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

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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?”

It had amazed me to hear those two names and to hear tell of that kind of history. It had convinced me that I was ordained by God to lead a lost and futile life. But now, here I was in a university class-room listening to Professor Ahmad Kamāl (God mercy him) talking about ancient Egyptian civilization, referring to Ramses and Akhenaton and other Pharaohs and endeavouring to expound his point of view as to the connection between ancient Egyptian and Semitic languages, including Arabic. continua a leggere

 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.