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Classics

Spanning Two Cultures

The entrance of the main building of Sorbonne University [© NonOmnisMoriar - Wikimedia Commons]

A young Egyptian, who is destined to become a great intellectual, encounters the modern university, first in Cairo and then in France. It is an experience that broadens his horizons without making him forget his origins

This article was published in Oasis 28. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2019-03-26 16:27:13

The encounter with the modern university broadens the horizons of a young Egyptian, destined to become a great intellectual. After moving to the Sorbonne, the student succeeds in the fearsome Latin exam and obtains his licentiate. But in France he also meets his future wife, the “woman who became eyes to me.” And, despite his admiration for Europe, he preserves a profound gratitude for his Egyptian teachers, who taught him to never stop loving Oriental civilization.

 

Chapter 5: My Professor Wishes me ill

 

Life in the University for me, as for the other Egyptians, seemed like one continual celebration. It certainly was for me a feast spelling a whole manifold of satisfactions and delightful hopes. It emancipated me from the confined, confused atmosphere of the Azhar and of Hawsh ‘Atā and Darb al-Jamāmīz,[1] into an ample, uninhibited milieu which allowed me to fill my lungs with fresh air on my way to and from and likewise to fill my mind with open knowledge which did not bind me like the narrow strictures of the Azhar professors in their lecturing, nor ruin my intelligence with qanqalahs (citations), and arguments about this and that, and endless equivocation. Nor was there that time-wasting business of parsing words, when parsing had no relevance whatsoever to the study in hand.

 

The University environment also afforded me a type of learning which itself generated a new temper of mind, not perpetually engrossed in grammar, fiqh, logic and tawhīd, but ranging into a diversity of schools of thought in literature and history, all undreamed of on my part until then. I had not forgotten a day when I was arguing with my cousin, then a student at Dār al-‘Ulūm,[2] and he, the Dār al-‘Ulūmī, had said to me, the Azharite: “What do you know about knowledge, anyway? You’re just an ignoramus, versed in mere grammar and fiqh. You’ve never had a single lesson in the history of the Pharaohs. Have you ever heard the names of Ramses and Akhenaton?”

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 To cite this article


Printed version:
Text by Taha Hussein, “Spanning Two Cultures”, Oasis, year XIV, n. 28, December 2018, pp. 112-118.


Online version:
Text by Taha Hussein, “Spanning Two Cultures”, Oasis [online], published on 27th March 2019, URL: https://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/taha-hussein-a-life-between-two-cultures.

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