Husayn, Taha (1889-1973)

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HUSAYN, TAHA (1889-1973)

Taha Husayn was a prominent Egyptian writer and educational reformer. Born in a village in upper Egypt, Husayn was left blind after an illness at age two. In 1902, he began studies at al-Azhar in Cairo and was quickly at odds with its traditional curriculum and teaching methods. Switching to the newly opened Cairo University, he became the first student to receive a doctorate there in 1914. He completed a second doctorate at the Sorbonne (Paris, France) in 1919. As a professor of Arabic literature at Cairo University, he quickly emerged as one of the most prolific and controversial literary figures in the Arab world. His book Fi˒l-shi˓r al-jahili (On pre-Islamic poetry), published in 1926, incurred the condemnation of religious conservatives for casting doubt on the authenticity of pre-Islamic poetry and, by extension, possibly of the Qur˒an and other early religious texts. His most systematic work of social commentary is Mustaqbal al-thaqafa fi Misr (The future of culture in Egypt), in which he argues that Egypt was historically an integral part of the Mediterranean culture that gave birth to Western civilization. Modern Egyptians should therefore see themselves, and be seen by others, as part of Europe. Essential to this new identity is the secularizing of national life in Egypt. His three-volume autobiography, begun in 1929 as al-Ayyam (The days), is considered a milestone in modern Arab literature.

See alsoArabic Literature ; Modern Thought .


Husayn, Taha. Al-Ayyam, Vol. 1: An Egyptian Childhood. Translated by E. H. Paxton. London: Routledge, 1932; Vol. 2, The Stream of Days. Translated by Hilary Wayment. London and New York: Longmans, Green, 1948; Vol. 3, A Passage to France. Translated by Kenneth Cragg. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976.

Malti-Douglas, Fedwa. Blindness and Autobiography: Al-Ayyam of Taha Husayn. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Sohail H. Hashmi