Sie sind auf Seite 1von 18

"The Lamp of Umm Hshim": The Egyptian Intellectual between East and West Author(s): M. M.

Badawi Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Arabic Literature, Vol. 1 (1970), pp. 145-161 Published by: BRILL Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4182863 . Accessed: 18/11/2011 10:50
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

BRILL is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Arabic Literature.

http://www.jstor.org

THE LAMP OF UMM HASHIM: THE EGYPTIAN INTELLECTUAL BETWEEN EAST AND WEST TheLamnp of Umm Hashim is a collection of short stories by the distinguished Egyptian writer Yahya Haqql. First published in 1944 it has been reprinted many times since.' Because of their peculiar mixture of realismand fantasy,their humour and poetry, the strange and haunting note of mysticism that runs through them, and not least because of their impassioned and artisticallyfaultless style of writing, these tales have alreadyattained the position of a classic in modern Arabic literature.Moreover, they are all rich in culturaland sociological significance:in this respect the most interesting perhaps is the story which gives the collectionits name,a novella which occupies half the volume. Besides conveying the feel of traditionallife in Cairoat the turn of the century, and indeed for many years to come, the tale of 'The Lamp of Umm Hashim' belongs to the type of writing, which in the field of the novel is known as the bildungsroman, i.e., the type that deals with the education of the protagonist. The main character, Isma9l, is a man who finds himself at the crossroads of civilization. He was brought up on traditionalMuslim culture, which in its basic features remainedlargely medieval. But as a young man of impressionable years he was heavily subjected to the influence of modern western culture, for he spent a number of years in England studying medicine. The work treats in detail Isma'il's early background in traditionalCairo, then in a brief manner his experiencesin Europe, and finallywhat he decides to make of his life when he returnsto his native country. It traces the spiritualdevelopment of this young man and the changethat takesplacein his social,moraland mentalattitudes. In so doing it indirectlyplaces one set of culturalvalues in juxtaposition to another, illustrates the tension and dramaticclash between them and ends up with pointing to a possible resolution or synthesis. The work, therefore, is a deeply moving account of the devastating effect upon the soul of a sensitive and intelligent young man when he is caught in the clash between two differentsets of culturalvalues.
1 Yahya Haqql, Qindil Umm Hdsbim,Iqra' series No. 18, Dar al Maarfif, Cairo, 1944. The edition used here is that of 1954.
Journal of Arabic Literature, I
10

146

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

But although he is a psychologically convincing character, Isma 'Il is more than an individual. 'The Lamp of Umm Hashim',' as the title itself suggests, is a symbolical work, in which the characters, no less than the Saint's lantern which gives the work its name, are partly designed as symbols or types of varying degrees of abstraction. To this generalization the character of Isma'il is no exception. Ismacil, in fact, stands for Egypt at the turn of this century-the time during which the events of the tale take place. The tensions and stresses to which he is subjected are the tensions and stresses to which modern Egypt was exposed; the agonizing choice between eastern and western values, which Isma'il finds he has to make, is the very choice which faced modern Egypt. Isma'il's salvation is, therefore, the kind of salvation which the author envisaged for the whole culture of his country. To the student of modern Arab culture it may be of some interest to examine the way in which an enlightened Arab writer, at a significant stage in the development of modern Arab consciousness, conceived his own tradition, and the assumptions which he held as regards the values of the west. He may care to analyze the precise nature of the compromise between the two conflicting sets of values which the author offers in order to see how valid or viable it is. He may even fruitfully compare it with some other solutions attempted at a later stage, e.g., the one which Najib Mahfiz, another equally distinguished Egyptian writer, but representative of a younger generation, suggests in his novels, both realistically and in an allegorical form. In pursuing his investigation, however, the student must bear in mind that here he is dealing, not with a sociological treatise or a discursive piece of writing which attempts a diagnosis of the social and intellectual ills of the Arab east and suggests effective remedies, but with what is primarily a work of art, which, as such, is concerned not so much with offering solutions as with raising important, sometimes ultimate questions. To prepare the ground for this discussion it is necessary at this stage to give a detailed account of the work. At the beginning we are given the background of Ismacil's father, Rajab cAbdullah. He was born and brought up in an Egyptian village, against a background of simple piety, not free from superstition and saint worship. As a boy he used to be taken periodically to Cairo, in order to visit the Mosque of Sayyida Zaynab and to seek her blessing. When as a
1

Umm Hashim or Zaynab was the granddaughterof the Prophet Muhammad.

