While searching out new things to read I stumbled quite innocently upon prominent Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz and decided to check out all the books the library had by him. I am very intrigued by his ideas and by his writings. Some of you may know of him, maybe for his incredibly blasphemous story The Children of Gebelawi (أولاد حارتنا/translit: Awlad Haretna) which won him a Nobel prize and put him on top of some extremists' "to kill" lists. He was stabbed in an attempted murder, but he survived. And yes, the story is VERY MUCH anti-religion, but it is also an existentialist work of art.
Here's where I clue you all into my very dialectic personality. For most of my life I've been like two people in one body (blame my Gemini birth sign if you believe in such a thing) but I have always straddled two worlds. This extends even now into being both an American and a Muslim and I would like to think that I, and most other converts, are living proof that these two things are not mutually exclusive, though they can often be quite thoroughly at odds with each other. As for myself I am very religious and I love my religion. But I also am very existentialist and very interested in existentialist discussions/writings. I am a firm believer in true discourse between people of opposing ideas without clashing and without compromising each other's ideals.
So I am reading, at the moment, Adrift on the Nile and I am fascinated by the way Mahfouz's main character Anis contemplates life, existance, and the possibility of people existing in multiple lifetimes at the same time. But there, do you see, is where others of a more conservative persuasion get a bit twisted in the knickers.
Blasphemy, cries my religious self. Art, cries my internal author and existentialist-junkie. That side is the one that accepts all ideas and believes fully in artistic freedom and which cannot fathom condemning some for not following the guide lines of religion. Of course the things Mahfouz's characters do, think, and expound on are truly against Islam. But some (or most) of his writings are pure genius.
Let us look more closely at The Children of Gebelawi. Uff, but it really is against ALL religion (not just Islam) and Mahfouz insults God and all the Prophets in it (Moses, Jesus, and Mohamed.) So how can I call this a work of art? Here is a brief synopsis of the story: Gebelawi has five sons of which he favors Adham (Adam) above the other four Idris (Satan,) Gabal (Moses,) Rifa'a (Jesus,) and Qasim (Mohamed.) Gebelawi's house is basically a very fabulous garden and when Gebelawi informs all his sons that he has chosen Adham to take over the management of the garden, Idris becomes angry and is banished by Gebelawi. He goes on to tempt Adham (through Adham's wife of course,) from outside the gates, to flout his father's wishes and Adham and his wife are soon banished. Time moves along to where only corruption and greed rule the garden until the offspring of each son- beginning with Gabal, then Rifa'a, and then Qasim in sequential order- uprise against the abuse to bring peace for a short time before failing leading to the next offspring uprising. In the end the protagonist Arafa (knowledge in arabic but symbolizing science) comes and kills Gebelawi.
Of course the allegory is obvious, and its statement is obvious. Gebelawi is God and in the end science/knowledge kills God (astughfurlillah.) This is not much different from whatever infamous person declared that God was dead however many years ago (does anyone know who declared that and when?) It is blasphemous, but the way in which it was written and the allegory used and the statement made, if you look at it from a literary perspective, is true artistic genius.
My author half (greedily existentialist) marvels at the story and wants to read it and anything like it, while my religious soul shrinks from even the idea of what is written there.
I believe that things like this can be read and discussed and contemplated while the real difference would be my understanding that while this may be one person's idea of what is true, it certainly is not MY Truth and therefor is not True for me. But this would not keep me from sitting and talking about and learning more on what they believe. This is dialectic discourse.
And so while I continue to wade my way through some of Mahfouz's other works (which I'm sure are written in astounding arabic but are often translated into unweildy english) I will continue with my own dialectic discourse between the two halves of myself.