I finished your magnum opus [Kitab at Tugra] two days ago, with tears in my eyes, and I’ve been intoxicated since, in the most Faridian sense of the word. Among other things, no one (REPEAT: NO ONE) has ever written so wondrously about love and sex in Arabic the way you did in the last two chapters of the novel, i.e. — making the Arabic language make love as it has never done before. Ibn al Farid should feel so comfortable, and so privileged, and so sexy in your company. But that’s not your major achievement, No Sir. You managed to write a perfect (REPEAT: PERFECT) Arabic novel, on so many levels. Very few writers have done that, and to enter the Hall of Fame with a first novel is nothing short of miraculous. Your meticulous attention to what turns a text into a stunning novel is absolutely amazing, and your masterful control of all the aspects of your text is something that should be taught in writing programs. But above all, I think, your major achievement is in being what Foucault would call “a discourse initiator” — someone who single handedly changes a discipline, and in this case the discipline of the Arabic novel. You are my al Jabarti of the Arabic novel. — Anton Shammas in a private e-mail Continue reading

Reflections on Islamic Art – تأملات في الفن الإسلامي

wpid-pb-eng-2011-11-23-17-49.jpg wpid-reflectionsarabic-2011-11-23-17-49.jpg

The riches of Islamic art celebrated by twenty-seven world-leading writers and thinkers from the East and West

Reflections on Islamic Art

Edited by Ahdaf Soueif

Contributors include Radwa Ashour, Eric Hobsbawm, Jamal Mahjoub, Marcus du Sautoy and William Dalrymple

Published by BQFP in two separate Arabic and English editions, November 2011

Trade Paperback, QR 110
Hardback, QR190

‘Art in the Muslim world was part of daily life; the function of art- aesthetic pleasure, contemplation and commentary on the world- was also a function of items of familiar use. And within that usefulness, an almost infinite diversity…This was not a culture that tolerated difference; it rejoiced in it. In the days of its expansion, the new ideas and spirit of Islam had the ability, wherever they went, to energize the local culture, to prompt a re-engagement with its own arts and traditions and a re-fashioning of them into new and vibrant life’, from the Introduction by Adhaf Soueif

Doha, Qatar- Monday 21st November 2011- Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing and The Museum of Islamic Art launched Reflections on Islamic Art. A talk by editor Ahdaf Soueif and contributors William Dalrymple, Adam Foulds and Jamal Mahjoub was followed by a reception at the MIA.

Twenty-seven leading writers and thinkers were invited by the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar to visit its iconic gallery, select an object – a buckle, an astrolabe, a book, a leaf – and write a response to their chosen piece, as part of the partnership between Bloomsbury and Qatar Museums Authority (QMA).

From acclaimed mathematician Marcus du Sautoy’s reflections on symmetry to the preeminent historian Eric Hobsbawm’s essay on a Mughal portrait, each contributor offers a unique and profound insight into the rich cultural heritage of Islam.

Illustrated with sumptuous images throughout, Reflections on Islamic Art is a visually stylish volume produced with the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar and edited by Ahdaf Soueif, best-selling Booker-Prize shortlisted Egyptian-British novelist.

From seventh- century Qur’ans to exquisite carpets, remarkable portraits and items dating to the present day, the Museum of Islamic Art showcases one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the world, including some of its rarest works. Since its opening in 2008 the Museum, which is housed in an iconic building designed by the celebrated I.M. Pei, has established itself as an outstanding contemporary expression of the Islamic architectural tradition.


Poet Adam Foulds, writer Anton Shammas, novelist Elif Shafak, historian Eric Hobsbawm, poet Ghassan Zaqtan, novelist Jabbour al-Douaihy, novelist Jamal Mahjoub, poet James Fenton, physicist and historian Jim Khalili, novelist Kamila Shamsie, mathematician and broadcaster Marcus du Sautoy, novelist Najwa Barakat, architectual historian Nasser Rabbat, art historian Oliver Watson, novelist Pankaj Mishra, novelist Philip Hensher, novelist Radwa Ashour, author and essayist Raja Shehadeh, actor Riz Ahmed, poet Sarah Maguire, film director Shirin Neshat, writer Slavoj Zizek, journalist Sonia Jabbar, writer Suad Amiry, novelist Tash Aw, writer and broadcaster William Dalrymple, writer and photographer Youssef Rakha.