THEI LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

147

young man he moved to Cairo in search of work he chose to live near his cherished mosque. In the mosque square he set up a grain shop and lived with his family within the precincts of the Saint's mosque and under her protection. The Saint's feasts became their feasts and the calls of the muezzin their only clock.' Of the three sons Rajab 'Abdullah had, two received the inexpensive traditional religious education, but by the time the youngest, Isma'il, was ready for school, his father could afford the high cost of secular education. Before sending him to a secular school, however, Rajab CAbdullahmade sure that the boy had first received a solid religious grounding and had learnt the whole of the Koran by heart. Since secular education was regarded as the gateway to social and financial success Isma'il soon became the centre of his family's hopes, and for the sake of his well-being no sacrifice by the rest of the family was considered too great. Isma'il's whole life was encompassed by the district and the Square of Sayyida Zaynab which left their deep imprint upon the mind of the growing boy. He was familiar with every nook and cranny of the square, with all its sights and sounds and smells, e.g., the 'school' of male and female beggars, the blind condiment seller who would never sell to anyone before reciting the religious formula of buying and selling, the pot-bellied seller of pickles with his barrels, the street-car which seemed like a carnivorous monster that exacted its daily toll of innocent lives, the clatter of weighing scales, the laughter from the coffee-houses, the rough guffaws of hashish smokers, the rows of men, women and children, who sat on the ground leaning against the wall of the mosque, or lay asleep on the pavement, and above all, the Mosque itself, with all the beautiful tales of mystery and supernatural power which the pious imagination of succeeding generations had woven round it. Most of these tales were told to Isma'il by the Mosque attendant, Sheikh Dardirl, whose character is delineated by the author with exquisite humour and deep affection. To Sheikh Dardiri men and women flocked to ask him for a drop of the oil from Umm Hashim's lantern to treat their eyes or the eyes of some loved one. But the consecrated oil, Isma'il was told, would cure only those whose perception shone bright with the light of faith. On certain hallowed occasions, when the Saint was visited by a number of other saints, all arriving on horseback with green banners
" Ibid., p. 6.
lO*

148

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

flying over their heads, and the perfume of roses and musk arising from the cuffs of their sleeves, in order to hold court and look into the complaints of men-the mosque lantern would shine with a blinding light and its oil would then possess the secret of curing all disease. So much for the background of Isma'il's early childhood, which, as we shall see, was to play a dramaticpart in his life. Although his religious upbringing and his simple peasant origin seem to have helped him to do much better at school than the pampered children of the bourgeois, Isma'il failed to obtain a good enough result in the final school examinationto enable him to enter the school of medicine on which he and the whole of his family had set their hearts. Since Rajabwas determinedto push his son to the front rank, he acted, but not without much hesitation, heart searchingand loss of sleep, on the advice of a friend who suggested that Isma'il should go abroad to study medicine in Europe. Significantly his final decision was made as a result of a dream in which he heard 'a soft voice advising him to trust in God and go forward with His blessingl I In an amusing manner the author describes briefly the diverse reactionsof the membersof the family to the idea of Isma'il's departurefor Europe, their fears and anxieties and the naive but charming picture each of them had formed of 'abroad'. The mother, for instance, 'imagined the strange lands of 'abroad' to be like the top of a high flight of steps leading to a land covered with snow and inhabited by people who possessed the cunning and tricks of the devil.' 2 Before the fixed date of departurethe family assembled, gloomy and silent, and with tearful eyes. The father advised his son to observe strictly his religion and warned him especially against the dangers of associating with European women. He also declaredhis and his wife's intention to marryhim to Fatima al-Nabawiyya,his orphaned cousin who lived with them, and they did in fact go through the ceremony of engagement. Later Isma'il went out to bid farewell to his friends, passing through the Square on his way. His feet led him to the shrine in the mosque, where he found Sheikh Dardiri standing with his head bent, as if completely overcome. 'The image of this man, standingby the silent shrineunder the light of the oil lamp, his hand resting on the railing or wiping
I Ibid., p. 20. 2 Ibid., p. 20.

