Literary CornerWelcome to the Literary Corner [Archives:2005/829/Culture]

March 31 2005

By Hassan Al-Haifi
The Yemen Times is pleased this week to introduce a new area for our readers to benefit from. It is really a corner which no important national newspaper with wide international outreach could really afford to be without.

This corner will on Mondays be dedicated to the world of literature. The literature dealt with here will not necessarily be confined to literature of a single language, subject matter or totally just about Yemen nor have its origins in Yemen. Obviously, Yemen will have the lion's share of areas that will be covered in the literature we will be discussing here.

However, with the YT having an international audience, there may be some articles that may try to extend to other matters that this humble critic will hope may be of interest to our readers, Yemenis and international. If many people think writing in itself is hard, one can surely surmise that writing about what others write is even more difficult.

But this effort will certainly be done with all due respect to objective analysis and literary critique. We welcome feedback from our readers and will treat both positive and negative opinions with the same amount of respect and appreciation.

So, let us begin this humble effort with the best that anyone can begin anything with: In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent-the Merciful, may God give the effort its blessings.

Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shami: An Exceptional Breed of Literary Genius – part I

From a poem entitled: Apologetically to My People (In an Hour of Reproach)

In their existence, the most miserable of people they are,

Created for the shackle, the whip and the executioners

No.. .not for the constitution and liberty!

They compete for politeness to oppression,

Revering ignorance and waywardness!

They submit loyally to those who impose humiliation upon them

And who eliminate the disdainfully defiant of souls!

We have offered to them guidance to awaken them by.

So, this is what they said:

We are used to eternal unconsciousness!

Whenever we came to them with a science or art,

They proceeded with the tribal chants1.

If we recited to them a manifesto

They turned away chanting (Snake-worm!)

If we offer a remedy for a TB patient,

They would reject it, resorting instead to the shock-burn2.

If we waved a book to them;

They brandish the dagger and the rifle

In their minds,

the images of Islam have become distorted;

Fealty and factional strife;

And it implies differentiate by sect;

The sect of that one is Shafe'i3, and this one is of the Zeidi creed;

Yet, all in their state as such

Reflect darkness in comprehension

(Beset) With disputes,

Like a people of an infidel nation

(Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shami apologetically portraying the current lot of his people; reproduced in English with thanks to Al-Ummah Newspaper for the Arabic version)

It only seems fitting at this juncture that this Literary Corner should commence with a look at one of the greatest recent losses to modern Yemeni literature.

The passing away of His Excellency, Mr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shami, the man of letters, poetry, history, literary critique, with an output that is probably unequalled by any of modern Yemen's writers, thinkers and observers of the political and literary scene in Yemen, both in terms of quantity and quality.

One of the most amazing phenomenon 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'uman4.

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.

1- The word zamil (pl. zoamil) means the recitation of poems of tribal pride, which is usually done in a march.

2- An old fashioned means of treatment for many diseases, whereby they would shock the patient with a burn by a hot iron, presumably to remove the cause, which was often attributed to fright or an evil eye.

3- A member of the Shafe'i (Sunni) sect, one of the two leading Islamic sects in Yemen, the other being the Zeidi sect.

4- All four were active founders of the Yemeni patriotic movement.