Egyptian Childhood

October 27th, 2015


Egyptian Childhood by Taha Hussein was one of the first novels we read as part of this seminar and provided an exceptional number of insights into the meaning of Islam and how it relates to the day to day lives of millions around the world. An important hinging point of the autobiography is that Taha Hussein was blind from birth, a point which made it interesting to see how he personally came to ‘view’ religion through his other sensory faculties and interpret it.

As we learned through our discussions, the factors which come into play when following a religion are many and varied. This was quite eye-opening to me since I had never before considered the nuances of religion beyond its holy book and the individuals who act as its proponents. This point was solidified through my reading of An Egyptian Childhood too. We came to see the young boys’ father pressure him into learning the Quran for the meager purpose of impressing his friends and fulfilling a societal and cultural duty. This Quran-learning was facilitated by a sheikh who had no interest in anything but the income generated from his profession and creating the impression that his young disciples had learned the Quran regardless of whether they had truly committed it to memory or even understood it. This was much the same narrative that I had seen in terms of religion. Little did I pay attention to the beauty of religious meaning, or the artistic beauty of religious scripture, whether visually or aurally, and the impact this played. Taha, however, being blind, was actively aware of the other manifestations of religion surrounding him, which lent him a satisfaction in hearing stories.

These factors, coupled with my new found fascination with the visual attractions of religion, led me towards the making of this piece of calligraphy (shown in the image above). It depicts an arabic Quranic verse, with the same verse written in arabic below it to show the visual contrast, significance and beauty. The three praying people atop the verse also depict one of the most important notions of Islamic tradition: the shahada (I bear witness that Allah is the one true God and that Mohamed is his prophet pbuh). These also symbolize what I imagined to be a young Taha praying. The choice of Quranic verse was also intentional. This particular verse means:

Allah does not burden a soul more than it can handle.

I found this particular verse to be fitting given the young boy’s condition and the difficulties he experienced which were revealed to us in the novel.