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

149

his face, was his last memory of Cairo before leaving.' 1 The author describes Isma'il diffidently climbing up the gangway of the boat, a young man with the gravity of age, slow and slightly corpulent, everything about him suggesting that he was a peasant, lonely and ill at ease in these strange surroundings. Among the luggage he carried was a pair of wooden clogs, which his father had insisted he should take with him, for he had heard that ritual ablution was difficult in Europe because of the practice of wearing shoes indoors. This clumsy and awkward figure of a peasant is contrasted with the neat and sophisticated young man who, with a bright face and head held high, was briskly making his way down the gangway of the boat seven years later. Now Isma'il is a qualified doctor-an eye specialist, and much has happened to him in the meantime. A great transformation has taken place in his character and outlook. Even his physical appearance has changed: his face has lost its roundness and his cheeks have grown a little hollow. His flabby lips that hardly closed before are now compressed with determination and selfconfidence. Much of the change that had occurred in his character was due to the influence of Mary, a fellow student who for some time was infatuated with the dark young man from the east. Mary is obviously a symbol of western civilization. She stood for lust for life, constant activity, freedom from the shackles of tradition, individuality, complete self-confidence, science and humanism, realistic thinking about concrete problems, belief in this world and appreciation of art and the beauty of nature. In short, she represented the complete opposite of the values that had been operative in his life: he was dull, inactive, weak and sentimental, with an inordinate respect for authority and tradition, for social ties like marriage, divorced from reality and given to 'other-worldly' pursuits like the contemplation of heavenly things, instead of natural beauty, and inhabiting a world of religious superstition. This change in Isma'il's attitudes, however, did not occur easily or without a high price. As the author puts it, in the beginning, 'Ismacil's soul used to wince at Mary's sharp words and groan under her attacks.' 2 One day he woke up to find his soul completely in ruins. Religion appeared to him to be no more than a superstition designed to subjugate the masses, and man incapable of finding his
1
2

Ibid., p. 24. Ibid., p. 32.

150

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

strength and hence his happiness except by detaching himself from the crowd. His nerves could not stand the shock of finding himself alone and utterly lost. He fell ill and stopped attending college. But it was Mary who saved him from disintegration. She took him on a holiday to Scotland, and he managed to weather the crisis, emerging from it with a new self, confident and secure. His lost religious faith was replaced by a stronger faith in science. Instead of thinking of the beauty and bliss of Heaven he now thought of the beauty of nature and of its secrets. Perhaps the greatest proof of his recovery was that he now began to shake off Mary's domination. He ceased to behave like a pupil towards his master, but treated her on equal footing. Later he was neither surprised, nor unduly pained, when he saw her turn from him to another fellow student, one of her own race and colour. Like all artists she was bored with her work once it was completed. Isma'il was full of idealism and enthusiasm when he returned to Egypt. His love for his country had grown during his absence. But the stronger his love for Egypt grew, the more impatient he became with the Egyptians. Yet he felt they were his own people and they were not really to blame. They were the victims of ignorance, poverty, disease and age-long oppression. He had vowed to try to remove the wrongs he could see. Mary had taught him to be independent and never again would they be able to feed him on their superstition, illusions and outworn customs. He knew that his relationship with his people would be one long struggle, and he was already eager to plunge into the first battle. But Isma (1ldid not plan to devote his life entirely to the disinterested service of his country. He felt that he owed an enormous debt to his father and that he ought to pay back at least part of that debt. He had made up his mind to turn his back on Government service and to set up a private clinic in the best residential district of Cairo. When he had acquired enough money, he was going to let his father retire and buy some land for him in their native village so that his father might spend the rest of his days there, quietly and without any more drudgery. But what about Fatima al-Nabawiyya? He felt a little disturbed at the thought of marrying her, but he decided that the matter had better be left for the time being. Ismacil did not have to wait long for the first battle. As soon as he arrived and saw his mother he was shocked by her apparent lack