About BQFP
Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) is owned by Qatar Foundation and managed by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc in London. BQFP is based in Doha, Qatar, and has three main aims:

  • Publishing: To publish books of excellence and originality to the highest editorial, design and production standards, in Arabic and in English. The list ranges from board books, fiction and non-fiction for adults and children, information and reference to academic monographs.
  • Reading and Writing Development: to encourage lifelong literacy in Qatar and the Arab World.
  • Knowledge Transfer of publishing and related skills to Qatar and the Gulf region via training and other initiatives.

For more information on BQFP’S activities please refer to our website:

About Qatar Museums Authority
Established in 2005 by His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani to combine the resources of all museums in the State of Qatar, Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) is a governmental organization whose remit is to develop museums and cultural institutions and provide an effective system for collecting, protecting, preserving and interpreting historic sites, monuments and artifacts. Under the leadership of its Chairperson H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa, QMA is transforming the State of Qatar into a cultural hub of the Middle East. The Museum of Islamic Art, inaugurated in 2008, is the Authority’s flagship project. The organization won further global acclaim with the December 2010 opening of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. QMA’s goal of becoming a “global leader in the world of museums, art and heritage” will be advanced in the coming years with ambitious, world-class projects, including the Jean Nouvel-designed National Museum of Qatar. For further information, please visit

Stay social with Qatar Museums Authority:

For more details or to arrange an interview please contact Laura Brooke, Publicity Manager, +974 5593 5150, Omar Chaikhouni, QMA
+974.4422.4608 /

يحتفي سبعة وعشرون من كبار الكتاب والمفكرين في شرق العالم وغربه

بكنوز الفن الإسلامي في حفل تدشين كتاب

“تأملات في الفن الإسلامي”

تحرير أهداف سويف

بحضور كتاب من المساهمين في الكتاب: رضوى عاشور، إريك هوبزباوم، جمال محجوب،

ماركوس دو سوتوي، ويليام دالريمبل

الناشر: دار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر

في طبعة عربية وطبعة إنجليزية

تاريخ النشر: نوفمبر 2011

“لم يكن الفن في العالم الإسلامي منفصلاً عن الحياة، فاعتبرت وظائف الفن، كإشباع الحس الجمالي، والحث على تأمل الحياة والتعليق عليها، من وظائف الأشياء التي نستعملها في حياتنا اليومية، والتي اتخذت في العصور الإسلامية تعددية مبهرة. نراها في المتحف في البوابات والأفاريز الأندلسية المنحوتة الضخمة، في المصافي الرقيقة الدقيقة للقلل السورية، لأواني العراق المتحفظة ومجوهرات المغول الباذخة. كانت هذه ثقافة تقبل على الاختلاف وتحتفي به. وفي أيام توسعه، كانت روح الإسلام وأفكاره الجديدة لديها القدرة، أينما حلت، أن تضخ الطاقة في الثقافة المحلية وتوقظ فيها الحماسة لإعادة اكتشاف موروثها وفنونها وإعادة تخيل وإحياء ذلك الموروث في أشكال جديدة مفعمة بالحياة.”

من مقدمة كتاب” إنعكاسات في الفن الإسلامي ” كتبتها :أهداف سويف

قام سبعة وعشرون من أبرز الكتاب والمفكرين في العالم بزيارة متحف الفن الإسلامي بقطر بناء على دعوة وجهت لهم من قبل إدارة المتحف وذلك لمشاهدة مقتنياته البديعة ولإنتقاء إحداها – مثل إسطرلاب أو كتاب أو ورقة ليسجلوا إنطباعاتهم وردة فعلهم حيال هذه القطع. وقد جمعت هذه التأملات والقطع الفنية الرائعة في كتاب مصور متميز تصدره هيئة متاحف قطر ودار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر.

تتنوع مشاركات المساهمين ما بين الخواطر والمقالات والقصص والأشعار. فما بين خواطرعالم الرياضيات الشهير ماركوس دو سوتوا حول التناظر والتماثل في الفن الإسلامي إلى مقالة للمؤرخ الشهير إريك هوبزباوم التي تتناول واحدة من لوحات الفن المغولي، تقدم كل مشاركة بهذا الكتاب نظرة عميقة وفريدة على التراث الثقافي الثري الذي قدمه الإسلام للحضارة الإنسانية.

