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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: February 2015

3 - The Nahḍa‘s First Stirrings of Interest in Alf Layla (previously unpublished).

from Part 1 - Fact Finding


On 3 September 1948, Ṭāhā Ḥusayn (1889–1973) published in al-Ahrām an article titled ‘Šahrazād’. It was one of the regular pieces he contributed to the newspaper even while vacationing in France. It seems to have been occasioned by accounts in the French press of two plays sharing that title. But it is his broader observations which reveal, by what is said or by what is implied, the cultural climate in which he and his contemporaries reacted to Alf Layla. So let me give you the gist of the article in Ṭāhā Ḥusayn's own words:

Was I on a tryst with Šahrazād? I do not know, but when embarking on my summer trip I asked my companion [i.e., his amanuensis] to include Alf Layla wa Layla in his luggage, I made this request with some embarrassment, for it is clear that Alf Layla wa Layla is a book that it is improper for older men who put on an appearance of venerability to read. I recall that I read this book with some of my brothers when I was twenty or a little older. And I remember the unforgettable, shameful day when our aged father discovered that his sons were poring over the booklore neither of the [State] schools nor of the Azhar, but over this hateful, ill-starred book that never enters a house without bringing it adversity, and that engages the attention only of idlers who are of no avail to others or to themselves.