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

151

of personality: 'she is simply a mass of negative goodness'.' Fatima al-Nabawiyya's two plaits of hair, her cheap glass bracelets, her movements and indeed everything about her proclaimed loudly that she was a peasant girl from the heart of the country. Was that the girl he was going to marry? He knew at once that he would have to go back on his word. He also understood from the bandage she was wearing that her diseased eyes had grown much worse since he left. A glance at his father was sufficient to show him that he was a man full of cares, he had in fact fallen upon evil days, even though he never mentioned his financial worries in his letters to his son, but continued to send him his allowance while they were almost starving at home. Isma'il looked from the corner of his eyes at the interior of the house: it was much smaller and darker and less comfortable than he could remember. Did his people still use an oil lamp? he asked himself. He could not help wondering how on earth he was going to bring himself to live with his people in that house. Before retiring to bed his mother decided to put some drops in Fatima's eyes. Hearing Fatima groan with pain as she felt the drops, he asked his mother what was in the bottle. On being told that it was oil from Umm Hashim's lamp, which his friend Sheikh Dardiri had kindly brought for them, he jumped to his feet at once, as if stung by an adder. He went up to Fatima, removed her bandage and examined her eyes. He found them badly damaged by trachoma, but if given the right kind of treatment, he thought they would be cured, and this hot burning oil was sure to make them worse. Then follows a scene which turned the joyful occasion of the reunion of the family into a cause for mourning and grief. Horrified at the state of Fatima's eyes Isma(il screamed at his mother, accusing her of ruining the girl's eyes with her superstitions. Enraged by his mother's utter lack of comprehension, he spoke most disrespectfully of the Saint. Silence fell on the house at once. The distressed father, who had come out of his room to find out the cause of the shouting, and heard Isma'il's words, simply said to him: 'Is that all you have learnt abroad? Is all our reward that you should come to us an infidel?' 2 Ismalil's nerves could not stand much more, especially as everyone around him looked at him pityingly, as if he had gone out of his mind. Picking up his father's stick, he ran out of the house, determined to deal ignorance and superstition a mortal blow, even if that should cost him his life.
1
2

Ibid., p. 37. Ibid., p. 42.

152

THE LAMP OF UMM HASHIM: THE EGYPTIAN INTELLECTUAL

On his way to the Mosque Isma'il had to cross the Square, which as usual swarmed with people. These, he now felt, could not possibly be human beings. In a passage, which possesses the satirical intensity, the savage indignation of Swift, the author describes Isma'il's feelings towards them: "they were like vacant and shattered remains, pieces of stone from ruined pillars in a waste land: they had no aim other than standing in the way of a passer-by. And what were those animal noises they made and that miserable food which they devoured? Isma'il examined their faces, but he could only see the masks of a profound torpor, as if they were all the victims of opium. Not a single face wore a human expression. Those Egyptians, he thought, were a chattering revolting race, hairless and beardless, naked and bare-footed, with blood for urine and worms for stools. They received blows on their elongated napes with but a smile of humility that distorted the whole of their faces. Egypt herself was nothing but a sprawling piece of mud, lying senseless in the middle of the desert. Above it clouds of flies and mosquitoes were buzzing and on it a herd of lean buffaloes moved knee-deep in mud." 1 Quickly he escaped from the stifling crowd and ran into the mosque. This is how the shrine of the Saint appeared to him now: "Instead of fresh air, rose thick vapours of barbaric perfumes. There was the lamp hanging above, dust sticking to its glass and soot having turned the chain into a black line. It gave off a stifling smell of burning. It emitted more smoke than light, and even the faint ray of light it did give was only a sign of ignorance and superstition. Near the ceiling hovered a bat, which made his skin creep. Around the tomb leaned people like logs of wood, propped up against it. They stood there paralyzed, clutching at the railing. Amongst them was a man begging of the Saint to do something for him, which Isma'il could not fully understand, but he gathered that the man wanted her to punish an enemy of his, to bring destruction on his home and to orphan his children. Turning to a corner Isma'il saw Sheikh Dardirl surreptitiously hand to a man, wearing a woman's handkerchief for a bandage on his head, a small bottle, as if he were smuggling something. Unable to bear it much longer, and hearing the clangour of innumerable bells in his head and his eyes swimming, Isma'il stood up on his toes and, aiming the stick at the lamp, he with one blow, broke it to pieces, the bits of glass flying all over the
I

Ibid., pp. 43-44.