قام بتحرير هذا الكتاب الروائية المصرية – البريطانية الشهيرة أهداف سويف والتي أختيرت رواياتها ضمن القائمة القصيرة لجائزة بوكر، وصاحبة بعض أكثر الروايات مبيعا في العالم.

يعرض متحف الفن الإسلامي بقطر واحدة من أفضل وأندر مجموعات الفن الإسلامي في العالم بداية من مصاحف تعود إلى القرن السابع الميلادي، ومرورا بسجاد فاخر ولوحات رائعة، حتى مقتنيات تنتمي إلى العصر الحديث. أصبح المتحف الذي إفتتح عام 2008 ، والذي صمم مبناه المميز المهندس المعماري المعروف أي. إم بي (I.M. Pei) مصمم الهرم الملحق بمتحف اللوفر، تعبيرا معاصرا فذا عن تقاليد العمارة الإسلامية.

ساهم في هذا العمل:

الشاعر آدم فولدز، والكاتب أنطون شماس، والروائية التركية أليف شفق، والمؤرخ البريطاني إريك هوبزباوم ، والشاعر غسان زقطان ،والروائيان اللبناني جبور الدويهي و السوداني جمال محجوب، والشاعر جيمس فنتون، والفيزيائي والمؤرخ جيم خليلي، والروائية كاميلا شمسي، وعالم الرياضيات والمذيع ماركوس دو سوتوي، والروائية اللبنانية نجوى بركات، ومؤرخ فن العمارة ناصر رباط، ومؤرخ الفنون أوليفر واطسون، والروائيان بانكاج ميشرا وفيليب هنشر، والروائية المصرية رضوى عاشور، والمؤلف وكاتب المقال الفلسطيني رجا شحاذة، والممثل ريز أحمد، والشاعرة سارة ماجوير، والمخرجة السينمائية شيرين نشأت، والفيلسوف سلافوج جيجيك، والصحفية سونيا جبار، والكاتبة الفلسطينية سعاد العامري والروائي تاش أو، والكاتب والمذيع البريطاني ويليام دالريمبل، والكاتب والمصور المصري يوسف رخا.

نبذة عن دار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر

تأسست دار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر في أكتوبر 2008، وهي مملوكة لمؤسسة قطر للتربية والعلوم وتنمية المجتمع وتديرها دار بلومزبري البريطانية الشهيرة، ومقرها الدوحة. تسعى الدار إلى تحقيق ثلاثة أهداف رئيسية، ألا وهي: أولاً، نشر الكتب والروايات القيمة والمتميزة بكل من اللغتين العربية والإنجليزية للكبار والصغار.

ثانياً، تهدف دار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر إلى تشجيع حب القراءة وتنمية مهارات الكتابة، والمساعدة في نشر ثقافة أدبية حية في قطر والمنطقة، وذلك من خلال إقامة الفعاليات التي تشجع على القراءة، ونوادي القراءة، والاحتفال باليوم العالمي للكتاب، وغيرها من المبادرات. كما تسعى الدار إلى تنمية المواهب الأدبية العربية الجديدة، وذلك من خلال إقامة أنشطة ثقافية وتنظيم ورش للكتابة الإبداعية لدعم وتنمية تلك المواهب الأدبية الناشئة.

أما الهدف الثالث لدار بلومزبري فيتلخص في نشر مهارات النشر والارتقاء بها في المجتمع القطري من خلال توفير التدريب المهني المتخصص بصفة دورية في قطر وفي مقر بلومزبري في المملكة المتحدة. كما تساهم الدار في الارتفاع بمستوى الترجمة من وإلى اللغة العربية وذلك من خلال تنظيم المؤتمر الدولي للترجمة الأدبية، والذي يعقد سنويا في الدوحة بالتعاون مع جامعة كارنيجي ميلون في قطر.

