Literary CornerAhmed Mohammed Al-Shami (2/2) [Archives:2005/830/Culture]

April 4 2005

By Hassan Al-Haifi
One of the most amazing phenomena about Yemen's long and tumultuous history is that it still produced one of the most dynamic and constantly evolving culture, that has done much to enrich the Arabic language with literary wealth, nevertheless still holding on to some of its own distinctive qualities and flavor.

Notwithstanding the underdevelopment of the country in many fields, in literature, Yemeni writers continued to dish out over the ages, monumental works in literature, theology and other areas of the liberal arts.

Of course the prevalence of religion will be found in most of this long track record of literary achievement, since most of the educational institutions were primarily geared to produce a cadre of public servants and private citizens who were well-versed in religious doctrine and jurisprudence.

Mr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shami was mostly a product of the traditional schooling that most of his fellow literary peers, such as Mohammed Al-Zubeiry, Qadhi Abdurrahman Al-Iriani and to a certain extent Ahmed Nu'uman1.

Yet, of all his peers, he probably had the greatest output of published works, which will always be viewed as the greatest enrichment to Yemeni literature in modern times.

A close friend – a prominent Yemeni political and social figure – once said that he was flabbergasted when he visited the London home of Mr. Al-Shami in Bromely, where the latter incidentally passed away after residing there for over four and a half decades.

What he saw were around four floors of bookshelves all stacked with books.

In addition, there was a room, where our literary subject kept a photocopier, with which he used with avidity unequalled by anyone he ever knew.

Out of this literary factory came out a substantial list of published works, in a variety of fields: politics, history, literary critiques and volumes of his own works of poetry.

His writings are of the highest literary quality, whether in prose or in verse, and the reader is often unable to leave any of Al-Shami's writings until he has devoured it.

His insight into human nature and the attitudes of his people, many of whom are locked in long inherited social customs and habits is equally penetrating. He was harsh to anyone who did not have a fair perception of justice, freedom and religious tolerance and his poetry often revolves around the forces that seek to implant such new phenomenon to Yemen as religious sectarian disputes, factional intolerance and regional and tribal loyalty.

He was a staunch defender of Yemen's long history of achievement in Arabic literature and quickly rebuffed any historians or writers who either refused to acknowledge Yemen's contributions to Arabic literature, including responding to such scholars as Taha Hussein, the famed Egyptian scholar and historian of the 1940s and 1950s, who failed to include the Yemeni literary achievements in Pre-Islamic times, in his historical narratives.

Politically, Ahmed Al-Shami was one of the early vanguards of the Yemeni patriotic movement and was one of the leading participants in the unsuccessful coup of 1948 against the Imamate.

He wrote the National Charter or constitution of the coup and for that got seven years in the dismal Prison of Hajjah, to which he and his fellow revolutionaries were taken in shackles.

In prison, Al-Shami conducted Arabic Studies and lectured on Arabic Literature and still managed to produce many of his poems and research into the past of Yemeni literature.

He was always keen on upholding the right of his people to enjoy political freedom and safeguarded rights and constantly gave counsel to the prevailing regimes in Yemen to look after the people's interests and open the channels for them to harness their energies and capacities to advance their standards of living.

His political involvement climaxed with membership in the Republican (Presidential) Council after the national reconciliation that ended the War between the Republicans and the Royalists in 1969 (after seven years).

After a two-year stint in that position, and a couple of years in the diplomatic arena, he decided that the best service he could give his country was in enriching its literary output.

He was able to debate with some of the most prominent versant Arab scholars in literature and poetry and, because of his mastery of Arabic poetry and literature, he lashed out severely against those writers who either misrepresented their stature in the field or who were horrendous in their structuring of poems or language in general.

Writers who sought to distort historical facts were also dealt with mercilessly by Al-Shami.

He is viewed as a romanticist, poetically and an idealist politically.

His published works include by subject:

Poetry (His own composition): From Yemen, The Emigrant's Plight, the Compositions of Al-Shawqi, “The Harvest of Life”, “With the Sparrows of Bromely” and many other volumes of poetry.

Literary Critiques and Research: The Old and the Favorable (2 volumes); the poetic works of “Al-Hassan Bin Ali Jabir Al-Habal”, one of the great Yemeni poets of the Middle Ages; “the works of Ibrahim Al-Hadhrani”, another modern Yemeni poet and patriot; the “Story of Yemen's Literature”, one of the finest historical insight into Yemeni literature; “Al-Mutanabbi – the Poet of the Most Noble of Traits” (Al-Mutanabbi is perhaps regarded as the Greatest of Arab Poets, whose eloquence is unrivalled to this date.

History and Politics: His memoirs, “the Winds of Change from 1948 to 1955”, which also attempted to point out some of the inaccuracies and exaggerations that some have sought to mislead about the Patriotic Movement.

Many unpublished works, including “Abdurrahman Al-Iriani, the Poet!”, the “Second Volume of the Winds of Change”.

With the loss of Al-Shami a big vacuum will be felt in the Yemeni literary movement and all the obituaries written by most of Yemen's renowned surviving literary personalities attested to the irrecoverable loss Yemen will feel with the end of a long journey in literary genius. Thanks to God, he left so much in print for us to be inspired by. May God bless and have mercy on his soul.

Correction: In the poem given in Part 1 “Snake-worm” should actually be “Dawdahiyah”, which is a traditional folklore type of song.

1 All four were active founders of the Yemeni patriotic movement.