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

153

place, while he cried: I.. I.. I.." 1 He could not finish his sentence. The crowd rushed at him, he was beaten up and trodden on. He would have been lynched, had not Sheikh Dardiri recognized him and delivered him from the wild and furious mob, telling them that he was the son of Sheikh Rajab cAbdulla, a child of the neighbourhood and that he was obviously possessed. Ismacil was carried to his house. He spent a number of days in bed, talking to nobody. When he recovered a little from his injuries, he toyed with the idea of going back to England and settling there, away from "this accursed land." But he felt as if his body was tied to this house which he could not bear and to the Square he loathed. One morning, however, he woke up to find himself resolved to treat Fatima's eyes. He had treated successfully many similar cases in Europe before. He applied his medicine to Fatima's eyes for some time without seeing any noticeable improvement. He doubled his care, took her for consultation to his colleagues at the school of medicine, who all approved of his method of treatment. But Fatima's eyes became much worse and finally one day she woke up to find herself completely blind. Isma'il ran away from home: he could not stay there facing Fatima, whose blindness, the author says, "was a proof of his own blindness." 2 "Nor could he bear the reproachful looks of his parents. He sold his books and some of the equipment he had brought with him from England, and rented a room in a boarding house, run by a Greek woman, to whom only money mattered. Certainly, Europeans in Egypt, he thought, were made of a different stuff from those he had encountered in Europe. She exploited him and made his life generally so difficult that he was driven to roam about in the streets from morning to midnight. It was during his wanderings that his reconversion took place. It happened gradually. At first he found himself in the evenings gravitating towards the Mosque Square near his parents' house. He began to feel some sympathy for the people in the square, who, he thought, were more sinned against than sinning. Although every night, before going to sleep, he thought of some device to escape back to Europe, the following day he would find himself back in his usual spot in the Sayyida Square. When the holy month of Ramadan came it did not occur to him to fast. Yet he felt
I
2

Ibid., pp. 44-46. Ibid., p. 49.

154

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASH-IM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

an unusual atmosphere in the Square, something new in the air; it was as if the world had cast off its old robes and put on new ones. Isma'il wondered why he had failed, but could not find an answer that would satisfy his intellect. However, he found himself spending more of his time in the Square, gradually accepting its people, enjoying the jokes he could hear, and, in general, feeling the ground becoming more solid under his feet. He could now detect a virtue in the ability of the Egyptians to keep their distinctive character and temperament, despite the change of rulers and the vicissitude of events. Here, he thought, were no separate individuals, but a whole people united by a common faith tempered by time. Far from being devoid of all human expression, their faces now acquired a meaning hitherto unnoticed by him. Moreover, he found in his people the peace and tranquillity which appeared to him to be lacking in the west, where 'there were only hectic activity and anxiety, an unflagging war and the sword ever drawn.' 1 He reached a stage in his acceptance of his own people where comparison with the west was not only unnecessary, but also meaningless. 'But why compare at all?' he thought, 'Surely a lover does not draw comparisons?' 2 It was not long now before the moment of full revelation came. It occurred on the Night of Power (the night on which, according to Muslim belief, the Koran was sent down), which he had been brought up from childhood to cherish and venerate. While he was loitering in the Square his attention was suddenly drawn to the sound of deep breathing echoing throughout the Square, which as a child he was told only those blessed with a clear conscience could hear. When he raised his eyes he beheld the dome of the Mosque flooded with a bright light emanating from the lantern of the Saint. He saw at once that the light of which he had been deprived for years had come back. Now he realized why he had failed. He had nursed his pride and rebelled; he attacked and, overreaching himself, he fell. Now he knew that 'there could be no science without faith.' 3 Fatima had never really believed in him, but in the power of the Saint. Isma'il entered the mosque, walked reverently to the shrine which had now regained the beauty he used to see in it, asked Sheikh Dardirl for some of the lamp oil which the Sheikh gladly gave him, telling him that it was particularly holy, because it was not only the
1
2

Ibid., p. 53. Loc. cit. Ibid., p. 54.

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

155

Night of Power, but the night of the Visitation as well. Ismacil took the oil straight to his parents' house, and went up to Fatima and told her never to despair of being cured, since he had brought her the blessing of Umm Hashim. Once more he applied his science of medicine, but this time fortified by faith. He did not despair when he found that the disease had become chronic, but persisted and persevered and fought tenaciously until he could see a ray of hope. Vhen she had completely recovered, the writer says, 'Isma'il sought in vain both in his mind and heart for any feelings of surprise he was afraid he might find.' 1 From now on the story of Isma'il becomes one of cultural and moral integration, but not perhaps one of financial success. He no longer felt uprooted in his own society. He later set up a clinic, not in a residential area but in a poor district, in a house that was fit for anything but receiving eye patients. His fee never exceeded a piastre at a time. His patients were the poor and the bare-footed, not the elegant men and women he had hoped to get when he returned from England. His clinic swarmed with peasants, who brought him gifts of eggs, honey, ducks and chickens. We are told that he performed many a difficult operation successfully, using means which would have made a European surgeon gasp in amazement: he held only to the spirit and principles of his science, abandoning all elaborate instruments and techniques. He relied first upon God and secondly on his learning and the skill of his hands. He never sought to amass wealth, buy land or own huge blocks of flats. His sole aim was to help his poor patients recover at his hands.2 We also learn that he married Fatima, whom he taught to dress, eat and behave generally like a civilized woman, and she bore him five sons and six daughters. Towards the end of his days he grew very corpulent, had a huge appetite, was given to laughter and joking. His clothes were untidy, with cigarette ash scattered all over his sleeves and trousers. Until this day, his nephew, the narrator, says, the people of al-Sayyida district remember him with kindness and gratitude, and then pray that God may forgive him his sins, the nature of which, however, they would not disclose because of the great love they bore him. But the nephew gathers that it is his uncle's fondness for women that they have in mind. After this crude account, which can hardly do justice to a work
1
2

