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Taha Hussein : biography

November 15, 1889 - October 28, 1973

Taha Hussein (November 15, 1889—October 28, 1973) ( , ) was one of the most influential 20th century Egyptian writers and intellectuals, and a figurehead for the Arab Renaissance and the modernist movement in the Arab World. His sobriquet was "The Dean of Arabic Literature".

Biography

Taha Hussein was born in Izbet el Kilo, a village in the Minya Governorate in central Upper Egypt. He went to a kuttab, and thereafter was admitted to Al-Azhar University, where he studied Religion and Arabic literature. From an early age, he was reluctant to take the traditional education to his heart. Hussein was the seventh of thirteen children, born into a lower-middle-class family. He became blind at the age of three, the result of faulty treatment by an unskilled practitioner, a condition which caused him a great deal of anguish throughout his entire life.

Hussein met and married Suzanne Bresseau while attending the University of Montpellier in France. She was referred to as “sweet voice”. This name came from her ability to read to him as he was trying to improve his grasp of the French language. Suzanne became his wife, best friend and the mother of his two children and was his mentor throughout his life.

Taha Hussein’s children, his daughter Amina and her younger brother Moenis, were both important figures in Egypt. Amina, who died at the age of 70, was among the first Egyptian women to graduate from Cairo University. She and her brother, Moenis, translated his Adib (The Intellectual) into French. This was especially important to their father, who was an Egyptian who had moved to France and learned the language. Even more important, the character of Adib is that of a young man who, like Taha Hussein, has to deal with the cultural shock of an Egyptian studying and living in France.Egypt State Information Service - Prominent Novelists

Positions and tasks

Taha Hussein held many positions in public life. He was a professor of History, Greek and Roman literature at Cairo University following his return from France. He was also a professor of Arabic literature in the Faculty of Arts. In 1930, he was dismissed from the university following the 1926 publication of his controversial book "On Pre-Islamic Poetry" or " On The poetry of the period of ignorance", but he was able to join the staff of the American University in Cairo and in 1942 he became an adviser to the Minister of Education and a director of the University of Alexandria until he retired on October 16, 1944.

In 1950, he was appointed a Minister of Knowledge (Ministry of Education nowadays) in which capacity he led a call for free education and the right of everyone to be educated. Additionally, he was an advocate against the confinement of education to the rich people only. In that respect, he said, "Education is as water and air, the right of every human being". Consequently, in his hands, education became free and Egyptians started getting free education. He also transformed many of the Quranic schools into primary schools and converted a number of high schools into colleges such as the Graduate Schools of Medicine and Agriculture. He is also credited with establishing a number of new universities.

Taha Hussein held the position of chief editor of a number of newspapers and wrote innumerable articles. He was also a member of several scientific academies in Egypt and around the world.

Works

Taha Hussein's literary works can be divided into three categories:

  • Studies of Arabic and Islamic literature and culture.
  • Fictional literary works reflecting social commentary attacking poverty and ignorance.
  • Political articles published in the two journals of which he was editor-in-chief.

Among his most prominent works are:

  • Wednesday conversations (a collection of essays on literary criticism)
  • On Pre-Islamic poetry (revised and reissued as On Pre-Islamic literature)
  • The Sufferers: Stories and Polemics
  • A Man of Letters, a novel أديب
  • The Days (3-Part Autobiography)
  • An Egyptian Childhood
  • The Future of Culture in Egypt
  • The Tree of Misery
  • The Call of the Curlew
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