Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unordinary Book of Love

The Book Title: "A Past that Doesn't Pass. Iraqi Memories and Components"

Of the vital things in the post-2003 Iraq is the opportunity to express the self. From a village in the south of Lebanon, the young man of 18 named Hani Fahas travelled for the first time in his life outside his village, and where to? To Iraq, to Al Najaf.

“….my aunt held the back of the car, trying to prevent it from taking me away…. But the car went away by me to Al Sham (=Syia)… and from Al Sham to Iraq via the desert… I was about to get lost in Baghdad so I headed for Al Najaf as soon as possible… to be lost again… or about to be lost, and without some loss, how can one of us to find himself, to find the right way?” p79.

Hani Fahas came to Najaf in 1963 to study religion, and to go back after 9 years to his village as a Sheikh, a man of religion. But he is a religious man who wrote his diaries and memories frankly in an elegant book to tell us about his love, fear, and getting lost… he is a man that you can empathize with easily since he is like you, and me.

In his early days in Al Najaf, he described himself in a funny way, he didn’t know how to wear the new costume, a man of religion must wear, he didn’t know how to put the Omama, the head piece, and the wild wind in the narrow Najaf quarters had taken his Abaya away from him many times. He didn’t understand the Iraqi accent in Arabic and that caused him some troubles and jokes and he write them in his memories.

In his 9 years in Al Najaf he was like a child growing up across the sensory-motor period where he got to learn to control his new costume and find his way in the complex tortuous quarters of Najaf and to find the appropriate accent and meanings of the new words, to the preoperational period when he was a member of the journal of the religious school and was reading and criticizing literature, till he reached the formal operational stage of Piaget when he was forced to leave Al Najaf in 1972 while the Iraqi government was trying to control this religious school called in Arabic “Hawza”.

He told us that before he left Lebanon to Najaf, he had experienced “love” feelings to the other sex. As he left to Najaf, he oppressed those feelings as it was time to study religion, he said to his self. But in Al Najaf, he says, he found that love is a must of religion, is a must for science, and love is the oil of the mind, as he describes love. And that was maybe why he did marry in the second year of his study and his wife accompanied him during his career.

He told us much about Al Najaf. The Afghan bakers and their special bread, the narrow quarters of Al Najaf, Mustafa Jamal Al Deen the poet and the man of religion, and on the other hand the professors of religion who were against wearing a watch, a shoe, trousers, seeing T.V, listening to Radio, taking the train and so on.. some were against the use of new inventions of modernism and to stick to the old way of living…. They were even against music, and still they are… but it seems that Hani Fahas does not agree with them, although he don’t say this very frankly but he asked in one of his lines would there comes a time when music will be regarded as a science “a knowledge” and studied?…

The book is mainly about Iraq since he loved Iraq to a great degree and you can feel that easily. He wrote in one of his lines:”I will keep writing about Iraq till Iraq will get back to Iraq”. Yet he told us a little about his origin, his village of origin, where his father, mother, and sister are working in their farm. He told us about his memory while he was a newborn in few lines of nostalgia, love, and fun about the part of Muthafar Al Newwab poem came into his mind while his mom left him in his cradle and went to the farm, a part about a farmer getting ready to her farm. She left him in his cradle till the afternoon longing to meet her again… she came after the hours of working under the sun, still tired, but she headed for him, took him from the cradle, put her breast into his thirsty mouth, and he describes the rain of milk and the river of milk in his own excellent wonderful Arabic that I failed to translate unfortunately.

When he went back to his village in 1972, his family was still working in their land. He felt guilty that he didn’t have a physical job. Their village is in an area called Mountain of Amil. He, and few others including Abbas Beathoon, started what they called the “Forum of Mountain Amil Literature” and started to meet in the open air in the country side around their villages, make tea, and discuss about Al Sayyab, Mohammad Khudair the Iraqi short story writer, and the famous communist Iraqi poet Muthaffar Al Newwab among other things. But suddenly and while he was still in the first year after going back to his village from Najaf, still in 1972, the government of Lebanon made a new law regarding the ownership of their lands and of their products, and while he joined the rally against this law, army men came and started shooting them, many of his neighbors and friend had died in front of his eyes, he was imprisoned, and, as he said, a new chapter of his life had started.

Thank you Hani Fahas for this brave book which made me experience a new meaning to Al Najaf and a new meaning to religious men. Thank you for Al Mada publication also for this elegant warm publishing, a book that you can nothing but love, a man of religion that you can empathize with, as he is just like everyone, got his feelings, worries, fears, losses, and love.


Anonymous said...

عزيزي سامي كان العراق دوما مقصد
طلاب الدراسات الدينية استبدل بعض هؤلاء الطلاب خلال السبعينات الثمانينات وحتى التسعينات
بعدد من طلاب الدراسات العلمية وها
نحن قد عدنا الى فتح الابواب امام طلاب الدراسات الدينية مرة اخرى بينمايضطر طالب العلوم العراقي الاتجاه الاتجاه الى دول اخرى
It is a pity no-one has managed to offer the two possibilties at the same time!
I love the way you are pleasently surprised that a man who studied theology could be "so similar to us", if only theologians could see people who choose science in the same way :)

Laura said...

Sami I treasure your posts on Iraqi literature. To be able to see through another's eyes is such a privilege. Thank you.

saminkie said...

Everytime I read an Iraqi literature book I feel the need to tell others about it... in spite of living in Iraq for all my 31 years but still I am discovering my country who had ages of identity distortion and ignorance... Laura, it is my pleasure that you read my posts.. with your, and other friends', encouragement I will keep posting these.. Thanks for everything.

Don Cox said...

Another book which I wish was available in English, so that more of us could read it.

Thanks for the report.

Men of religion do have what seems to me a false view of the world, but as you say, they are human just like everyone else, and we must all try to empathise with each other.

saminkie said...

I agree with you dear Don Cox and I hope that Iraqis, especially over the 50s and so, write their memories since we need to touch our identity which is threatened, as somebody can say, sometimes.