Ibid., p. 56. Ibid., p. 57.

156

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

written with great artistry and deep feeling-we may now proceed to ask a number of questions. Exactly what is the natureof the crisis Isma'il goes through and from which he emerges triumphant?Here, as in the case of many other literaryworks of merit, it is by no means easy to find one clearand neatanswer.Thereare,however, a numberof
possible answers which, taken together, seem to me to give an adequate account of the work. On one level one can say that what the author is depicting here is the age-old problem of religious faith and doubt. The experience Isma'il undergoes is that of a sensitive religious nature, temporarily and not irrevocably robbed of its faith, and although the faith is lost through an overexposure to reason and science, it is regained mysteriously. Isma'il did not face a Pascal-like type of wager. And indeed, in spite of the mystical vision that brings him back his lost light, the dominant element in Isma 'il's nature, the element emphasized by the author, is his gregariousness. The problem, therefore, is set in social terms. It is not the eternal silence of the infinite spaces that terrifies Isma'il, but the silence of people around him, the absence of communication with his own family, the discovery that he is an outsider among his kith and kin. With Isma(il, therefore, religious faith and acceptance of his own people went hand in hand, each of them was a manifestation of the other; it is only when he recovered his faith that he fully accepted his people, found purpose in life and meaning in the lowliest human being in the Mosque Square. But it surely would give only a partial view of the problem to claim that it is simply one of faith and doubt expressed in social terms. After all Isma(il did not spontaneously or independently lose his faith and turn his back on his own culture. He did that only after he had fallen under the influence of an alien culture. The contrast between his behaviour and attitude before and after is brought out most clearly in the neat structure of this work, namely through a number of almost symmetrical and parallel themes and situations, all centred on the mosque and the square. This aspect of the work, which presents the clash between the cultural values of East and West, places The Lamnpof Umm Hashim within the context of a larger literary tradition in Egypt. This tradition, where serious literature is concerned, goes as far back as al-Muwailihi's Hadith 'Isd Ibn Hishdm (1907), a work which, in spite of its shortcomings, holds in many respects a crucial position in modern Egyptian literature.' Al1 The original version of this work first appeared serially in the periodic.il al-Sharqbetween 1898 and 1900. Mi.rbdh

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

157

Muwailihi's standpoint was a relatively simple one: it was mainly ethical. He realized the enormous material and technological superiority of the West, recommended the use of some of its technology, but gave a strong warning against the bad moral effects that would and did result from a blind imitation of the West. Obviously in The Lamp of Umm Hdshim, Yah.yai Haqqi's attitude is much more sophisticated. What he was most concerned about was the spiritual issues involved in dealing with the West. Half way between the two comes a novel by the well known writer Tawfiq al-Hakim, Bird of the East (1938), which, despite the highly westernized nature of the author's education, represents a violent reaction against Western culture, and against the apparently ineradicable effects of this culture in the East.' This novel by al-Hakim, in fact, invites comparison with the work under consideration. In both works of fiction alSayyida Zaynab appears as a major factor, although the mystical feeling is undoubtedly much more genuine in the greater work The Lamp of Umm Hdshim than in Bird of the East, in which the treatment is more abstract and the ideas insufficiently realized in concrete and individualized situations and characters. However, al-Hakim dedicates his novel to Saint Zaynab whom he describes as his 'Chaste Patron'.2 The novel is set in Paris where a young Egyptian student, Muhsinobviously al-Hakim himself-is studying French culture. He falls in love with a French woman, lives in a state of ecstasy for a few days, after which he is rudely shaken from his dream, when she leaves him to return to the Frenchman she really loves and with whom she seems to have had a quarrel lasting those days she spent with Muhsin. The story, presumably designed to show the contrast between the infinite devotion of the man from the East and the calculated utilitarianism of the woman from the West, forms only a small part of the book, most of which is taken up with the meditations of the hero's friend, the self-exiled dying Russian Ivanovich, on the respective merits of East and West. Western civilization is regarded as a curse, glorifying materialistic values, Europe's contribution lies in science and technology which makes life much poorer, for real life is the life of the spirit. Through the lips of Ivanovich al-Hakim asserts the real superiority of the East, the cradle of all religions,
1 The Arabic title is 'U.sfir minal-Sharq. The edition used is that of Kitab al-Hilal, No. 77, Cairo, 1957. 2 In Arabic: ila hdmiyati Zaynab. al-ldbiraal-Sayyida

