JANUARY 23, 2012: Taha Hussein: From Azhar to University (Guest Lecturer- Hussam
His autobiography was called “Al-Ayyam” and was in three volumes.
Taha Hussein (1889-1973), born in the South of Egypt and went blind at the age of
Began at the Azhar and started attending the University
First Egyptian to earn a PHD from an Egyptian University, which allowed him to go
to France and earn a PhD from the Sorbonne.
In 1930 he became the first Egyptian Dean of the faculty of Arts, and eventually
because the Rector and then the Minister of Education
First Egyptian to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature
Taha Hussein said that the new generation of writers do not read the old Arabic
classics and don’t know foreign languages, so are unable to translate directly from
original texts (accusatory of prominent intellectuals). He says he only pronounces
such harsh judgements out of love for the new generation of writers.
Recognises the importance of mastering both the Arabic classics and the foreign
Hussein’s work is seen as a monument and milestone in modern Arabic literature,
regarded as “the finest work of art yet produced in modern Arabic literature.”
Taha Hussein’s memoir is in 3 volumes, the first of which is his childhood, loss of
sight, his sister’s death, his curiosity leading his to Azhar, etc. His childhood was in
the Old Cairo, which differs greatly from the New Cairo.
Teaching at Al-Azhar was much more open to teaching to blind, and learning Arabic
was mostly speaking and listening. A large portion of their enrolment were blind
students. Students who were here had the options of moving on to get their degrees
and become professors, or to become teachers and writers of Qur’an.
Learning at Al-Azhar was disorderly, without syllabi or a schedule. There is great
diversity. There is no attendance, and a largely individualized method of teaching
(students sit with professors, recite what they have learned, get a new task, etc.)
because learning at Al-Azhar was part of the practice of law → Timothy Mitchel’s
explanation of the Al-Azhar in Colonizing Egypt
Learned the Qur’an, Hadith (saying of Mohammed), theology, and legal
interpretation, and there was no need for syllabi or a schedule because it was
structured and the students knew the schedule. Learning was flexible.
During Hussein’s time at Al-Azhar (went between 1902-1904) he was initially
excited (sense of security, welcoming, inspiring) but quickly became frustrated
because he arrived at a turbulent time at the university→ tension between change
and keeping the status quo.
He wanted to bypass the structure and go back to the primary sources. This time of
turbulence ended in 1905 when Muhammad Adbuh left the University.
In 1934, Hussein wrote about how Abduh returned to the primary sources and was
meticulous when it came to ideas, was open to discussion, “gave Egypt its
When Cario went from being the “old” city to the “new” city, Khedive Ismail was in
charge. Near the end of his reign, Egypt was less a part of Africa and more a part of
Europe. During his time in power, the Suez Canal was built.
During this time, the University became prominent. It is an example of a break from
the past because the University style is Western (classical), with Monumental buildings. There was a plan to build a main mosque but it didn’t go through. The
University was steps away from the famous sculpture by Nahdet Misr, a statue of the
peasant women raising her veil and looking into the future with confide