لمزيد من المعلومات حول أنشطة دار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر برجاء زيارة موقعنا:

لمزيد من المعلومات حول إصدارات دار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر يرجى مراسلة لورا بروك على البريد الإلكتروني التالي: أو الإتصال بفريق دار بلومزبري – مؤسسة قطر للنشر على الرقم التالي:+974 5593 5150

أومراسلة الأستاذ عمر شيخوني بهيئة متاحف قطر على عنوان البريد الإلكتروني : أو هاتفيا على الرقم : +974.4422.4608 /

نبذة عن هيئة متاحف قطر

بناء على توجيهات معالي سمو الشيخ حمد بن خليفة آل ثاني أمير البلاد المفدى تم إنشاء هيئة متاحف قطر عام 2005 لتجمع كافة المصادر والمقتنيات الخاصة بالمتاحف في دولة قطر . وهي مؤسسة حكومية تختص بتطوير المتاحف و المؤسسات المعنية بالثقافة وأن تصمم نظاما فعالا يمكن عن طريقه جمع و حماية و حفظ وتعريف المواقع التاريخية والأثار والمقتنيات الأثرية من أدوات وغيرها . و تحت رعاية سمو الشيخة المياسة بنت حمد آل ثاني رئيس أمناء هيئة متاحف قطر، تسعى هيئة متاحف قطر لجعل دولة قطر عاصمة الثقافة في الشرق الأوسط. و يعد متحف الفن الإسلامي الذي فتح أبوابه عام 2008 أبرز مشروعات هيئة متاحف قطر ، التي برزت أيضا على الصعيد العالمي مع إفتتاح “متحف : المتحف العربي للفن الحديث”في ديسمبر عام 2010 . تهدف هيئة متاحف قطر إلى أن تصبح “لها ريادة عالمية في مجال المتاحف و الفن والتراث.” و سيتم تحقيق هذا الهدف في الإعوام التالية من خلال عدد من المشروعات الطموحة و العالمية المستوى من بينها مشروع متحف قطر الوطني الذي صممه المصمم الشهير جين نوفيل.

لمزيد من المعلومات يرجى التكرم بزيارة الموقع التالي

أبق على تواصل مع هيئة متاحف قطر من خلال :

Suicide 20, or The Hakimi Maqama

Suicide 20, or The Hakimi Maqama[1]

by Youssef Rakha, Egypt

English translation by Nader K. Uthman (2009)

Rashid Celal Siyouti recounted as follows:

Imagine! You open the hood of your car after it breaks down on you in the middle of the street, and where the engine should be you find a corpse folded in the fetal position! That’s not exactly what happened to me, but considering that this was my first visit to Cairo in three years, what happened was almost as strange.

Afterwards, when I found out what my lifelong friend Mustafa Nayif Çorbacı had been through, what had made him leave Cairo a week before I arrived, things would fall into place. I was not to know Mustafa’s story until after I resumed my normal life as a backup doctor at Bethnal Green Hospital in East London, when I received an email[AM1] with a huge PDF file attached, containing the manuscrpt in which Mustafa wrote about his separation from his wife and what followed. There was a single line in the message window wondering whether, after reading the attachment, I would think he had gone crazy.[2] The PDF would prove to me that I didn’t make up that night on the way to Salah Salim Street under the stress of my matrimonial plans, thinking too much about the largest obstacle ahead. I live next to my job in Bethnal Green, and since I moved there in 2005, about two years ago, I’ve been living with a Druze co-worker whom I love. I would have married her long ago, if not for the fact that her family would never let her marry a non-Druze. So, when a ghost appeared to me in the flesh, saying that he was the nineteenth incarnation of God’s Anointed Ruler, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, whom the Druze worship, I wondered if it was a hallucination brought on by reading about that obscure religion, and thinking about getting married, or the reason why I was forbidden from starting a family with my girlfriend. For a few hours I panicked, doubting that in having a relationship with this girl, I might really be desecrating something.

Although the contents of the PDF in Mustafa’s letter could not have crossed my mind during my time in Cairo, I remembered after my second phone call to his mother (the only person remaining there with a genuine connection to Mustafa) that what happened to him might resemble what I saw with my own eyes on that night.

“He who acknowledges that there is no god to worship in the sky,

nor imam[3] to worship on earth save for our Lord Al-Hakim, may

he be exalted, is one of the Monotheists.”

