The Significance of Qur’anic Verses in the Literature of Ali Ahmad Bakathir: case studies of al-Silsila wa al-Ghufran and al-Duktur Hazim
Muhammad Eeqbal Farouque Hassim
By: Abdul Hakeem Alzubaidi
In general, the article is well organized and well written. It is clear that the author has spent an effort to understand the materials, to gather the information and to put it all together in a way that seems very rational and persuasive. The introduction gives a clear idea about the subject and justifications for choosing it. The bibliography about Bakatheer is very informative and well summarized.
The main problem the author faces, in my opinion, is the lack of references in English about Bakatheer. As a result, the author depends heavily on Badawi, even though he is aware that his "criticism is, of course, largely based on one’s standpoint and bias that stem mainly from ideological and social factors" (p. 14). The author refers to few Arabic references but seems not to fully comprehend them. An example of this is that he uses Badawi as a reference for a quotation from Bakatheer mentioned in his book "fann al-masrahya" which is one of the author's references (p. 25, ref. 68).
In my opinion, the first part of the article which deals with "al-silsilah wa al-ghufran" play, is a good article and worth published. The comments I have on this part could be argued as a mere point of view. The author arguments are sound and well discussed. The way he uses references to support his point of view is persuasive.
However, the second part of the article, which deals with "al-duktur Hazim" play, seems to me missing the main idea that Bakatheer intends. I suggest that the author reads my comments before he publishes it. Then he could at least mention my comments as a different point of view in perceiving the play.
The author states that Bakatheer wrote only four plays dealing with contemporary social issues. In fact, Bakatheer wrote ten plays of the type, two of which are still unpublished:
1-Humam (verse play) – 1934
2- Al-duktur Hazim – 1946
3- Al-dunya fudha- 1952
4- Aghla min al-hub – published in series in Al-Gamhurya newspaper in 1954, then published in a book in 2006
5- Qitat wa firan – 1962
6- Gulfudan Hanim – 1962
7- Habl al-ghaseel- 1965
8- Qadiyat ahl al-rabia'- published in 1990
9- Shalabya – unpublished
10- A'arayis wa I'irsan – unpublished
However, even though the author is aware of the first play (Humam), he doesn't count it as the first play dealing with contemporary social issues, but rather he counts Al-duktur Hazim as the first one. At the same time he mentions Habl al-ghaseel in the footnotes (no. 75, p. 26).
The author says in page 3: "he also wrote a critique of his English professor". In fact Bakatheer argued with his professor in class, but didn't write a critique, see "fann al-masrahya", pp. 7-8.
The paragraph at the top of page 6, about the four phases of novel development seems irrelevant and could not apply to plays. Tawfeque al-Hakeem's first play "ahl al-kahf" 1933, was from myth not about the Egyptian life as the first phase implies.
The author contradicts himself when he says, in page 9, that the group who criticizes Bakatheer is "coming purely from a critical literary approach" and gives a quotation from Badawi, while he comments, in page 14, on a quotation by Badawi saying: "this criticism is, of course, largely based on one's standpoint and bias that stem mainly from ideological and social factors".
The author says, p. 25: "The Qur’anic verses used in such works do not form the basis for the plot." I don't agree with this conclusion. I think Bakatheer in all his works, both novels and plays, uses the Qur'anic verses to be the basis for the plot. However, the relation between the verses and the plot might not be easily grabbed in some of his plays or novels.
The author says, p. 26: "Eventually, through Hamdan, who calls for a return to the application of just Islamic principles, Islam prevails in the land." In fact, Hamdan is representing the Communist ideology in the novel. The character that represents the Islamic view is Abul Baqa al-Baghdadi.
Comments on al-Silsilah wa al-Ghufran
The justifications the author gives in page 11 for why Bakatheer chooses the time of Ibn Tulun to be the time of the events of his play al-silsilah wa al-ghufran, seem to me inaccurate. I think Bakatheer chooses the past history, not the contemporary life, to be the time for his play to say that those events are real events that happened at the time of ibn Tulun; I didn't make them up. The events of the play may sound illogical and couldn't happen in the real life. That’s why, in my opinion, Bakatheer chooses the history to be the frame of his work.
