This article focuses on the engagement of three scholars of the nineteenth century, later to be called scholars of the nahḍa, with an Arabic grammar manual titled Baḥth al-maṭālib wa-ḥathth al-ṭālib (“The Pursuit of the Questions and the Encouragement of the Student”), supposedly written in 1705 by the Maronite monk Jibrīl (later Jirmānūs) Farḥāt (1670–1732). The scholars considered in this contribution are Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq (d. 1887), Buṭrus al-Bustānī (d. 1883), and Saʿīd al-Khūrī al-Shartūnī (d. 1912). They engaged with this text by editing and printing it, and by making it available for use in Ottoman public schools. Through a close reading of representative excerpts from their printed editions, this article explores the three scholars’ philological engagement with Baḥth al-maṭālib and its multiple uses in nineteenth-century schools. The ways in which they worked on the text, it is argued, illustrate their different pedagogical approaches towards the teaching of the Arabic language.
The article explores continuities between manuscript and print culture by way of an investigation into the book-related practice of three members of the Ḥanbalī al-Shaṭṭī family. By using a diverse set of sources, it presents a view on the turn from manuscript to print during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that moves beyond technological determinism. By examining authorship, manuscript collections, and print publication, it proposes to include the institution of the family as well as the emerging global market for Arabic manuscripts into research of this medial shift.
Using the Jesuit scholar Louis Cheikho’s (1859–1927) work on pre-Islamic and early Islamic ascetic poetry as a focal point, this article examines two strategies which contemporary and later scholars accused Cheikho of using to falsify the Arabic literary heritage. Cheikho de-Islamized Arabic language texts through editorial interventions, as evinced by his edition of the Dīwān of the Abbasid ascetic poet Abū al-ʿAtāhiya. Furthermore, he overtly laid claim to the past by Christianizing pre-Islamic poetry. In his work al-Naṣrāniyya wa-ādābuhā bayna ʿarab al-jāhiliyya, Cheikho tried to establish the “origins” of Arabic cultural and literary production in Christianity. He did so in response to Arab and European intellectuals who challenged the Christian contribution to Arabic. Above all, he rejected racist ideas embedded in nineteenth-century European philology, notably the denigration of Semitic languages and their speakers based on the “Aryan”/“Semite” binary in Ernest Renan’s (1823–1892) work.
The subject of this article, Father Anastās Mārī al-Kirmilī (1866–1947), is a central figure in the Iraqi nahḍa. Although a Carmelite monk, he devoted his life in a non- confessional spirit to the study and reform of the Arabic language and the development of a specifically Iraqi historical and cultural consciousness. He wrote on linguistics, history, and folklore, he edited texts, published a journal and corresponded with Arab and European scholars. He is still a figure of reference for Iraqi intellectuals. By presenting his work in some detail, this article seeks to integrate him into the society of the nahḍawīs while demonstrating his particular contribution.
This introduction to the special issue “The Past and its Possibilities in Nahḍa Scholarship” reflects on the role of the past in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century nahḍa discourse. It argues that historical reflection played a pivotal role in a number of scholarly disciplines besides the discipline of history, notably philosophy and logic, grammar and lexicography, linguistics, philology, and adab. Nahḍawīs reflected on continuities with the past, the genealogies of their present, and the role of history in determining their future. The introduction of print gave new impulses to the engagement with the historical heritage. We argue for a history of the nahḍa as a de-centred history of possibilities that recovers a wider circle of scholars and intellectuals and their multiple and overlapping local and global audiences. Such a history can also shed light on the many ways in which historical reflection, record-keeping practices, and confessional, sectarian, or communalist agendas are entwined.
Children made up a substantial segment of the literate public that emerged during the Arab nahḍah period. Of these, an apparent minority applied skills they acquired in school to reading for pleasure or satisfying juvenile curiosity. This study explores the novel practice of Arab youth leisure-time reading as reported in retrospective memories and autobiographies. It reveals that during the nahḍah’s early decades, the inventory of Arabic readings fit for children was strikingly limited—unlike the multitude of books that were available to adults—a reality that forced curious boys and girls from different classes to make do with adult books for their after-school reading. This article examines cultural factors for that scarcity (primarily the status of children in society) and economic ones (e.g., publishers’ business concerns) and considers its implications. Probing a seemingly marginal section of a wider scene, it sheds light on hitherto neglected facets of the Arab transition from widespread illiteracy to extensive literacy at this point in history.
In an epoch of revival of the historical novel, Arabic literature tries to provide its own response to the construction of al-tārīkh al-badīl, namely “alternative history” or, also, allohistory which, as a literary genre, was originally a branch of science fiction. By proposing the idea of a counter-narration, the search for historical alternatives becomes a matter of great importance and responsibility. What happens if the writer tries to construct an alternative point of view, a counter-narration in which “History” is transformed into an almost fictional story? Far from an act of betrayal, this can be interpreted as a restoration of iltizām whenever the narrative potential, or the “if” contained within the narrative, comes true. This article aims to present works where the authors wonder: “What would have happened if…?” This question opens space for literary alternatives to mainstream or official historical narratives.