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What 'Isa ibn Hisham Told Us

What 'Isa ibn Hisham Told Us: or, A Period of Time, Volume Two

Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī
Edited and translated by Roger Allen
Volume editor Philip Kennedy
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    What 'Isa ibn Hisham Told Us
    Book Description:

    WithWhat?Isa ibn Hisham Told Us, the Library of Arabic Literature brings readers an acknowledged masterpiece of early 20th-century Arabic prose. Penned by the Egyptian journalist Muhammad al-Muwaylihi, this exceptional title was first introduced in serialized form in his family's pioneering newspaperMisbah al-Sharq(Light of the East), on which this edition is based, and later published in book form in 1907. Widely hailed for its erudition and its mordant wit,What ?Isa ibn Hisham Told Uswas embraced by Egypt's burgeoning reading public and soon became required reading for generations of Egyptian school students.

    Bridging classical genres and the emerging tradition of modern Arabic fiction,What ?Isa ibn Hisham Told Usis divided into two parts, the second of which was only added to the text with the fourth edition of 1927. Sarcastic in tone and critical in outlook, the book relates the excursions of its narrator ?Isa ibn Hisham and his companion, the Pasha, through a rapidly Westernized Cairo at the height of British occupation, providing vivid commentary of a society negotiating-however imperfectly-the clash of imported cultural values and traditional norms of conduct, law, and education. The "Second Journey" takes the narrator to Paris to visit the Exposition Universelle of 1900, where al-Muwaylihi casts the same relentlessly critical eye on European society, modernity, and the role of Western imperialism as it ripples across the globe.

    Paving the way for the modern Arabic novel,What ?Isa ibn Hisham Told Usis invaluable both for its sociological insight into colonial Egypt and its pioneering role in Arabic literary history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1590-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Letter from the General Editor
    (pp. iii-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. What ʿĪsā Ibn Hishām Told Us, Volume Two

    • مصباح الشرق ٬٨٠ ٩ نوفمبر ١٨٩٩
      (pp. 2-17)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: The Pāshā had been amazed by what he had seen in these gatherings and meeting places and what he had learned in the sessions involved. They had offered object lessons and counsel that could dispense with the need for lengthy experience. They had offered him some relief and relaxation, and as a result his sufferings at the cruel hand of fate and destiny had dissipated. Frowns had turned into smiles, and difficulties had now become that much easier. So it happens that those people who have experienced hardships find adversity that much less of a burden....

    • مصباح الشرق ٬٨٧ ٤ يناير ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 18-33)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: Our description of the perfumed gardens had reached the point of the discussion between the Playboy, ʿUmdah, and Merchant. They had left it to indulge in some debauchery and lewd diversions. For my part I was still exercising caution in selecting crowded venues and places to visit, all in response to the Pāshā’s request for object lessons from which to learn—even if that required us to descend into low haunts and mingle with the lowest levels of society. In order to achieve this goal and satisfy our question I could not imagine any more effective...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬٨٨ ١١ يناير ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 34-49)

