Taha Hussein

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Taha Hussein
طه حُسين
Born(1889-11-15)15 November 1889[1]
Died28 October 1973(1973-10-28) (aged 83)[1]
EraModern literary theory
SchoolModernism, Classical Arabic literature, Nahda
Main interests
Classical Arabic literature, Islamic history, Mediterranean culture

Taha Hussein (Egyptian Arabic: [ˈtˤɑːhɑ ħ(e)ˈseːn], Arabic: طه حسين‎; November 15, 1889 – October 28, 1973) was one of the most influential 20th-century Egyptian writers and intellectuals, and a figurehead for the Egyptian Renaissance and the modernist movement in the Middle East and North Africa.[2] His sobriquet was "The Dean of Arabic Literature" (Arabic: عميد الأدب العربي‎).[3][4] He was nominated for a Nobel prize in literature fourteen times.[5]


Taha Hussein was born in Izbet el Kilo, a village in the Minya Governorate in central Upper Egypt.[1] He went to a kuttab, and thereafter was admitted to El Azhar University, where he studied Religion and Arabic literature. From an early age, he was reluctant to take the traditional education to his heart. Hussein was the seventh of thirteen children, born into a lower-middle-class family.[1] He contracted ophthalmia and became blind at the age of two,[6] the result of faulty treatment by an unskilled practitioner.[7]

Hussein met and married Suzanne Bresseau (1895–1989) while attending the Sorbonne in France. He originally met her when he hired her to read to him.[7]

Taha Hussein with President Habib Bourguiba, Muhammad al-Tahir ibn Ashur and Mohamed Abdelaziz Djaït (Al-Zaytuna Mosque, 1957)

Academic career[edit]

When the secular Cairo University was founded in 1908, he was keen to be admitted, and despite being blind and poor he won a place. In 1914, he received a PhD for his thesis on the sceptic poet and philosopher Abu al-ʿAlaʾ al-Maʿarri.[6] He went on to become a professor of Arabic literature there. In 1919, he was appointed a professor of history at Cairo University. Additionally, he was the founding Rector of the University of Alexandria. Although he wrote many novels and essays, in the West he is best known for his autobiography, Al-Ayyam (الايام, The Days) which was published in English as An Egyptian Childhood (1932) and The Stream of Days (1943). However, it was his book of literary criticism On Pre-Islamic Poetry (في الشعر الجاهلي) of 1926 that bought him some fame in the Arab world.[8] In this book, he expressed doubt about the authenticity of much early Arabic poetry, claiming it to have been falsified during ancient times due to tribal pride and rivalry between tribes. He also hinted indirectly that the Qur'an should not be taken as an objective source of history.[6] Consequently, the book aroused the intense anger and hostility of the religious scholars at Al Azhar and many other traditionalists, and he was accused of having insulted Islam. However, the public prosecutor stated that what Taha Hussein had said was the opinion of an academic researcher and no legal action was taken against him, although he lost his post at Cairo University in 1931. His book was banned but was re-published the next year with slight modifications under the title On Pre-Islamic Literature (1927).[6]

Taha Hussein was an intellectual of the Egyptian Renaissance and a proponent of the ideology of Egyptian nationalism along with what he called Pharaonism, believing that Egyptian civilization was diametrically opposed to Arab civilization, and that Egypt would only progress by reclaiming its ancient pre-Islamic roots.[9]

After Hussein obtained his MA from the University of Montpellier, he continued his studies and received another PhD at the Sorbonne. For his doctoral dissertation, written in 1917, Hussein wrote on Ibn Khaldun, a Tunisian historian, claimed by some to be the founder of sociology. Two years later, in 1919, Hussein made his way back to Egypt from France with his wife, Suzanne, and was appointed professor of history at Cairo University.[7]

Taha Hussein in France[edit]

Taha Hussein left for Montpellier, enrolled in its university, attended courses in literature, history, and French, and learned formal writing. However, he was not able to take advantage of that much as he "may be used to taking knowledge with his ears, not with his fingers."[10]

Taha Hussein began learning Latin and during that period, he met Suzanne Bresseau, who would later become his wife.[10]

However, he was summoned to return to Egypt due to the poor conditions at the University of Cairo. Three months later, those conditions improved, and Taha Hussein returned to France.[10]

Positions and tasks[edit]

President Gamal Abdel Nasser awarding Taha Hussein the National Honors Prize in Literature (Cairo, 1959)

In 1950, he was appointed Ministry of Education, in which capacity he led a call for free education and the right of everyone to be educated.[7] He also transformed many of the Quranic schools into primary schools and converted a number of high schools into colleges such as the Graduate Schools of Medicine and Agriculture. He is also credited with establishing a number of new universities.

Taha Hussein held the position of chief editor of a number of newspapers and wrote innumerable articles. He was also a member of several scientific academies in Egypt and around the world.


