First Published: 2006-01-17

 
Mahfouz seeks clerical ‘OK’ for ‘Children of Gebelaw’
 

Egypt's Nobel prize-winning writer wants Al-Azhar to give its green light for re-release of 'blasphemous' novel.

 

Middle East Online

By Riad Abu Awad - CAIRO

Egypt's Nobel prize-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz is seeking the endorsement of Sunni Islam's highest authority before re-releasing a novel that was condemned as blasphemous when first serialised nearly half a century ago, friends said.

The 94-year-old author is about to finally release in Egypt "Children of Gebelawi", a hotly controversial chronicle drenched in religious symbolism of a man who casts out his children and puts a curse on his family.

At the time of its serialisation in 1959, the book upset Muslim scholars who read it as blasphemous, while the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser argued the book was directed against the former leader.

"Mahfouz wants Al-Azhar to give its green light and wants the preface to be written by a Muslim Brother," friend and author Yusef al-Qaid said.

Al-Azhar university in Cairo is the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam and regularly issues decrees on banning publications it deems offensive to Islam.

The Muslim Brothers are the largest opposition force in Egypt and made substantial gains in parliamentary elections late last year. They have frequently campaigned in parliament against "un-Islamic" publications.

Mahfouz's desire to submit his novel to the approval of the country's religious authorities has shocked even his entourage.

"This creates a dangerous precedent because it gives power of censorship to Al-Azhar, which goes against the principles upheld by Egyptian intellectuals," Qaid said.

Writer Mohammad al-Boussaty agreed that Mahfouz should have neglected to seek Al-Azhar's endorsement. "He has his own opinion and he should convey it to the public without any outside intervention," he said.

Author Ezzat al-Qamhawi went further, suggesting that the move was a stain on the glorious literary achievements of Egypt's most acclaimed writer.

"By adopting this position, Mahfouz has betrayed his writing. He is giving Al-Azhar a totally illegitimate authority by granting it a right of veto on literary production," he said.

The elderly Mahfouz, who survived an assassination attempt by Islamist fanatics in 1994, lives secluded in his Cairo home under tight police protection.

The Children of Gebelawi was first published in serialised form in Egypt's top-selling state-owned daily Al-Ahram.

It was published in book form in Beirut in 1967 and the controversy surrounding it was rekindled in 1989 when Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It was a day after the fifth anniversary of his prize that Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck outside his home.

The Children of Gebelawi is set in an imaginary Cairo alley and follows the hardships of Egyptian suburban life. But it is also a deeply symbolic recreation of the history of monotheistic religions, with each of the major characters symbolising a religious figure.

When it was serialised, the Al-Azhar called for the novel to be banned on account of its "blasphemous content" and conservatives protested vociferously against the work.

It is only now that the novel is to be published in book form in Mahfouz's home country, having only been released abroad before.

 

Assad in Russia for talks with Putin

Islamic republic declares end of Islamic State

Revolt in US State Department over child soldier law

Anti-IS coalition strikes drop to lowest number

Rare moments of joy at Arabs’ unprecedented World Cup qualifications

Brain drain means Syria can’t recover for a generation

Palestinians close communication lines with Americans

German police arrest six Syrians ‘planning terror attack’

Palestinian factions in Cairo for reconciliation talks

Turkish opposition daily web editor sentenced to 3 years in jail

Egypt’s Sisi to meet Lebanon’s Hariri

Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Turkish lira at new low against US dollar

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments

Russia again vetoes renewal of Syria gas attacks probe

UN weighs bid to save Syria gas attacks probe

IS attack kills 26 displaced people in Syria

Saudi FM says Lebanon 'held hostage by Hezbollah'

Egypt to open Rafah crossing for 3 days