Adonis Diaries

Sticky Myths that can’t be disproved? Who is Tah Hussein?

Posted on: June 23, 2010

What if a sticky myth can’t be disproved? Who is Tah Hussein?

I lean for the notion that a myth has factual features, though the story becomes fundamentally a myth by successive alterations.  So what?  Most novels are claimed to be fictions, though there is no doubt authors are describing their own feelings and positions in many sections of the novel.

For example, there is this story of Abraham and his sons Ismael and Jacob and his many wives, legitimate or not.  Obviously, there is no way to disprove this story (this story should not be a big deal: it must have been a common story among families and societies, related to customs and traditions at the time and in the region…)  

For example, all the monotheist, which I prefer to label mono-idolatery, religions (Jewish, Islam, and Christian) claim Abraham for father figure, and they discriminate their religions based on Abraham’s descendents.  In fact, if these religions didn’t disseminate the Abraham story as true, who would care if it was a factual story or one of the famous mythical fictions?

The process of disproving a myth, or its inherent value and the futile labor in investing time in non-documented research, is not the theme of this article. 

My question is: “If you know that there is no adequate means to tackle disproving a myth connected to religious beliefs then, is it worth antagonizing religious people just by stating that (their convictions are based on myths) and not having the moral courage to specializing in all the aspects of the myth?”

Some people would say: “If this myth is wrecking havoc to the unity of society (meaning  of disturbing conformity) then, is it your moral obligation to say that a myth is a myth until proven otherwise?”

Some people would say: “If the impacts of this myth is redundant on society then, it is a crime to approaching and taking out the skeletal of this myth and making it an issue that harms peaceful coexistence and encourages extremist, racist, and obscurantist elements around the myth.”

For example, in 1926, the late Egyptian author Tah Hussein published “On poetry in Jahilyya” (the pre-Islamic period in the Arabic Peninsula.)  First, who is Tah Hussein?

Hussein was blind by birth and is dubbed “Dean of Arab literature”. He continued his education in France and received a doctoral on his thesis related to Ibn Khaldoun (Ibn Khaldoun lived in the 15th century Tunisia and is known as the founder of sociology or ethnography). Hussein divorced his Egyptian wife and married a French woman Suzanne.

“On poetry in Jahilyya” Hussein claimed that his critique is Cartesian; which means a rational method requiring the author to “forget” or set aside all that he knew on a subject matter and then, starts with a clean sheet re-studying the topic from a rational and scientific perspective. Obviously, the sentence “forgetting what we knew” cannot be feasible; saying that an author has to do his best to starting with a neutral position might seem more accurate, but it is not:  How can you get interested in a topic if you are essentially neutral about it? (see note 2)

In one of the chapters of this monumental manuscript, Hussein proposed several views.

First, Hussein claimed that Abraham is a fictional character (but he failed to back up this contention) in his drive to discrediting many religions meddling in literature, which obscured and prevented serious investigations for the development of the Arabic language and literature: religions asserted facts that are principally myths in nature.

For example, Islam (submission to Allah), by claiming Abraham as the founder of Jewish and Islam religions, was a gimmick  adopted by the Prophet Muhammad to uniting Jewish and Christian sects into one comprehensive and common denominator system of belief.

Hussein might not have known then that:

1. Muhammad’s father was a convert to one of the “heretic” Christian-Jewish sects in Mecca (“heretic” was a label extended by the orthodox Byzantium Church);

2. One of Muhammad’s uncles was the Patriarch of this sect;

3. Muhammad joined his uncle once a year, and for an entire month of fasting, prayer, and meditation;

4. Muhammad was versed and immersed in the belief system and the stories of his uncle’s sect.

Second, Hussein proposed that the Prophet Muhammad read his verses in seven Arabic dialects corresponding to the main Arabic tribes in the Arabic Peninsula. (The Coran was finally codified during the third Caliph Othman bin Affan (from Quraich tribe of Mecca) into the Quraichi tribe dialect.)

Third, Hussein claimed that it is not true that Islam was the first religion that the Arabic Peninsula experienced.

Fourth, Hussein denounced the zeal of claiming that the genealogy of the Prophet (the successive clans and tribes) must be the best among the tribes.

There are more propositions which incited the ire of the clerics in Al Azhar who took Hussein to court.  Hussein didn’t hesitate to cancelling this “controversial” chapter from his next versions titled “On Jahilkiyya literature”.  Actually, the press coverage of the proceedings had disseminated the views of Hussein extensively among the intelligentsia in Egypt and the Arab World.

What was striking in these court proceedings is that the prosecutor basically defended the book in a 40-page investigation; the investigation was balanced and rational and the book was not condemned.  That was Egypt between the two world wars; a period of enlightenment that the Lebanese immigrants participated mightily in promoting freedom of speech and opinions in dailies and magazines.

Note:  Tah Hussein published another highly controversial book “The future of Egypt’s culture”.  In this book, Hussein claimed that Egypt culture is basically a Mediterranean Sea culture and a close relative to Greece, Italy, and France, but in no way related to the cultures in Persia and India.  Hussein demonstrated that most of Greek and Roman intelligentsia studied in Egypt, before a few returned to their City-States and established their own schools.

Hussein proposed that ancient Greek and Latin be taught at Egyptian schools as was the case in Europe at the turn of the century. (I think that is the case of the culture in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. It was the case of coastal Turkey till the 16th century).  In the 16th and 17th century, the Ottoman Empire experienced total embargo with Europe, economically and culturally, due to its military expansions in Europe. The Ottoman Empire had to turn toward Iran and India to satisfying all its demands in all fields and sectors.  You may read my article “Lions and lionesses in the Fertile Crescent”

Note 2: The famous poet of the 8th century (Baghdad) Abu Nawas was asked by his mentor to memorize 1,000 pieces of poems.  The next season, the mentor demanded from Abu Nawas to doing his best forgetting all the poems he has memorized.  This was an exercise of renewing with your own personality and character…

1 Response to "Sticky Myths that can’t be disproved? Who is Tah Hussein?"

[…] Myth: This is not the theme of my story Tags: adonis, adonis49, books, lebanon, Posted this week, women, writing […]

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