short, the plot of two texts by Bahaa Taher (1935–) ‘Anā Al-Mālik Jiʾtu’ (‘I, the King, Have Come’, 1985) and Wāḥat Al-Ghurūb (Sunset Oasis, 2006). Like Abdel-Hakim Kassem, Bahaa Taher belongs to the ‘60s Generation’ of Egyptian writers. His commitment to his political and aesthetic values quickly led to both an active career in the cultural sphere and increasing pressure from the Egyptian authorities. From 1981 to 1995 he took a position with the United Nations in...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 168-234)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-252)
  16. Index
    (pp. 253-260)