Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dialectic Discourses

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.


Organic-Muslimah said...

I think understanding both sides will make you stronger on whatever side you choose to be in the future. Great post!

Molly said...

Aha! but its not a matter of choosing one or the other. I am religious and I believe in Islam totally and completely. I am only fascinated by existentialist writings because I enjoy considering the psychology of some people's beliefs about the meaning of life. You can learn a lot about someone by knowing how they view the world. And existentialist writings often have some fascinating ideas. I don't believe them, but I find psychology fascinating. Thats the two people inside of me- the religious one (who wins most of the time) and then my inner author who believes in art for art's sake even if it is blasphemous.

Molly said...

Additional note- my love of existentialist writings was born in my early years of high school when I was introduced to the play "No Exit"
I just did a quick search (I heart wikipedia) to find that this play was written by Jean Paul Sartre. When I read it I was too young to even know who he was.
Also existentialist idealisms can be linked easily into the base of rhetoric, rhetoric being the heart and soul of my Communications education.
"je pense, donc je sius"

mezba said...

It's like me - reincarnation fascinates me though I don't believe in it.

mezba said...

Have you read God's Debris by Scott Adams?

Molly said...

Actually Mezba I think you're the second person recently to bring up that book to me. I think I'll have to take a look at it next time I'm at B&N.
And its funny tht you say that reincarnation fascinates you, a lot of existentialism dwells in the idea of reincarnation. :) Its all so fascinating to think about.

mezba said...

Actually God's Debris is available free, online. It's a long read (144 pages) and I am taking it slowly.. He does have some disturbing ideology there.

mezba said...

This is actually a good primer on state of mind before reading something warped.

Molly said...

thank you, I will check it out. Since I converted I have become skittish on the truly disturbing reads, but I will certainly check out this book.

Molly said...

That was actually a really cool website. I still haven't got a chance to check out that book, but I'm assuming it has to do with the "origins of God"? should be interesting.

bb_aisha said...

I love Naghib Mahfouz's writing. And Ahdaf Soueif. In 2005 I was dead set on going to London for a year, but fate led me to Egypt. (I lived there last year, and strangely, I keep cominmg across blogs by women married to Egyptians now that I've left Egypt. Would have loved to meet some of you)

In the months before I came to Egypt, there were references to Egypt in just about everything I did-from reading books, magazines, tv programmes-Egypt was always there. And so I made my way to Egypt. Mahfouz's 'The Harafish' was one such book which cast a spell over me.

As Muslims, it is difficult to read something which is blasphemous in nature, but I try to separate the idea from the writing (if that makes sense) and focus on the style of writing

Molly said...

Exactly Aisha. Art for art's sake.

How was your year in Egypt? I miss it so much! I find that when I'm trying to make a decision, the right one often pops up everywhere. Allahu alem.

LaReinaCobre said...

I've read one or two Mahfouz novels, but hadn't heard of this one. Thanks for the recommendation/review. I will add it to my list!

Miss A said...

asalaam alaikum sister,

I've been reading some of your earlier posts and this is probably no longer relevant, but it was Nietzsche who said "God is dead".

Molly said...

THANK YOU! Its still totally relevant because I still want to know.