158

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

for even in the sphere of religion Europe is a bad influence: e.g., it corrupted Oriental Christianity, although by some strange kind of reasoning the author wishes us to believe that Western art (e.g., Beethoven's music) came from the same source as Eastern religion.' The dying Russian preaches a return to the East as the only salvation for mankind. Al-Hakim's antithesis between the spirituality of the East and the materialism of the West is by no means original, and is itself partly influenced by the West's own denunciation of its culture (which for well known political and philosophical reasons was fashionable in the thirties) and in fact has been repeated ad nauseam since. Likewise, the superiority of the East to the West, which is the corollary of this antithesis, has been repeated by many Egyptian writers, from Dr. Muhammad Husayn Haykal to Ahmad Amin, although there are honourable exceptions who, like Taha Husayn, exploded this fallacy.2 Recently Dr. von Grunebaum claimed that this reaction against the West, or as he puts it, this hostility to the West marks a distinct typical phase, the final phase of Westernization in which the Arab Middle East 'with westernization very largely completed in terms of governmental reforms, acceptance of the values of science, and adoption of Western literary and artistic forms, regained self-confidence expresses itself in hostility to the West and in insistence upon the native and original character of the borrowed product.'3 Dr. von Grunebaum and others draw parallels to the modern Arab situation from the intellectual history of Russia in the 19th century. Clearly there is some truth in this. But, we may ask, is TheLamp of Umm Hdshim merely a product of this cultural trend? I think not, for, unlike al-Hakim, HJaqqidoes not use, as his chief theme, the relative merits of East and West. He does not set out to prove the superiority of Eastern to Western values, or to preach to the whole of mankind the need to choose this or that set of values, or a combination of them. For one thing, IHaqqi's work, in spite of its symbolism, which at times is by no means subtle, is far less impure than al-Hakim's. Ilaqqi does not directly preach at us. His primary concern is his
CU4ffr min al-Sharq, pp. 172-173 and p. 192. See Muhammad Husayn Haykal, A/-Sharq al-Jadid, Cairo (1962), Ahmad Amin, A/-.Sharq wa'l Gbarb,Cairo, 1955 and Taha Husayn, Mustaqbal al-thaqdfa fi Misr, Cairo, 1938. On this point see Albert Hourani, Arabic T1/oughtin the
2

Liberal Age 1798-1939, O.U.P., 1962, pp. 330 ff.


3

G. Von Grunebaum, Modern Islam, the Search for Cultural Identity, London,

1962, p. 248.

