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Philosophers of  the Arabs

 Taha Hussein
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Taha Hussein (1889- 1973) (nicknamed "the dean of Arabic literature") was one of the most influential Egyptian writers and intellectuals. He was a figurehead for the modernist movement in Egypt.

His Life

Taha Hussein was born in the village of Izbet el Kilo (ُعزبه الكيلو) in Minya Governorate in central Upper Egypt. He contracted an eye infection as a child, and faulty treatment rendered him blind at the age of three. He went to an Islamic kuttab (a traditional school where children learn to read, write, and recite the Quran), and then was sent to Al-Azhar University, where he was educated in religion and Arabic literature.

Academic career

When the secular Cairo University was founded in 1908, he was keen to enter, and despite being blind and poor he earned a place. In 1914, he became the first graduate to receive a Ph.D., with a thesis on the skeptic poet and philosopher Abu-Alala' Al-Ma'ari. He went on to become a professor of Arabic literature there.

He met Suzane, his wife, while studying in France, where he obtained a B.A. from University of Montpellier and a second PhD from the Sorbonne in 1917, with a thesis on the 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun. She read to him as not all of his references were available in Braille. After Taha died in October, 1973, she published Ma'ak (With You), which chronicled their life together. Before his death, he was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award

In 1919, he was appointed a professor of history at the Cairo University. Additionally, he was founding Rector of the University of Alexandria. He was appointed as a professor of Roman and Greek history in Cairo University, and became the Dean of the Faculty of Literature on 1930. He was expelled from his position on 1932 as a result of refusing to endorse the certificate of Honoree Ph. D. for Political leaders. On 1950 he was appointed as a minister of education during which he advocated the necessity of free education for every citizen. 

His Thought

An important episode in his life was the writing in the 1920s of "on Pre-Islamic Poetry" في الشعر الجاهلي in which he expressed doubt about the authenticity of much of traditional Arabic poetry, claiming that it may have been faked during ancient times due to tribal pride and competition between those tribes. In this book, he also hinted indirectly that the Quran should not be taken as an objective source of history. Naturally this book aroused the intense anger and hostility of al-Azhar and many other traditionalists. He was prosecuted with the accusation of insulting Islam, but the public prosecutor stated that what Taha Hussein said was the opinion of an academic researcher and no legal action was taken against him. His book was banned but was later published with slight modifications under the title "On Pre-islamic Literature" في الأدب الجاهلي.

Taha Hussein was an Egyptian renaissance intellectual and a proponent of the ideology of Pharaonism, believing that Egyptian and Arab/Eastern civilizations were diametrically opposed, and stressing that Egypt would only progress by reclaiming its ancient roots.

He was a strong proponent of enlightenment, respect for reason, and women’s emancipation, and he insisted that education remained free, claiming that it was a basic right for every human being, announcing "knowledge is like water and air." He became Minister of Education in 1950, and the new government subsequently made primary education ex gratia, which is still in effect today.

He wrote many novels and essays, though in the West he is best known for his autobiography, El-Ayyam which was published in English as An Egyptian Childhood (1932) and The Stream of Days (1943).



His literary works can be divided into 3 categories:

·   Studies of Arabic and Islamic literature and culture.

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

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

Among his most prominent works are:

·   Wednesday talk (حديث الأربعاء) a collection of essays on literary criticism

·   On Pre-islamic poetry (في الشعر الجاهلي)

·   The Sufferers: Stories and Polemics المعذبون فى الأرض

·   A Man of Letters, a novel أديب

·   The Days (3-Part Autobiography) الأيام

·   An Egyptian Childhood

·   The Future of Culture in Egypt مستقبل الثقافة فى مصر

·   The Tree of Misery شجرة البؤس

·   The Call of the Curlew دعاء الكروان

List of His numerous books

·   The Memory of Abu El Alaa 1915

·   Selected Poetical Texts of the Greek Drama 1924

·   Ibn Khaldun's Philosophy 1925

·   Dramas by a Group of the Most Famous French Writers 1924

·   Pioneers of Thoughts 1925

·   Wednesday Talk 1925

·   Pre-Islamic Poetry 1926

·   In the Summer 1933

·   The Days "3 Volumes" 1933

·   Hafez and Shawki 1933

·   The Prophet's Life "Ala Hamesh El Sira" 1933

·   Curlew's Prayers 1934

·   From a Distance 1935

·   Adeeb 1935

·   The Literary Life in the Arabian Peninsula 1935

·   Together with Abi El Alaa in his Prison 1935

·   Poetry and Prose 1936

·   Bewitched Palace 1937

·   Together with El Motanabi 1937

·   The Future of Culture in Egypt 1938

·   Moments 1942

·   The Voice of Paris 1943

·   Sheherzad's Dreams 1943

·   Tree of Misery 1944

·   Paradise of Thorn 1945

·   Chapters on Literature and Criticism 1945

·   The Voice of Abu El Alaa 1945

·   Osman "The first Part of the Greater Sedition

·   "El Fitna Al Kubra" 1947

·   Spring Journy 1948

·   The Tortured of Modern Conscience 1949

·   The Divine Promise "El Wa'd El Haq" 1950

·   The Paradise of Animals 1950

·   The Lost Love 1951

·   From There 1952

·   Varieties 1952

·   In The Midst 1952

·   Ali and His Sons (The 2nd Part of the Greater Sedition" 1953

·   (Sharh Lozoum Mala Yalzm, Abu El Alaa) 1955

·   (Anatagonism and Reform 1955

·   Criticism and Reform 1956

·   Our Contemporary Literature 1958

·   Mirror of Islam 1959

·   Summer Nonsense 1959

·   On the Western Drama 1959

·   Talks 1959

·   Al-Shaikhan (Abi Bakr and Omar Ibn El Khatab) 1960

·   From Summer Nonsense to Winter Seriousness 1961

·   Reflections 1965

·   Beyond the River 1975

·   Words 1976

·   Tradition and Renovation 1978

·   Books and Author 1980

·   From the Other Shore 1990


·   Jules Simon's The Duty 1920-1921

·   Athenians System (Nezam Al-Ethnien) 1921

·   The Spirit of Pedagogy 1921

·   Dramatic Tales 1924

·   Andromaque (Racine) 1935

·   From the Greek Dramatic Literature (Sophocle) 1939

·   Voltaire's Zadig or (The Fate) 1947

·   André Gide: From Greek

·   Legends' Heroes

·   Sophocle-Oedipe 1947