Arabic Language Blog

The Dean of Arabic Literature Posted by on Oct 29, 2011 in Arabic Language, Culture, Vocabulary

Taha Hussein 

(November 14, 1889 – October 28, 1973)

       Like yesterday in 1973, Taha Hussein, who was nicknamed the Dean of Arabic Literature  عميد الأدب العربي , left our world.  He was one of the most influential 20th century Egyptian writers and philosophers. He was a pioneer of enlightenment التنوير  and had great contributions in the Arab renaissance النهضة .

     Taha Hussein was born in a small village in El-Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt. He was the seventh of thirteen children and grew up in a lower middle-class family. At the age of three, he was blinded owing to a faulty treatment by an unskilled practitioner. However, Taha was sent to Al-Kot’taab الكُتّابْ which was like a school for teaching kids the Qura’an, reading and writing. He, later, joined Al-Az’har University where he learnt a lot about religion and the Arabic language and literature. Taha Hussein was not at all satisfied with the narrow thinking and conservatism of his tutors.

      In 1908, he heard about the secular newly-established Cairo University that was part of a national effort to promote education in Egypt under the British occupation. Overcoming so many obstacles, Taha managed to join that university. In his most famous autobiography book; ‘Al-Ayyaam’ الأيام  ‘The Days’, which was published in English as ‘An Egyptian Childhood طفولة مصرية ‘ he later stated that the doors of knowledge were from that day opened wide for him. In 1914, he was the first graduate to receive a PhD with a thesis on the skeptic poet and philosopher Abo Al-Alaa Al-Ma’arri أبو العَلاء المَعرى .

       Taha traveled to France where he obtained his MA from the Universityof Montpellier and then received another PhD from The Sorbonne University. For his doctoral dissertation in 1917, he wrote on Ibn Kholdoun ابن خلدون ; the Tunisian Philosopher who is believed to be the founder of Sociology عِلم الاجتماع . It was inFrance that he met his ‘sweet voice’; Suzanne who used to read to him because not all the references were in Braille. She later became his wife, mentor, advisor, assistant, mother of his two children, great love and best friend. In 1918, he got a third PhD on Social Philosophy. In 1919, he got a diploma in post-graduate studies in the Roman Civil Code. He was granted honorary doctorates from the universities of oxford, Madrid and Rome. On his return to Egypt, he worked as a Professor of Arabic Literature and was appointed as a Professor of History at Cairo University. He also was a founding rector of Alexandria University. He wrote many novels and essays.  He held the position of chief-editor of a number of newspapers.

      Taha Hussein was dismissed from university after the publication of his controversial book; ‘On Pre-Islamic Poetry في الشعر الجاهلي “. The American University in Cairo employed him and in 1942, he became an Advisor to the Minister of Education. In 1950, he became Minister of Knowledge وزير المعارف (Ministry of Education nowadays). As a minister, he called for free education and defended the right of everyone to get educated. He says,” Education is like air and water; the right of every human being التعليم كالماء و الهواء , حق لكل إنسان

     Taha Hussein’s literary works can be divided into 3 categories:

1) Studies of Arabic and Islamic literature and culture.

2) Fictional literary works centered on social commentary attacking poverty and ignorance.

3) Political articles published in the two journals of which he was editor-in-chief.

         Taha Hussein died in his home, alone with his “sweet voice”, Suzanne. She wrote about his death and said, “We were together, alone, close to an extent beyond description. I was not crying – the tears الدموع came later.”


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About the Author: Fisal

Well, I was born near the city of Rasheed or Rosetta, Egypt. Yes, the city where the Rosetta Stone was discovered. It is a small city on the north of Egypt where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. I am a Teacher of EFL.