Academic journal article Nebula

The Image of Cairo in Hejazi's A City without a Heart

Academic journal article Nebula

The Image of Cairo in Hejazi's A City without a Heart

Article excerpt

Introduction

In his well-known essay, "The City in Literature", Irving Howe attributes western hostility toward the city to the pastoral conventions dominating western culture for centuries:

We can assume that pastoral at its best represents a special, indeed a highly sophisticated version of a tradition of feeling in Western society that goes very far back and very deep down. The suspicion of artifice and cultivation, the belief in the superior moral and therapeutic uses of the "natural", the fear that corruption must follow upon a high civilization--such motifs appear to be strongly ingrained in Western Christianity and the civilization carrying it. There are Sodom and Gomorrah. There is the whore of Babylon. There is the story of Joseph and his brothers, charmingly anticipating a central motif within modern fiction: Joseph, who must leave the pastoral setting of his family because he is too smart to spend his life with sheep, prepares for a series of tests, ventures into the court of Egypt, and then, beyond temptation, returns to his fathers. And there is the story of Jesus, shepherd of his flock (Howe 1973 : 40).

According to Howe, western culture and literature bear a deeply grounded tradition that sees the city as a place both inimical and threatening due to the dominance of pastoral conventions in western thought. Likewise, the hostile attitude toward the city in Arabic poetry may be traced back to the pre-Islamic era when the dichotomy between city and village was similar to the differences between the sedentary (urban) and the Bedouin (rural) way of existence. In the pro-Bedouin poetry of the pre-Islamic era, there was a tendency to praise the simple healthy, traditional way of life of the Arab Bedouins in the desert emphasizing their natural wisdom and their superiority to the sophisticated inhabitants of the sedentary / urban communities. Due to his natural environment, the Bedouin is depicted--in the pre-Islamic poetic tradition as liberal, free, intelligent and egalitarian who refuses to advocate the standards of hierarchy and status adopted in sedentary / urban communities.

Unlike the inhabitants of urbanized communities, the Arab Bedouin is portrayed as a brave and strong person who is able to challenge and withstand the pains and hardships of life. Moreover, in the early Islamic era, there was a feeling of uneasiness toward the city and urban life in general. For example, the Bedouin poetess, Maysoon Bent Bahdal, one of the wives of the Umayyad caliph, Moawiyya bin Abu Sofyan, migrated from her Bedouin community to live in the caliph's palace in the city of Damascus but she was not satisfied with her urban life. In her poetry, she expresses an antagonistic attitude toward life in the city. She longs for her hard life in the Arabian peninsula and she finds the barking dogs in her Bedouin environment and the howling wind in the surrounding desert more attractive than the sound of music and the singing of slave-girls in the caliph's palace : "A barking dog on the desert roads is closer to my heart than a domestic cat in the palace / and the sound of the howling wind in the desert is more attractive to my ears than the sound of music" (1) (Cited in Abu-Ghali 1995 : 9).

Like Maysoon who prefers the simplicity of the desert community to the complications and sophistication of living in the caliph's palace in the city of Damascus, the capital of the Islamic empire during the Umayyad dynasty, Beshr bin al-Hareth, a famous Sufi in Arab history, escaped from Baghdad because he was astounded by the manifestations of urban life in the city. Beshr bin Al-Hareth, known as Abu Nasr al-Hafi came from the desert to the city of Baghdad during the reign of the Abbasid empire but he was astounded by the urban environment of the city, thus he took off his slippers, put them under his arm and ran back toward the desert and he never returned to Baghdad. Therefore, Beshr bin al-Hareth was given his nickname "al-Hafi" which means the one who walks barefooted. …

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