From The Covenant of the Druze Faith, by Hamza bin Ali, known as The Covenant of Induction into the Religion of the Ruler of the Age.)

That night I discovered that the imams of the line of Ubaydallah (the dynasty we know as the Fatimids) knew of a sixth and stranger disappearance. Al-Hakim, their most famous representative, was an austere tyrant who forbade people from eating the popular stew made from Jews Mallow named mulukhiyya and prohibited women from leaving the house, then committed a minor genocide in the first Muslim city in Egypt known after the country itself as (Old) Misr; he would liquidate anyone who came near him. The disappearance of this inspired madman, as I discovered that night, was nothing but a suicide, which followed by the appearance of the Druze faith, which claimed that he was the human embodiment of the One. “If you’re convinced that you’re God,” – this is what the man who killed himself told me – “this must necessarily lead to suicide. For how is God to live among the people, even if He was their Lord?” “This suicide,” – he explained to me – “is repeated once every fifty years, dating from the first time it happened in 1021: the soul of Al-Hakim will have been incarnated in the body of an ordinary person with roots in Al-Mui’zz’s Cairo[AM2] .[4] And after he kills himself in his turn, he appears to his heir – precisely fifty years having passed since he killed himself – to inform him that he is next in line.” At the time, I remembered that up until they married, my mom and dad were born and lived their lives not far from the Mosque of Al-Hakim, the one with the minaret that resembles an erect, circumcised penis, looking out over a wall that spreads out like a sheet. I remembered also that my grandfather used to claim to my father that he was a descendant of the shaykh of Borgwan Alley (that place named after the most famous of Al-Hakim’s eunuchs, and one of his victims). My grandfather used to say, half jokingly, that our history in the neighborhood goes back to the days of the Mamelukes. This was the way it went on my first trip, after an absence of three years, to my birthplace and my sweetest days, the subject now having fallen in love a Druze woman. Now I had to imagine killing myself by the Sword of Al-Imam Al-Aziz Billah, the father of Al-Hakim, given that I was (woe is me!) suicide number 20.

Rashid Celal Siyouti digressed, speaking in the voice of the ghost:

“He who dies alone, does not know. He does not quiver in surprise nor does the bright flash blind him.” (This is what suicide number 19 said to me on the way back, when my car stalled in the Qarafa parallel, as if it lost power. It was a dark place, yet I pulled the handbrake and went out to open the hood, and then suddenly the light in the sky changed for an instant, as if the morning had dawned or as if morning could dawn for only a moment, only to vanish. Meanwhile, the rocks from the[AM3] Muqattam hills flashed above me as though fluorescent, while something like the palm of a hand bore into my shoulder. When I looked around me, there was no trace of him left. Had he left no trace? Eventually I returned to the driver’s seat, trying desperately to start the car, when a neatly-groomed young man appeared next to me in a retro-style, three-piece suit, holding prayer beads in one hand.

He started speaking immediately: “He who dies without having control over his death will never know the fabulous rapture of departing this life.” Then[AM4] :

Only he who kills himself is the Immortal, the Everlasting, and who else can ever have the joy of certainty? I speak to you from experience, believe me: you will not die like other people. You will kill yourself with your own hands at the decisive moment, and the decisive moment always includes others. I tell you this, despite the fact that I didn’t make preparations for it, since I died in the presence of my father and sister and best friend, in the courtyard containing my mother’s tomb, also behind Bab Al-Nasr,[5] where the Cairo of Al-Mu‘izz was located a long time ago. Now, of course, there is nothing called time, yet there is no way to make you understand me except that language of yours. My sister thought I was going to kill her with the Sword, while my father lay ill. Yet I was to call him too, so that he emerged one minute before my death. All those itinerant spirits around my soul, I tell you, witnessed me pass. By your measure, my age was twenty-four at the time, and if not for the fact that I – exalted be my name – was of divine lineage, I would not have realized the magnificence of disappearing early on, or learned that all that happened, happened in order to lead up (in however illogical or murky a way that does not make it any less inevitable) to a single moment in the year 1958, the moment I plunged the Sword’s tip into the spot my previous incarnation had precisely marked for me: under my left breast, about a thumbnail’s length to the right. My arms were outstretched, as were my hands gripping the handle. It was as if my thin torso, in its black robe, had become a taut arc. And bracing my bare feet on the sandy ground, all at once, I held firm, I, the Perfect One, whose death comes by His own hand – and from that time onward, the One who carries the Sword of Al-Aziz Billah. Listen to my tale.

