Naguib Mahfouz: The Father of Arabic Literature

Naguib Mahfouz, arabic, world

The quotation “Events at home, at work, in the street- these are the bases for a story” was said by the famous Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz.  Mahfouz is a well-known Egyptian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in 1988 for Arabic literature. His works are considered to be a revolution in the world of literary works. His writings are very symbolic and his novels are a pure representation of the Egyptian society. He is the father of Arabic literature.

Through his novels, he excelled in digging inside the human brain to analyze different behaviors and actions of human beings. He was also interested in the psychological impact of  social changes on ordinary people. Most of Mahfouz’s writings deal mainly with politics. He was influenced by socialist and democratic ideas throughout his works. Mahfouz contrasted between the merits and demerits of Islamic extremism in his first two novels, Old Egypt and Whisper of Madness.

Religion is one of the main themes Mahfouz tackled in his works. He believed that religion should be interpreted in an open manner. One of the quotes said by the father of Arabic literature is “God did not intend religion to be an exercise club,” by which he meant that preaching needs a scholar and not an ordinary person. He was against all those who claimed to be Islamists while in fact they are a bunch of hypocrites whose goal is to serve their personal interests by taking Islam as a means to reach a political position. He harshly criticized radical Islam as expressed by Muslim Brotherhood. He strongly stated that of all the forces active in Egyptian politics during his youth, he most despised the Muslim Brotherhood.

He also elevated science and believed that it shouldn’t conflict with religious values. He mentioned in one of his interviews that excessive concern with religion seems to be a last resort for people who have been exhausted by life. He assures the importance of religion but considered it potentially dangerous. He was appalled by the fact that people are easily moved by religion and deemed it as a point of sensitivity in Egypt. When drawing a character sketch, he had always focused on the social, financial, emotional physical status of a character rather than how strongly or poorly religious is the character.

Characters in the writings of Naguib Mahfouz were not heroic. His characters were of the ordinary, simple people met in everyday life. He believed that the concept of a hero did not exist during his period of time. He intended not to use protagonists in his stories due to his critical view of the Egyptian society which to him lacked extraordinary characters. However, the characters he created were vividly effective and close to the reader’s heart. Mahfouz’s ideal hero is the person who not only adhered to a certain set of principles which allow him to stand against opposition, but also the one who fights corruption, is not an opportunist and is possessing a strong moral foundation.

Marriage is an important theme in Mahfouz’s writings. He believed that a marriage is like a company with equal partners. No one rules. If there is a disagreement, the more intelligent of the two should override, however, each family is different. Often the power depends on money; whoever makes the most money has the most strength. To him there are no fixed rules in marriage relationships. In Palace Walk, written in 1956, one of the series of Cairo Trilogy, Mahfouz depicts the marriage relationship between ALsayed ABdel Gawad and Amina as an unhealthy marriage. He described the man as a superior, tyrannical husband who rules the household using dictatorship. However, the woman is described as a conformist, obedient and an inferior wife that has no rights whatsoever. Her role is to be an object of pleasure, give birth and do the house work. This is a true representation of how men perceived women at that time.

The female characters are very significant in Mahfouz’s novels. They were very effective and played a very important role in the stability of the novel. They were depicted in various ways. Sometimes the figure of the woman is the prostitute who seduces all men just to get money to be able to cover her family’s expenses ,this appeared clearly in both novels The Thief and the Dogs as well as Miramar. Woman is also portrayed in some of his novels as the kind, obedient, conformist, feeble and immature like in part 1 of the Cairo Trilogy, Palace Walk. On the contrary, in some of his novels woman is a symbol of hope , freedom, intelligence and strength like in Sugar Street and Miramar. Each of his characters is significant and deeply complicated. They were all a true representation of society.

Naguib Mahfouz known as the father of Arabic literature, is a controversial character. Although a lot of people did not approve of his personality and his daring opinions, no one denied his genius works of art and he is considered a pride and a sense of reverence to people all over the world.

By Mona Salman


True Slant

Library of Congress

The Telegraph

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