January 3, 2008
I post here a short essay published some years back in The Chicago Tribune Book section.
By Ibrahim N. Abusharif
At the end of the summer, I spent a month in one of the most crammed cities on Earth, Cairo. There I helped edit a translation of a text on Islamic law that was written about 900 years ago by the great scholar Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. He is celebrated in Western scholarship and is fast becoming a kind of hero for those who dabble at Sufism in the English-speaking world. And it is from his name that the expression “Ghazalian experience” originates, a metaphor of modern coinage that refers to a drastic turn one makes in life that seems incomprehensible to family, peers and especially popular culture—when one utterly discards what others would traffic their souls for.
Not far from where I stayed—at a home on a plateau at the edge of the city—there is a long walkway from where one can see below the whole town and an oppressive dust cloud that hovers about it. At night, the view is clearer and sometimes spectacular. But to get to this lovers lane you must walk past elite villas and abject poverty with no dividing line between them: roosters, donkey carts and BMWs on one street; torn dirty cloaks and Donna Karan in the same pod.
At the walkway, indigent men and women squat peacefully in the middle of the bustle roasting corncobs over burning scraps of wood. Children play far too close to the edge of the rocky cliffs that drop in extreme fashion. Affluent bands of young men and women saunter and compete, it seems, to see who can laugh the loudest; otherwise, they sit in their cars quietly listening to Pink Floyd or Egyptian pop. Read the rest of this entry »
October 19, 2007
A short story by Ibrahim N. Abusharif
(Published in Mizna.)
This book would not have been written had it not been for many people in my life. When I completed the story months ago, the time had come for me to acknowledge these kind souls, and I was prepared to thank and praise. But what was supposed to be a simple matter evolved into an acknowledgments project with lengthy notes and outlines. Time dragged and my publishers grew impatient. They began to pressure me to invent any handful of words that convey some sense of gratitude, pretending with hubris book tradition that the author comprehends what these people have truly meant. The proposition, however widespread, is illusory. The pretension of our age has made it nearly impossible to attain a raw view of the influences that urge a writer to pursue literature and expose himself to the honesty native to the process. I’m afraid that our sense of cultural history on a personal level has been so undermined by the modern marketing imagination, we’ve become a people of imitation humility. I can produce a list of happy words and attach them to folks who have read the manuscript and given me advice and encouragement. But they dealt with a more or less finished outcome. After going through this narrative, however, and having been shown the grid of forces that informed in me that scandalous self-awareness that has driven me to tell this story, there’s no going back. To produce an ordinary tribute—to add to the gas of functional thanks—would be a betrayal of the covenants I made during the experience. Since I don’t have the wherewithal to pursue such a tumultuous act of honesty now, especially when threatened by what is loudly called a “deadline,” I’ve decided to do something else. I will acknowledge people who did nothing to further this work, who, on the contrary, nearly snatched its soul and hid it among the innumerable works that do not exist, invisible dunes of embargoed narratives with unasked questions. There are two people I will speak of—normal in flesh but emblematic enough to make my point.