And mimicking the great maqama masters Al-Hamadhani and Al-Hariri (in rhymed prose with two traditional bayts of verse in the middle, as per the tradition of the maqama), Rashid returned to the beginning of his tale:

(underlining indicate rhyming words in original[AM5] )

I came to Cairo, so to speak, for a visit. And in the company of my true friend Mustafa, I intended to walk from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. With him, that’s what I agreed: to see what is left of the Islamic heritage in Cairo, its glory and deeds. It had been seven years for me in England, during which I had cut the nerve of nostalgia. That was a long time ago, when I agreed to meet with Darsh[6], and like a Sultan returning to the throne, you should see what happened to me then. I was appalling not to find him in the land, as if my city had been bereft of human dwellings. Our agreement, the bastard had erased; and because of the resulting shock, awesome sorrows I was made to face. Nostalgically, I imagined us among dusty and dirty alleywas, in Al-Mu‘izz’s Cairo going from gate to gate. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I said, “Damn Mustafaenough, I’ll replace his company with that of cigarettes and camera. And I took my father’s car, heading out one night, when no sooner did I set out than I returned contrite. Were it to be revealed – what I saw in Bab Al-Futouh[7] – it would give the Sphinx himself a fright. And if Mustafa has his own excuse in madness, I realised then that it was my turn to be mad. (You will not understand what happened to Mustafa until you have read the PDF and its fiction[AM6] .) As my limbs are struck with apathy and dread, without prior arrangement or scrutiny I say to you:

He who suffers the spectre of death

Is on the path of resurrection

The purpose behind killing myself

Is to quicken my crossing over

After the event, I spent only five days in Cairo; the encounter shook me to the core, the shock and horror of it. I fell into visits and family gatherings; at the tables I would stay, bottling up my hardship all the way. The whole time, nothing hidden nor revealed could stop me thinking about Mustafa and how he disappeared. Since I found his mobile phone switched off the night of my arrival, there was no one but his mother onto whom I could unload; I called her at once, late one night, and in her voice there was a shade of confusion and despair. Then, I called her again after the heir of the Imam showed up, when it was only three days before I was to go back to England. And so the thought has often returned to me: how in April, Mustafa suddenly left, three weeks after he found his way to his mother’s house. He had gone back to live with her after separating from his wife whom he hastened to divorce as an expression of his indignation. After his departure, as she told me, he only called one time – to reassure her that he was safe and to confirm that he would not die. “She senses that she has lost him for all eternity,” I thought, as she spoke to me, weary with agony. His suspicious disappearance was confirmed by this matter and the fact that my e-mails to him remained unanswered, to the letter.

And then Rashid returned to what the suicide said to him:

My name and my lineage will not matter. The important thing is that my corpse disappeared at the time of my death by the Sword of Al-Aziz. So that you know that the Sword will reach you too, and when you plunge it into its place, there will be no trace of you left. Eighteen suicides and I prove it to you. You can find out if you ask, since something that happens every fifty years does not attract a passing glance. You’re afraid because you are not yet certain that you are Immortal, the Everlasting One, nor are you sure of everything that happens in that narrow room you think to be your life, including the likes of me, with your disbelief in my being here, and your bewilderment at the sight of the mountain in the light of your eyes. The light will not be reflected again until you die, when your divine vision begins to take over. Everything that happens takes place in order to lead up to one moment in the year 2008 . . .

The suicide kept on in this way, talking to me – as terror shook my being, then paralyzed me. I was still in denial that he was right there next to me, so I didn’t look at him as I insistently kept turning the ignition to start the motor. The suicide chuckled briefly – one, short laugh – then stretched out his hand to indicate the spot in which to plunge my Sword. Right after the touch of his finger on my chest, I felt a tingle I had never experienced before in my whole life. There was pleasure in that touch – effortless, without instigation, endless, like an orgasm. “You must take the studded gold handle in both your hands. You will have pointed the edge of the blade to your chest, under your right breast but a thumbnail’s length to the right. You must then bend over like a bow, brace your feet on the ground – and then all at once, thrust!”