In page 13, the author says that Abd al-tawwab "calls up on a religious scholar and seeks a verdict concerning Usama". In fact, that was based on an advice from his brother Abd al-Jawad who wants to inherit from the wealth of Abd al-tawwab. According to the Islamic law, if Abd al-tawwab has no son but only daughters, his brother could inherit some of his wealth, while if he has a son he couldn't inherit anything. Abd al-jawad, due to his limited knowledge of the Islamic law, thought that since Usama is not a blood son of Abd al-tawwab, he could inherit some of his brother's wealth. That’s why he convinced Abd al-tawwab to call up on that scholar threatening Abd al-tawab of the punishment of God if he doesn't do so. Bakatheer uses this "trick" to prove to the audience that what Abd al-tawwab done, calling Usama as his legal son, is perfectly accepted in Islam even though he did it without prior knowledge of the Islamic law. The religious scholar approves what Abd al-tawwab did and narrates a tradition by the prophet supporting that.
In page 14, the author says about the character of Abd al-tawwab: "his character never seems to develop throughout the whole play". To support that the author continues to say: "the plot sequence rearrangement was only introduced in to Arabic literature from the West after the late 1950's as mentioned earlier" (p.14-15). He refers to the four phases of novel that he mentions in page 6, which we said earlier that they don't apply to plays. Bakatheer studied English literature at Cairo University, as the author mentions in page 3, in 1934 and consequently, was exposed to the art of drama by its great playwrights such as Shakespeare. His early plays such as Ikhnatun wa nuifirtiti proves that he was aware of the "plot sequence" long time before he writes "al-silsilah wal-ghufran".
The character of Abd al-tawwab does develop throughout the play, in my opinion. I have explained this in details in my article which the author refers to but seems not to fully comprehend. To summarize, the character of Abd al-tawwab develops in the stages that the Qur'anic verses specify: repentance, spending both in prosperity and adversity, restrain anger, forgiveness, and doing good deeds.
Abd al-tawwab went through all these stages. He first repents to God from his great sin, he gives money to his sister and brother even in difficult financial situation, he restrains his anger when he knows that his wife was pregnant from another man, he forgives her, and he treats her and her son kindly. To go through those stages was not easy for Abd al-tawwab. Please refer to my article for more details.
In page 15, the author mentions the significance of the name that Bakatheer gives to the protagonist, Abd al-tawwab. This is mentioned in my article but the author might not have noticed because he forgets to mention the reference. However, the author uses it the other way around. He says that the term tawwab "when used for human beings refers to their sincere and constant repentance" (p. 15). In fact, Bakatheer doesn't mean the protagonist but rather means God. Abd means the servant and al-tawwab is one of the ninety-nine beautiful names of Allah in Islam. Al-tawwab, when used for God, means the one who constantly accepting repentance. This is what Abd Al-tawwab means and what Bakatheer alludes to.
I don't agree with author when he says: "the minor characters are simply designed to fill in the gaps and are somewhat superfluous" (pp 15-16). Every character, in my opinion, plays an important role in the play. We have seen how Um Msatur plays an important role in the consequences of events. Similarly, Abd al-Jawad is an example of the greedy person who abuses the generosity and good manner of his brother. And so on and so forth.
The author misquotes me when he says in page 16: "one critic opposes this .." etc and gives the reference in the footnote as: "al-Zubaydi, 'al-Dawa ila al-Tawba", while in fact I have quoted it from some one else, namely Mutwali Salah. I think the best way is to say: quoted in al-Zubaydi...to avoid any confusion.
In page 17, the author says: "Due to its strong Islamic overtone, there is little doubt that Bakathir intended al-Silsila wa al-Ghufran for a Muslim audience". In my opinion, Bakatheer intended all audiences, Muslims and non-Muslims because Bakatheer believes that Islam is a universal message fro all human beings and that Islam teachings are compatible with human needs and human nature.
Comments on Al-Duktur Hazim
In this part of the research the author seems not to capture the main theme that Bakatheer is aiming to. The author mentions Bakatheer's book "fann al-masrahya" but he doesn't refer to it to find out what Bakatheer intends. Bakatheer mentions in that book that "al-duktur Hazim" "is based on two ideas; the first one is: who should take responsibility for the household if the father is weak and irrational while the son is rational and prudent? The second idea is: does the mother-in-law has the right to interfere in her daughter's husband's affairs?" (fann al-masrahya, pp. 33-34).
