Zain Al-Saqqaf,The voice of the village [Archives:2004/771/Culture]

September 9 2004

By Ahmed A. Moen, Vienna,
Virginia, USA
For the Yemen Times

I am indeed saddened to hear of the death of Zain Mohammed Qadri Al-Saqqaf, and I will miss his poetry and writings that echo the voice of the village and its universal appeal to the lovers of metaphors and symbolism. In his death, another star falls from the galaxy of the human universe, of which Al-Saqqaf is its centerpiece. The late Zain Mohammed Qadri and Dr. Abdul Aziz Yasin, represent the perpetual lineage and historical triumphs of universal humanism. Both are products of contemporary history and scholarship embedded in cross-cultural and universal values. Their education marks a long journey from public schools in Ethiopia and Yemen, to famous and well-known universities in America and Egypt. The late Zain studied the Qur'an and Arabic Grammar in the same school that produced most of the elite of the Yemeni immigrant children in Ethiopia. Many of the prominent scholars and physicians who arrived in Yemen in the 1960s were children of a generation that made the difference between the middle and modern age. Dr. Abu Bakr Abdul Rahman Al-Saqqaf, Dr. Abdul Aziz Yasin Al Sakkaf, Poet Zain Mohammed Qadri Al Sakkaf and their cotemporary classmates Dr. Jafar Mohammed Said Al-Qirshi and Dr. Amin Ahmed Abdo Nashir are a few of the graduates of the same Quranic and Grammar School, who studied under Imam Ahmed Hamid, and in the Arab Community School in Addis Ababa. Each in his way has excelled in his/her profession.
Zain Mohammed Qadri Al-Saqqaf was alone in living and studying in Egypt. He was a quiet thinker and a humanist who understood fundamental human rights and the desire of his own people for freedom and democracy. He was a poet with an exquisite free style embedded in existential experience. Unlike the classical poets and elite, he became one of the masters of the popular voice and diversity that glorified and embellished the Arab street. I feel that his symbolic style has never been a barrier to simple communication, but that it penetrated deep into the ears and hearts of common people. He penetrated the inner expression that goes beyond the Egyptian prose known as “Zagal.” His writings are closer to home, and touch the life of villagers and city folk alike. These feelings are not accidental, but represent a shared concern for the neglected and isolated mass in the village and inner cities. As an economist, he recognized the neglected core of human development in the third world.
He might have inherited his poetic style from his father, Mohammed Qadri Al-Saqqaf, who had a great influence on his education. His father was gifted with a melodic voice and powerful spirituality that captivated his listeners when he used chant spiritual songs. He chanted and mastered the “Al-Hamaziyah” of Albuwesri, and other scholars who glorified the life and traditions of the Prophet Mohammed. These scholarly talents emanated from his ancestor's legacies and from the learning centers in Hadramout. Qarayat Al-Hadharim was named after scholars and spiritual leaders who migrated to Southern Yemen to establish education and peace among the warring tribes. Mohammed Qadri was an immigrant who believed in the same mission of his ancestors who valued education. He was an avid reader who educated himself through reading Egyptian newspapers and magazines, the Arabic Reader's Digest, and Al-Hilal Publications. He memorized and recited commentaries and writings of Egyptian poets and philosophers such as Ahmed Shawki, Hafiz Ibrahim, Ali Mahmoud Taha and Taha Hussein. The late Zain grew up in a rich scholarly family, surrounded by his father's library. As a descendent of a noble family he was brought up to love and respect the Prophetic lineage, spiritual simplicity, humility and sacrifice, and led a simple life and professional career. Zain began his spiritual and literary journey to fame right in the “Mabraz Al-Hadarim” and his frequent visits to the “Qurya” connected him to his past and projected his feelings into the future as part of his spiritual and cultural continuum.
His higher education in politics and economics enhanced his sense of popular cultures and very often was embellished with his sweet humor and wit. I met him twice after thirty years of separation in the 1980s when I visited Yemen for the first time as a World Bank and USAID consultant. By chance, Dr. Jaffar Mohammed Said Al-Qirshi, Dr. Naguiba Abdul Ghani and Zain Mohommed Qadri happened to be my counterparts representing the Ministry of Health and Population Program in Yemen. The late Zain impressed me as an advocate, par excellence, for human rights, gender equality and equal access to primary care and education for men and women. Population growth and economic development were his concern. He realized that these two factors were closely related to gender equality, human rights and quality of life. He brought the skills to his new post as a population economist that he acquired through his past functions as a financial expert in Banking systems and monetary policies in Yemen. He was able to show that human rights and democracy were the key to economic and social development of third world countries. His sense of direction and vision were very clear and he was able to work with the most progressive forces in the Yemeni society.
The late Zain Al-Saqqaf and Dr. Abu Bakr Abdul Rahman Al-Saqqaf were two scholars who represent contemporary thinking. Their stands developed my knowledge and understanding of contemporary social, political, cultural and history. Even though the issue of health, population and development dominated our informal discussions during my consultation tour then, their presence and analysis of diverse worldviews, showed their wealth of experience and struggles to adjust to constantly changing values and economic developments. Those were the days of forums to exchange ideas, to read scholarly works, enjoy poetry and discuss openly political and civic affairs among family members. They were part of our childhood memories in Ethiopia, Egypt and America.
The loss of Zain, one of the pillars of Al-Saqqaf, will be felt deeply. Because of the importance of this generation, the loss of Zain Qadri and Abdul Aziz Yasin, readers of their works will be devastated by their absence. Their scholarship used to serve as a worldwide window through which their audience saw into the minds of many known scholars and thinkers bred in universal education and cultures. The late Zain was not only a scholar and a poet, but also a compassionate human rights advocate. He was an activist who lived to defend the freedom of speech and democracy. For those who read and understand Arabic, his literary works are evidences of his passion for freedom, popular writing style and colloquial poems. Though his “pedestrian style” is rarely expressed in contemporary Arabic literature, it has become the milestone of contemporary Yemeni scholarship. I speak of Zain as a brother, a friend and a student of his father in spiritual revivals. Zain wore the spiritual mantle of his ancestors to defend what is good and prevent what is bad. He preached wisdom, walked modestly, talked with humility, and respected cultural diversity and believed and advocated human rights and gender equality. When he spoke of “Al-Qarya” in his last interview, he denoted his universal vision and shared humanity in his writing and works. His presence among us was greater than his size in life. Many of his admirers will miss him, but the Al-Saqqaf clan have contributed a great share in shaping world events. They must recognize that their fallen stars shine brightly and their presence in life was a gift to human rights, economic development, free media, literature and democracy. I express my sincere condolences to his children, and I pray for the late Zain, and his wife who supported his works. By standing side by side with their husbands, these women emulated the prominent wives of Prophet Mohammed. The life and works of Zain and Abdulaziz Al-Sakaff, as contemporary role models, show how they cared for their parents and equally treated their lifelong partners. I hope their legacy will continue to be emulated by their descendents. The lifelong companions of these men such as Aziza Ahmed Abdul Ghani Al-Saqqaf, and other women, who wish that their names remain anonymous, proved that the elite of Al-Saqqaf clan are ahead of their time and are exemplars of leadership in a changing world. May Allah bless Zain's soul and those who preceded him on the right path leading to paradise.