As soon as he withdrew his hand, he began to sing, saying:

I did not begin to understand until I thought I already understood,

then I saw things as if with the eyes of the Buddha:

that childish drawing of large forms, gazing out

from the frontiers of buildings,

which sees everything in everything.

Maybe my sister and my friend thought I was stunned at the sight of them, since my posture with the Sword followed my discovery the two of them precisely one night before, in the dark of the courtyard. I had come in barefoot, the gas lamp in my hand, only to find my sister’s thighs propped up as if on something low, underneath her hiked-up robe. It was impossible to see her top half from afar: she was lying on her back on the floor, moaning heatedly, as if sobbing. I recognised the two of them, my sister’s thighs.

And so continued the suicide, after he ordered me – with a lukewarm smile – to start the motor. Now the car did take off – on Salah Salim Street, which did not seem to end. I was driving very fast in order to get out of this dark area, but however much I drove I did not get a centimeter further. When he finished speaking, without my knowing it, Salah Salim would go back to normal, and I would now know that I truly escaped from the spot in which I met him. And without my knowing, too, that he had disappeared.

I[AM7] didn’t make out what was propping them up from underneath until I got close and kneeled down. My friend was slithering on his belly like a snake as his head was buried between the two of them, his shoulders under her thighs. When I gasped, he lifted her up and I saw my sister’s shaved sex, swollen and red in the light of the gas lamp, as my friend’s saliva clung to the hair[AM8] and leaked down around it. I screamed at them, “Get married! Go get married!” and then turned around. They actually did get married without my father finding out what happened, but they had to wait seven years after my unexpected suicide. Until they die, they will wonder if their buried secret was the reason for that wait.

Then, returning to the beginning of his story, Rashid said:

From the first day, I had decided to put off family matters that awaited me with each visit, so I would make excuses, saying that since I have not seen them for so long, I prefer to spend time alone with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers. In truth I spent a week going from bar to bar in Zamalek and from café to café downtown. I would use my father’s Renault – parked most of the time – but only after the mechanic had inspected it, tried it out for a week and guaranteed its performance… until I felt like going on my own to Bab Al-Futouh and what happened happened.

We live in Heliopolis,[8] in a building built at the end of the fifties, when suicide number 19 lived in Bab Al-Futouh, right next to my father, who turned seventy-five years old [AM9] last year. Yes, that’s what I thought of at first, until I remembered a story that was repeated in different forms on both sides of the family, without my knowing if it was true. My mother would deny it angrily every time the subject was raised, while my father would deny any knowledge of it with a curtness unusual for him. My mother’s brother, Uncle Fathi: the only one of my parents’ siblings whom I never saw even once[AM10] . He died young; he is supposed to have died [AM11] in a car accident, yet there is a level of mystery surrounding his death, the kind of mystery that evokes a scandal or something frightening. There is nothing decisive to refute that he had taken his own life. My uncle had spied my mother and father together in an awkward position while they were still young and not committed in a relationship; meanwhile, my uncle and my father were friends and soulmates. There are those who say that he died in anguish after he learned of his friend’s betrayal and his little sister’s wantonness. And there are those who say that he fought with my father, who killed him, and the two families covered it up, since they were close to one another and keen to avoid scandal. I’m not one-hundred percent sure of the memory, but I thought I heard someone say that my Uncle Fathi was a blessed man, and that when he died, his body evaporated and directly soared up to the sky. And so God had raised him up as he raised up the prophet Jesus[9].  What confirmed my suspicion was that my maternal grandmother died when she was a young girl, and that her grave was on land my grandfather owned in Bab Al-Futouh. (During my trek, I wasn’t able to reach my maternal grandmother’s grave.) Honestly: I was afraid. And the fear grew in my heart to the point where I didn’t dare to mention anything to my father or mother during my last five days in Cairo. We live in Heliopolis, I’m saying. One of the things I miss most in England is the atmosphere of Salah Salim Street – which I have to traverse, even if just on a part of it, on any trip I make from or to our house. You’re truly on the body of a serpent that slithers on Cairo’s entire back – from the north, where we live, to Roda Island in the south, parallel to Old Cairo. It’s like a spine susceptible to dislocation. I parked quite far, on the opposite side of the street, near Zizo’s, the restaurant famous for its sausages. Then I crossed cautiously, taking bigger and bigger steps; and I didn’t return for three hours. I was gazing at the ancient buildings as If I had lived in them in their glory days. I felt a violent familiarity for a place I only vaguely knew.