The author says: "Bakathir is himself aware that he has attempted to tackle too many issues and that, as a result, the play may be perceived to lack unity and effect." In fact Bakatheer doesn't attempt to address too many issues. He only bases his play on two main ideas. What Bakatheer mentions here, which the author refers to as "lack of unity" is something else. Before we clarify this it is worth saying that Bakatheer's book "fann al-masrahya" is a collection of lectures that he gave to the student at the Arab Institute who published the first edition of that book. Bakatheer was teaching the students how to write a good play based on his own experience. What he is telling about al-dukture Hazim is that he made a mistake by separating the two ideas of the play. He says that the play should be based only on one main idea while the second idea should come as a sub idea within the main idea. Consequently, both ideas should be addressed at the same time and resolved one after the other. What Bakatheer does in al-duktur Hazim is that he bases the play on two separated ideas where the second starts after the first one finishes. The first idea is addressed in the first scene and resolved in the fifth. The second idea occupies the last two scenes. This is the mistake that Bakatheer is talking about, not too many issues. The problem, according to Bakatheer, is not with having "two" ideas, but with the way they are addressed. To clarify this Bakatheer gives an example of his play "mismar Juha"; it has two ideas but are addressed simultaneously and resolved one after the other (p. 37).
I think the reason that causes the author to miss the point that Bakatheer is addressing in al-dukur Hazim is that he doesn't quote the whole Qur’anic verses that Bakatheer cites as an epigraph. Bakatheer cites two verses from the 13th sura (Surat Luqman); verses 14 and 15, while the author quotes only verse 14 and bases his understanding on it alone. The verses that Bakatheer cites are:
14. And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.
15. But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do.
We quoted above the meaning of the two verses (14 and 15). However, Bakatheer quotes verse 14 and part of verse 15, the bolded one. Based on verse 15, Bakatheer wants to say, in my opinion, that obeying parents is not unlimited. He quotes verse 14 which advises children to obey their parents, and the part of verse 15 that specifies exceptions to obedience. Bakatheer wants to say, in my opinion, that obeying parents should be only in matters that do not conflict with the teachings of Islam. Bakatheer widens the meaning of verse 15 to include not only "worshiping others with God", but also all affairs that contradict the teachings of Islam. Hazim's father misunderstands obedience; he asks his son to keep spending his money on his father who used to waste it on his improvident wife and spoiled son. When Hazim rebels or tries to argue with him he threatens him with his power that he should obey his father. Both Hazim and his father are, according to Bakatheer understanding of the Qur'anic verses, are misunderstanding the true meaning of obedience. Meanwhile, disobeying parents when they are wrong doesn't mean that children should treat them badly. Hazim when he disobeys his father and lives by himself he treats him badly refusing to help him in the difficulties he is facing. That, according to Bakatheer, is also wrong because the verse emphasizes that even in cases of disobeying them when ordering something contradicts Islamic teachings they deserve to be treated kindly. This is reached in the play when Hazim returns back to his father and starts to look after him again.
The following dialogue between Hazim and his friend Ahmad illustrates this (p. 66):
"Hazim: the one who gave him this weapon is Allah whose wisdom decided that this man becomes my father and He gave him the right to be obeyed.
Ahmad: Allah has given him this right to use it properly not to misuse it.
Hazim: what if he misuses it?
Ahmad: then he has no right to be obeyed."
Ahmad is representing Bakatheer's opinion.
Hazim disobeys his father and leaves the house. According to Bakatheer nothing is wrong with this attitude. However, Hazim goes further by treating his father badly leaving him alone facing difficulties as if he was a stranger person. Moreover, he refers to him as "a man" (p. 92). According to the verses Bakatheer cites in the epigraph he should "behave with them in the world kindly".
The same thing happens with Nahed's mother (Amina); she misunderstands the true meaning of obedience. She wants to interfere in her daughter's husband's affairs and wants her daughter to obey her. The following dialogue between her and her husband illustrates this (pp. 121-122):
"Amina: do you want my daughter to disobey me?
Sabri: yes, she has to disobey you when you are trying to spoil her life with her husband. She is no longer yours or mine, she belongs to her husband alone, so she has to obey him before she obeys us, and to support his opinion and his benefits before our opinion and benefits, this is the only way to her goodness."