      Īsa ibn Hishām said: As we left, the Pāshā was saying: “What is going on with the things we see people doing? It’s almost as though someone has soaked everyone in a jar containing a mixture of all the worst faults to be found in man or else dipped them in a pool full of the various categories of crime. With each step we take we seem to be encountering every conceivable type of fraud and deceit. Whenever we investigate something, we read whole chapters involving swindling and hypocrisy. Pity the poor devils who have to deal with them and...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬٨٩ ١٨ يناير ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 50-67)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: They went on their way to the place which they had selected. As we followed behind them, we were lost in thought and assessing the situation. The Pāshā turned towards that great hotel, a veritable al-Khawarnak and al-Sadīr, and noticed the electric lights gleaming brightly like rising suns, so much so that darkest night shone in white raiment and its surface seemed like ebony embossed with silver. The street lamps resembled tree branches glowing with light rather than mere lamps. Each pillar seemed like a ray of dawn piercing the cavity of darkness—and what a...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬٩٠ ٢٥ يناير ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 68-81)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: When they left the tavern, we followed behind, sticking closer to them than their own shadows. We heard the ʿUmdah tell the Playboy that he had worn them out. “Let’s go to the place you promised us,” he said. “That way we can make use of comely faces to clear the dirt from our eyes before morning changes everything.” The Playboy looked concerned and distressed. He interrupted the ʿUmdah and palmed off his reproach by pointing out that, if someone has to wait too long, even the height of patience dissipates. Pampered maidens rapidly grow impatient...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬٩١ ٨ فبراير ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 82-95)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: Once the row was over, we had hardly taken our seats again and our Friend had only just started telling us things before the dancing started. People were yelling and screaming; there was both applause and whistling. When a brazen tart took to the stage, a wholesale hubbub ensued. She was emaciated and ugly, flat-nosed and big-mouthed, bleary-eyed and nearsighted. With penciled eyebrows, she presented a riot of color—red cheeks, white forehead, and dyed fingers. Using greasepaint she had decorated her face with a veil of makeup and plastered on it a false, multicolored covering...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬٩٢ ١٥ فبراير ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 96-117)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: We stayed where we were, observing the antics of this lecherous tart and the way she was tricking people. We were amazed that a woman like her could deceive men and hurl them into the abyss of sin and error. She had none of the trappings of beauty nor any redeeming features or qualities, but instead had been molded in a brazen form and kneaded from the sludge of all that was ugly and repulsive. She continued her rounds among the seated customers, meandering her way through the rows and going back and forth to the...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٠٣ ١١ مايو ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 118-135)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: The last episode finished with the ʿUmdah, Playboy, and Merchant managing to escape from the dance hall, that den of lechery and debauched behavior, but only after the ʿUmdah had been utterly humiliated and had lost both his honor and money at the feet of a female dancer. He had been forced to pawn his valuables and possessions without getting the least enjoyment in return. However, they had decided to meet in a specific café so that the Playboy could use his talents to make some amends and put things to right. That would involve redeeming...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٠٤ ١٨ مايو ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 136-149)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: When we reached the Pyramids, we stood in awe and reverence before that landmark, one that bests all others, the mountain that overtops mountains and hills, that structure that in its pride rivals Raḍwā and Shamām. Their structure erodes the ongoing freshness of days, and their very permanence obliterates eras of time. They entomb people after people beneath their shadow, and centuries turn grey without affecting them in the slightest. Time’s own clothing has become threadbare, and yet there they stand in fresh attire. Ages have been recycled and eras have passed, but they still remain,...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٠٥ ٢٥ مايو ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 150-161)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: We left the Pyramids behind, duly lamenting and reproaching the people who had built them, and made our way to the museum building, the repository of antiquities. There we would be able to look at the preserved artefacts and documents and view the things that time had brought out of darkness into light after being hidden for ages. These were objects that had been saved from oblivion and extinction by being enclosed in graves, protected from destruction and ruin by the interiors of tombs; relics of ancient peoples and secrets of our ancestors that had remained...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٠٦ ١ يونيو ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 162-181)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: When sunset extended its snare to snatch away the sun from late afternoon, the orb was forced to flee to its hide. Dusk then arose from its terminal breaths as sunbeams slowly vanished along with the disk.51Twilight’s sisters disappeared beneath the horizon’s sleeves, and night’s darkness sprouted its mustache and its edges turned grey. Now evening lamps were lit in the domes of darkness. We had arrived at the theater where plays are performed and portraits and imaginings invoked. We joined other people at the entrance, women and men of all shapes and sizes. Choosing...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٠٧ ٨ يونيو ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 182-191)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: When we reached the house, the Pāshā made for his bedroom to rest after the tiring day. However he could not fall asleep and was restless. He called out to me, wanting to while away the remainder of the night talking. We had a conversation about times old and new. Night was in the final stages of its youth and was about to dispense with both shawl and veil; old age crept into its temples, and traces of daylight appeared on its skin. Disdaining necklets and jewelry and stinting on pearls and precious gems, it took...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١١٦ ١٧ أغسطس ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 192-223)

      This is the first episode ofHadīth ʿĪsā ibn Hishāmconcerning the visit to the Paris Exhibition. It has been sent to us by Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī following his previous report on the visit of the Khedive of Egypt to Her Majesty the Queen of England.

      It was in Paris that we finally threw down our staff and reached our destination. We now started making our way along the network of streets and across broad squares. To tell the truth, no gathering on Judgment Day, no dead being raised, no living persons hastily summoned, no tribes gathering in assembly, no troops...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١١٧ ٢٤ أغسطس ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 224-241)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: So we set off for the renowned ʿUkāẓ Fair of countries and peoples, the market for values and ambitions, the site of everything marvelous and amazing, the display of powers and resolves, the fulcrum of creativity and invention, the domain of formation and ingenuity, the exhibition of foresight and enlightenment in the appropriate use of tradition and imitation. This particular exhibition has fifty gateways, some close, others more distant. We ourselves entered through the principal gate, the main entrance, which consisted of a gate resting on three pillars high enough to touch the clouds, like some...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١١٨ ٣١ أغسطس ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 242-259)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: We followed our visit to the Petit Palais with one to the Grand Palais, by which I mean the even greater wonder after the minor miracle, a building beautifully situated and perfectly constructed. These two buildings contained treasures such as had never been brought together by anyone before; no king or chieftain had ever possessed the like. Māriyah’s bangles would be mere beads and date pits, the treasures of Qārūn would be but dust and pebbles, Alexander’s multiple spoils the rags worn by holy men and lunatics, Dārā’s finery would be no better than the fur...