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

159

literary creation: the character of Isma'il. For Isma'il the only way out of the impasse was by coming to terms with the people with whom he had to deal. Ismacil was particularly fortunate: for he had the strong faith of his childhood, which had created a powerful bond between him and his people and to which, in spite of the intervening alienation, he was able to return. Whatever generalization one can justifiably make from this one concrete example can be no more than this: to be truly effective it is essential for an imported remedy to be related somehow to local culture. Moreover, Haqqi does not present the simple question of the opposition between the spirituality of the East and materialism of the West. Instead, we find a more sophisticated treatment in which psychological differences, differences in patterns of behaviour are brought out and commented upon. For instance, despite her obvious symbolism, Mary is still a much more credible character than the young French woman in al-Haklim's novel. But what is the precise nature of the compromise Haqqi offers in the particular case of Isma'il? Or, to put it in perhaps unfairly literal terms, what does he actually do with the oil? Does he treat Fatima's eyes with it, concurrently with his use of proper medicine? If so, does he actually believe in the medicinal power of the oil? Do we take that then to be the mark of atavism, of his reversion to type? Or does he use the oil purely as a means of obtaining Fatima's confidence and trust in him, as a means of suggesting to her that she is after all getting the right kind of treatment? Here the author leaves us very much in the dark. To say that there should be no science without religion is very fine. It was Einstein, I believe, who once said that 'religion without science is lame, science without religion is blind'. But when it comes to the actual case under consideration all kinds of ambiguities arise. Isma'il can hardly believe in the medical effectiveness of the oil without doing violence to the principles of his medical training. Nor can he use the oil consciously as a means to win Fatima's confidence without detracting from the spiritual significance of his moment of illumination. But perhaps we are not meant to consider the matter so closely and we should be satisfied with the general idea that science needs the support of religion, even though the particular symbol used here is rather an unfortunate one, since it stands not so much for religion as for harmful superstition.'
1 It is interesting to note that in his book Dirdafdfi'l Riwdya al-Misrryya (Cairo, 1964) the Egyptian critic 'All al-R5'i denies that Isma'il has used the oil (p. 173).

160

THIE LAMP OF UMM HA SHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

However, in emphasizing the importance of religion, Hjaqqi differs from his younger contemporary Najib Mahfaz, who both in the Trilogyand to some extent in the allegorical Awldd HaritndI seems to imply that in the modern world religion has been replaced by science, that the scientist is the prophet of to-day-although in Mahfuz's later works there is a noticeable preoccupation with mysticism. One final question remains to be asked. Why did the author choose to make Isma'il study medicine, in particular? We could say, of course, that the tradition of sending Egyptians to Europe to study medicine is an old one, going back to Muhammad'Ali's time, and, unlike other technical studies, the study of medicine had an unbroken history. But there seem to be other reasons. That Isma'il is an eye specialist has its place in the symbolical scheme of the work, which is hinted at in the author's remark that 'Fatima's blindness is a proof of his own blindness', i.e., that before Isma'il could restore light to other people, it is necessary for him to see the real light himself. Besides, medicine, more than most professions, is closely related to the question of values. In England Isma 'il's professor used to tell him that his country had great need of him, for it is the country of the blind. Here there is no question of the materialism of the West, but a profound realization of the ethical values underlying modern medicine. The professor's words, in fact, did not fall upon deaf ears. For what Isma'il ultimately did was to put his training at the service of the common people. 'He never sought to amass wealth, buy land or own huge blocks of flats. His sole aim was to help his needy patients recover.' 2 Herein lies an indictment of an earlier generation of Egyptian doctors who mastered the technique of western medicine, but failed to see the values underlying it, and whose behaviour helped strengthen the view of the materialism of the west. Unlike such doctors, Isma 'i became famous not in the rich residential districts of Cairo, but in the neighbouring villages. Unlike them, Isma'il was able to see and absorb the moral values underlying Western techniques of medicine precisely because of the solid moral and religious education he received at home, because of his early background which the author
Al-Ra'i, however, does not, indeed cannot, offer any proof for the truth of his assertion, for the matter is kept deliberately vague by the author. I The Trilogy, al-Thuldthbyya, was written between 1947 and 1952 and comprises the following volumes which were first published in this order: Baynal-Qasrayn, 1956; Qair al-Shawq, 1957 and al-Sukkariyya, 1957. Awldd Hdritna was published in 1959.
' Qindil Umm Hdshim, p. 57.

THE

LAMP OF UMM HASHIM:

THE

EGYPTIAN

INTELLECTUAL

161

emphasises so much. ln other words, it is because Isma'il had a strong sense of the values of his own tradition, that he could see the values of the West. As Professor Gibb says in his provocative essay, 'The Reaction in the Middle East against Western Culture, '(Printed in his Studieson theCivilitationof Islam)'Values can only establish relationship with other values'.1 Haqqi is careful to point out that Isma'il does not follow the West blindly, he is not enamoured of western techniques for their own sake. But he held only to the spirit and principles of his science, abandoning all elaborate instruments and techniques. He relied first upon God, secondly on his learning and the skill of his hands. Here we are meant to see a true marriage of the values of the East and the West. Oxford
1

M. M.

BADAWI

of Islam, London, 1962 p. 333. H.A.R. Gibb, Studieson the Civili.Zation