The author of "more than sixty books (including six novels) and 1,300 articles",[11] his major works include:[12]

  • The Memory of Abu Al-Ala' al-Ma'arri 1915
  • Selected Poetical Texts of the Greek Drama 1924
  • Ibn Khaldun's Philosophy 1925
  • Dramas by a Group of the Most Famous French Writers 1924
  • Pioneers of Thoughts 1925
  • Wednesday Talk 1925
  • On Pre-Islamic Poetry 1926
  • In the Summer 1933
  • The Days, 3 Volumes, 1926–1967
  • Hafez and Shawki 1933
  • The Prophet's Life "Ala Hamesh El Sira" 1933
  • Curlew's Prayers 1934
  • From a Distance 1935
  • Adeeb 1935
  • The Literary Life in the Arabian Peninsula 1935
  • Together with Abi El Alaa in his Prison 1935
  • Poetry and Prose 1936
  • Bewitched Palace 1937
  • Together with El Motanabi 1937
  • The Future of Culture in Egypt 1938
  • Moments 1942
  • The Voice of Paris 1943
  • Sheherzad's Dreams 1943
  • Tree of Misery 1944
  • Paradise of Thorn 1945
  • Chapters on Literature and Criticism 1945
  • The Voice of Abu El Alaa 1945
  • Osman "The first Part of the Greater Sedition
  • El Fitna Al Kubra ("The Great Upheaval") 1947
  • Spring Journey 1948
  • The Stream Of Days 1948
  • The Tortured of Modern Conscience 1949
  • The Divine Promise "El Wa'd El Haq" 1950
  • The Paradise of Animals 1950
  • The Lost Love 1951
  • From There 1952
  • Varieties 1952
  • In The Midst 1952
  • Ali and His Sons (The 2nd Part of the Greater Sedition) 1953
  • (Sharh Lozoum Mala Yalzm, Abu El Alaa) 1955
  • (Anatagonism and Reform 1955
  • The Sufferers: Stories and Polemics (Published in Arabic in 1955), Translated by Mona El-Zayyat (1993), Published by The American University in Cairo, ISBN 9774242998
  • Criticism and Reform 1956
  • Our Contemporary Literature 1958
  • Mirror of Islam 1959
  • Summer Nonsense 1959
  • On the Western Drama 1959
  • Talks 1959
  • Al-Shaikhan (Abi Bakr and Omar Ibn El Khatab) 1960
  • From Summer Nonsense to Winter Seriousness 1961
  • Reflections 1965
  • Beyond the River 1975
  • Words 1976
  • Tradition and Renovation 1978
  • Books and Author 1980
  • From the Other Shore 1980


  • Jules Simon's The Duty 1920–1921
  • Athenians System (Nezam Al-Ethnien) 1921
  • The Spirit of Pedagogy 1921
  • Dramatic Tales 1924
  • Andromaque (Racine) 1935
  • From the Greek Dramatic Literature (Sophocle) 1939
  • Voltaire's Zadig or (The Fate) 1947
  • André Gide: From Greek
  • Legends' Heroes
  • Sophocle-Oedipe


On November 14, 2010, Google celebrated Hussein's birthday with a Google Doodle.[13]


Ribbon bar Country Honour
EGY Order of the Nile - Grand Cordon BAR.png  Egypt Grand Collar of the Order of the Nile
EGY Order of Merit - Grand Cross BAR.png  Egypt Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (Egypt)
LBN National Order of the Cedar - Grand Cordon BAR.png  Lebanon Grand Cordon of the National Order of the Cedar
ESP Alfonso X Order GC  Spain Grand Cross of Civil Order of Alfonso X, the Wise
CivilMerit.Syria.png  Syria Grand Cordon of Order of Civil Merit of the Syrian Arab Republic
Order of the Republic (Tunisia) - ribbon bar.gif  Tunisia Grand Cordon of the Order of the Republic of Tunisia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 10, 2004. Retrieved December 1, 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Ahmed, Hussam R. (June 15, 2021). The Last Nahdawi: Taha Hussein and Institution Building in Egypt. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-1-5036-2796-3.
  3. ^ Ghanayim, M. (1994). "Mahmud Amin al-Alim: Between Politics and Literary Criticism". Poetics Today. Poetics Today, Vol. 15, No. 2. 15 (2): 321–338. doi:10.2307/1773168. JSTOR 1773168.
  4. ^ طه حسين عميد الأدب العربي: حياته، آثاره الأدبية و آراؤه (in Arabic). 1997.
  5. ^ "Nomination Database". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d Allen, Roger (2005). The Arabic Literary Heritage: The Development of its Genres and Criticism. Cambridge University Press. p. 398. ISBN 0-521-48525-8.
  7. ^ a b c d Paniconi, Maria (2017). "Ḥusayn, Ṭāhā". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2017–3 (3rd ed.). Brill Publishers. ISBN 9789004335721. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  8. ^ Labib Rizk, Dr Yunan. "A Diwan of contemporary life (391)". Ahram Weekly. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  9. ^ Gershoni, I., J. Jankowski. (1987). Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ a b c دار المعرفة طه حسين عودته إلى الديار الفرنسية. Morocco. 2014. p. 133.
  11. ^ P. Cachia in Julie Scott Meisami & Paul Starkey, Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, Volume 1, Taylor & Francis (1998), p. 297
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 10, 2004. Retrieved December 1, 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Birthday of Taha Hussein". Google. November 14, 2010.