    • مبباح الشرق ٬١٢١ ٢١ سبتمبر ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 260-271)

      We entered the tree and flower pavilion. It was not constructed like other palaces and houses. The corners had no plaster over the stones, nor were bricks used to build its different rooms or wood for its doors and ceilings. Instead it consisted of domes and towers of polished crystal and glass. A construction like a polished bottle, it looked just like sea swell or the calm surface of a pond. If Bilqīs, the Sheban queen of old, had entered this building today, she would have uncovered her legs again.83In this building they had collected plants of every kind...

    • مبباح الشرق ٬١٢٣ ٥ أكتوبر ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 272-283)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: We walked around the section of the exhibition called “sights and scenes” and went into one exhibit after another. Truth to tell, we did not find in any of them confirmation of the kind of things we had been hearing about; in fact, quite the opposite. But then we reached a lofty palace, beautifully constructed and laid out, which had been built for various types of dancing, revelry, gymnastics, and music—movements of every kind involving turns and pliés from way back in the distant past and up to the present day, from times of coarse...

    • مصياح الشرق ٬١٢٦ ٢٦ أكتوبر ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 284-297)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: As we were wandering around the various exhibits, we suddenly heard the sound of flute and drums, which aroused in us many memories and a sense of nostalgia. It made us feel a longing for our homeland, as a lover does with his beloved and a craver does with the object of his craving. We were like travel-weary camels amid lightning flashes that crash on the far horizon while conflicting urges are leading them to desert hollows and steppes. The exotic sounds made people turn around to glance in that direction. We too headed for its...

    • مصياح الشرق ٬١٣٠ ٢٣ نوفمبر ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 298-313)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: Our tour of the exhibition now took us to the pavilions of other nations. There we saw such wonderful things, both ancient and modern, that we stopped to admire their provenances and savor what they offered the eye. They vied with each other in fierce competition and tried to outrival the others in sheer excellence. Among them all, the German pavilion had the loftiest status and the greatest impact. It was as though the Germans were not content merely to show their superiority in warfare, but had also decided to outpace everyone else in learning, the...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٣٣ ١٤ ديسمبر ١٩٠٠
      (pp. 314-329)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: We stopped for a while to take a look at this imposing tower, a lofty structure whose sheer height amazed us and whose construction was astonishing. In the category of wondrous sights, amazing rarities, prized entities, lofty peaks, and highest summits, this was certainly a remarkable feat of design and engineering—obviously the precious maiden of the entire exhibit, albeit of a certain age. Castles and hills would bow down before it, mountains and flags would be prostrate. In comparison what could one say about the height of the pyramids or Haman’s lofty tower? If the...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٩٢ ١٤ فبراييرر ١٩٠٢
      (pp. 330-339)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: Our coverage of the visit we paid to the mother of all European capitals and our stay in the hub of civilization finished with a description of the Great Exhibition: the different people we met there, the strange happenings day and night, the variety of exotic items, the precious and creative objects of every conceivable kind of craft that were on display, the nightclubs and music halls scattered across the grounds, the splendid views it afforded visitors, and the undesirable subtext out of sight. The Pāshā, our Friend, and I had emerged from it with a...

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٩٣ ٢١ فبراييرر ١٩٠٢
      (pp. 340-351)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: While the French philosopher was sitting with the Pāshā and explaining to him the French Chamber of Deputies, the way it is organized, and the methods by which it conducts the affairs of state, the Friend interrupted him:

      Friend (to the Frenchman) My dear learned colleague, I’d like to know what you yourself think of these parliamentary chambers and the way they administer your country’s affairs at home and abroad. Before you go into even more detail with the Pāshā, I find myself having a good deal of information about incidentals, but too little about essentials....

    • مصباح الشرق ٬١٩٦ ١٤ مارس ١٩٠٢
      (pp. 352-362)

      ʿĪsā ibn Hishām said: The Frenchman continued with his explanation to the Pāshā about the electoral process for the Chamber of Deputies, the beginning and end of everything for the French people. Here is what he had to say:

      Frenchman In every subdivision of every town and city in France there’s a committee made up of the local chief, a delegate selected by the mayor, and another delegate selected by the town council. They’re responsible for putting together the electoral roll containing the names of people who have the right to vote listed in alphabetical order. The requirements for such...

  5. Notes
    (pp. 363-369)
  6. Glossary of Names and Terms
    (pp. 370-382)
  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 383-395)
  8. Index
    (pp. 396-399)
  9. About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute
    (pp. 400-400)
  10. About the Typefaces
    (pp. 401-401)
  11. Titles Published by the Library of Arabic Literature
    (pp. 402-403)
  12. About the Editor–Translator
    (pp. 404-404)