Bakatheer also emphasizes that women after getting married become loyal to their husbands more than their parents. Nahed illustrates that when her father asks her to go back to her husband's house:
Nahed: (cries and then lefts up her head and wipes her tears) if Hazim knows you are exiling me like this from your house he would have come to take me (she covers her face with her hands again) (p. 123).
The author translates one verse in different ways; in p. 20 he translates it as: "husbands shall take full care of their wives " while in the next page (21) he translates as: "Men are the maintainers and protectors of women."
Another translation for the same verse is:
Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women).
The author says (p. 21): "Based on his understanding of the verse, Bakathir appears to render the female characters as subordinate to all the men", "Any decisions the female characters make are portrayed as abrupt, hasty and irrational."
In my opinion, Bakatheer portrays some women as irrational, such as Hazim's step mother and his mother-in-law. At the same time he portrays some men as irrational and weak such as his father. Meanwhile he portrays another two women as wise and rational, namely Nihad and Ihsan. Hazim's sister Ihasan is portrayed as a wise girl, even though she is the youngest one in the family. She always supports her brother in his argument with her mother (pp. 28-29). When the father agrees to give Hazim the charge of managing the household, it is Ihsan in fact who manages the house of her father. Hazim gives the allowance to Bayumi who gives it to Ihsan. The following dialogue between Hazim and Bayumi illustrates this:
"Bayumi: don't forget that your sister Ihsan is the one who takes the great responsibility in managing the household expenses. I give her the monthly allowance while I am certain that no dime will be spent but in the right place." (p. 101).
Similarly, Nahid is portrayed as a wise girl who loves her husband and supports him in his difficulties before they get married. She refuses to listen to her mother who insists on her to ask Hazim to choose between her and his family before and after they got married. It will take us long if try to quote dialogues to support this, so we will mention pages that contains those dialogues between Nahed and her mother: pp 35-36, 104-106, and between her and Hazim: pp37-39. When her mother argues with Hazim's step mother and sisters Nahed tries to keep him away from it (p. 112). When her mother left angrily, she left with her not because she believes her mother is right, but she was angry because Hazim refused to apologize to her mother when she asked him to do so (p. 117):
"Nahed: you have insulted my mother; I couldn't accept that because what hurts her hurts me, this means you don't love me anymore, so why should I stay with you and be a burden on you?"
The author says, p. 21: "Sharif is the authoritative type who mellows as the play progresses due to illness and old age. Abbas eventually changes his ways and Buyumi is the loyal servant." However, the author fails to mention that Hikmat, Hazim's step mother, also changes. She regrets what she was doing and begs Hazim to return home and take all the responsibilities (p. 87). And so does Amina, Nahed's mother, in the last scene of the play.
Bakatheer, in my opinion, doesn't want to say that men are superior to women, as the author understands; he wants to say that each one has his own role which complements the other's role. Problems happen when each one tries to take the role of the other. The verse that says: "Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other", doesn't mean that men excel women or the opposite; it means that each one excels the other in some attributes while the other excels in other attributes.
The author says, p. 21: "Even his name, Hazim, is a reflection of his determination and strong-will to serve his father despite personal difficulties." In my opinion, what Bakatheer intends by giving him this name "Hazim" is to mean he is prudent and strict in managing the household affairs, not in serving his father despite personal difficulties. Throughout the play Hazim was prudent and strict in managing his father's house and in managing his own house.
The author says (p. 22): "The final scene is a glaring example of how the men (Sabri and Hazim) easily outfox the women (Amina and Nahid)."
As mentioned earlier, the last two scenes deal with the idea: does the mother-in-law has the right to interfere in her daughter's husband's affairs? Consequently, the last scene is showing the best solution for the problem, which is for Nahed to return back to her husband's house, which is in fact her house and for the mother-in-law to stop interfering in her daughter's personal life with her husband. What the author is referring to as "outfoxing" is in fact a trick that Amina (the mother-in-law) plays to make Hazim come to take Nahed home. She claims that Nahed is sick and asks her to pretend that way to avoid leaving her father's house and return to Hazim's house by herself. The father discovers the trick but pretends that he believes it. He calls Hazim to come and examine Nahed. When Hazim comes the father tells him the truth and tells him she agrees to return back to her house, so he calls him to come to take her so she doesn't feel humiliated by coming by herself (p. 127). In this case, it is women who outfoxed men not the other way around.