“The leader rode one evening, on one of his night treks… He headed toward Muqattam[AM12] hills, then, he was not seen after that, neither live nor[AM13] dead, his fate unknown, his body

never found. Nor did any modern nor contemporary story come to us – no decisive story on his death nor on his disappearance”

From Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah and the Secrets of the Fatimid Call, by Muhammad Abdallah Anan (1983).

Three months have passed now, and there is more joy in my relationship with my girlfriend than ever.

That night in Bab Al-Fotouh I had thought about her for a long time as my hand came into contact with the walls she has dreamed of seeing since she was a girl in Suwayda, Syria, and even after she came to Manchester with her family at the age of fifteen. (She had never visited Egypt, even though the story of Al-Hakim was of course present – specifically, his end: he departed on his donkey, looking up at the stars in Muqattam hills and never came back. Later, they found no trace of him, except for the seven capes he wore; the buttons, caked with blood, could not be unbuttoned. (They were dumped in the open air[AM14] , and some claim they were found wet in Helwan.) Yet, until now, I still avoid talking to her about my last visit to Cairo. At first, it didn’t occur to me that the emergence of the suicide could be more important to me than our marriage, yet as time passed – after I finished reading Mustafa’s PDF, to be precise – I became almost convinced that it truly was more important.  What didn’t please me – after recalling one or two memories of things that didn’t happen to me in the first place – was to find myself increasingly enthusiastic about the idea of killing myself, just as the suicide had predicted. The day before yesterday – the second anniversary of our decision to live together without her family’s knowledge – my girlfriend brought me an unexpected gift which I also never expected to make me this happy. I was busy on the computer when she entered the apartment, so I said hello without lifting my eyes from the screen, only to end up with a rectangular piece of metal sparkling before my eyes. She had snuck up behind my back and snared my head between her two arms. And in her hands was what almost made me faint as I uttered its name: the Sword of Al-Aziz. Then, she put it on the table, saying that her father actually believed that it belonged to Al-Aziz bi-Allah. She added that it couldn’t possibly have been made over a thousand years ago, it was in too good a condition to be the imam’s. She had found it in her father’s large safe and kept begging until he gave it to her. She hid it in the trunk of her car until the day of our anniversary. Slowly, I reached out and lifted it by its studded gold handle; it looked new, as if it had been crafted yesterday. I looked closer at the edge the blade; it appeared sharper than anything made by human hands. I grew distracted for a bit. And bringing me back to reality, the angelic beauty of my girlfriend’s face appeared, asking “Do you like it?”

[1] The maqama is a medieval literary genre featuring rhymed prose – a stylistic device employed in some sections of this piece. Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah – Abu Ali Mansur Tariq al-Hakim (996–1021) – was the 6th Fatimid caliph, the 16th Ismaili imam and the inspiration of Tawhid (“monotheism”) – the Druze name for their faith. (Translator)

[2] The attachment refers to the Kitab Al-Tugra or Book of the Sultan’s Seal, an as yet unpublished novel by the same author.

[3] Muslim spiritual leader (Translator)

[4] Al-Mu‘izz, or Ma‘dh Abu Tamim al-Mu‘izz li-Dinallah (ca. 930 – 975) was the first Fatimid caliph to rule from Egypt, and his reign was the most remarkable. His armies conquered Egypt and defeated the Abbasids; he founded Cairo and made it his capital in 972-973. He ruled over much of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as Sicily.

[5] One of the major gates of Fatimid Cairo, built in the 11th century. (Translator)

[6] Darsh is a common and traditional sobriquet for Mustafa.

[7] The north gate of Fatimid Cairo, built in the 11th century. (Translator)

[8] Also called masr al-gadida, or “New Egypt,” a suburb of Cairo. (Translator)

[9] Orthodox Muslim belief holds that Jesus was never crucified but was physically raised into the heavens by God’s invisible hands.

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