The author says (p. 22): "Amina is Bakathir’s epitome of the 20th century woman who fights for her rights to the extent that she disagrees with Hazim’s devotion to his father’s household. She believes that a man should be fully devoted to his wife." In my opinion, that is not what Bakatheer means. Amina is not fighting for "her" rights, but rather is interfering in her daughter's personal affairs. Women rights have nothing to do with the husband taking care of his parents and relatives. In fact Nahed is happy that Hazim is looking after his family. She says to Hazim when he apologizes to her for not being able to save some money for their wedding because he is looking after his family:
"Nahed: your affiliation with your family proves to me that you love me; it proves to me that you are so loyal to those whom you love." (p. 39).
Nahed is happy with her husband and has no objection that he looks after his family, but her mother insists to interfere in Nahed and Hazim's personal affairs. I don't see any connection between that and Amina's rights. By mentioning the 20th century, Bakatheer doesn't mean that Amina represents women of the 20th century. The statement is said by Hikmat (Hazim's step mother) when Amina argues with her. Nahed tries to stop her mother from saying what she says but her mother shouts at her:
"Amina: don't interrupt me Nahed please, I know how to defend your rights since you are so looser and has no good.
Hikmat: continue your pleading oh you the lawyer of the 20th century. What do you want to say more?" (p. 110).
From this context, it is clear that Hikmat ridicules Amina by calling her "the 20th century lawyer", meaning "the best lawyer at your time". Again, this has nothing to do with women's rights in the 20th century.
The author says, p. 23: "In the final scene of al-Duktur Hazim, the women appear gullible, irrational, manipulated and mocked. For example, Sabri admires the fact that Hazim does not allow women to play around with his affairs. When he quotes the verse, after outfoxing his wife and daughter, he says: “All praise is due to God, we are victorious. All praises belong to God, He has spoken the truth. [Indeed] men are the maintainers and protectors of women.” In other words, the men won and the women lost."
As I have stated earlier, women outfoxed men at that scene not the other way around. Women at that scene appear smart and intelligent. They know how to get what they want. Amina was able, by claiming Nahed is sick, to lead Hazim to come and take her home. Bakatheer, in my opinion, wants to say, that women deserve to be treated well and be respected and to let them feel victorious. Sabri pretends he believes Nahed is sick just to save her from feeling humiliated. Sabri also tries to jock with his wife by claiming Nahed is really sick and making her believes this to the extent that she wants to go to visit her daughter (pp. 132-133). The reason he does that is to entertain her and to remove any feeling of being a looser. Bakatheer doesn't mean that women could be easily fooled, because he mentions that what happens with Hikmat, believing her own lies, happened to Asha'ab, who is a man.
Sabri, even though he is strict in managing his household affairs, he is a nice person, treating his wife kindly, he calls her "honey" (p. 133). He also treats his daughter nicely; when he asked Hazim to leave his house and take all gifts he brought to Nahed with him, he talks to his daughter nicely, even though he was very angry, calling her "ya bunayati", which is the pampered way of saying "my daughter", it laterally means "my young daughter" (p.53).
When Sabri says: "All praises belong to God, He has spoken the truth. [Indeed] men are the maintainers and protectors of women” he didn't mean "the men won and the women lost", as the author thinks. In my opinion, he means to say that giving men the in-charge in managing the household doesn't mean they have to use it to force women to do what they want, but rather to understand how to deal with them nicely. Sabri is happy because he is able to solve his daughter's problem and is able to get her back to her house with her husband. By pretending to believe Nahed is sick and with cooperation of Hazim both men were able to solve the problem and get things to normal again. If fact, both men and both women wen. Nahed and Hazim win their happiness together and Amina and Sabri win the happiness of their daughter and their own happiness by solving the problem of their daughter and not to worry about her.
The author says (p. 25): "Due to his commitment to Islam, Bakathir avoided colloquial Arabic altogether". In fact, Bakatheer used to write his plays which deal with contemporary life twice; the first time he writes them in Egyptian colloquial Arabic to be enacted on stage and then he rewrites them in classical Arabic when he intends to publish them in books . However, he uses a language that agrees with the grammar of the classical Arabic but at the same time it has the spirit of the Egyptian colloquial Arabic. The best example of this style is "al-dunya fuda". As a result of this practice, Bakatheer has left two plays in colloquial Arabic "shalabya" and "a'arays wa I'rsan" since he died before he publishes them in books or rewrites them in formal Arabic.