Amin al-Rihani: Pioneer of Arab literature, philosophy
Regional, Literature, 5/18/98

"Universal spiritual poetry is linked with ties of kinship to the philosophy that studies the relationship between the material and the spiritual. In fact, Plato's philosophy implies pure poetry, and the poetry of Homer has the qualities of a refined philosophy," Amin al-Rihani argues in defense of his philosophy.  

A poet, writer biographer, reformer and philosopher, Amin al-Rihani favored being called a philosopher. However, he often favored being called a philosopher inasmuch as the philosopher has the qualities of the poet. "Both philosopher and poet," he says, "shoulder one and the same task of unveiling the basic facts of life, whether political or social."  

His nostalgia for his native Lebanese village has never cooled down throughout his many travels between his country of emigration, the United States, and different parts of the Arab world. This strong love of his own people was no obstacle for his brilliant philosophical meditation and never prevented him from proclaiming a global philosophical views.  

As a means, al-Rihani believes philosophical thinking should enjoy freedom of expression and as an aim, it should be oriented towards social progress in a long process of attaining the elevated position fit for the celebrated human nature. Social progress, he added, should aim at attaining happiness for people, which cannot be fulfilled unless material and spiritual need converge in an accurately-balanced equation controlled by reason.  

His long novel entitled "Khaled" might be taken as a condensation of his intellectual development over the first 30 years of his life. The novel reveals the contradictions from which al-Rihani himself has suffered most. The novel's hero was unable to take a decision in the face of the complicated issues of life. He was partially enchanted with the rich Arab heritage of literature philosophy and way of thinking. Just as al-Rihani did, the hero of the novel sought a sort of solution to the painful contradictions of life that fetter the human soul in the long search for perfection.  

Al-Rihani, at that time, had been searching for a philosophical solution that might mingle the subjective with the objective issues and see a clearer perspective of the political, social and religious systems of thinking in order to solve and overcome the peculiar imbalance affecting Arabs, especially Lebanese emigrants due to the lack of harmony of two completely different environments. Such a situation was getting sharper at the culmination of international hostilities heralding the Second World War. The Arab world, at that time, had been passing through a transitional period full of political, social and economic upheavals.  

Fond of the French revolution's philosophers, al-Rihani has no less affection for the great Arab philosophers, foremost Abu al-Ala al-Maari. In poetry, al-Rihani unhesitatingly picked free verse as his main style of poetic writing. He broke away from the traditional Arab rules of poetry and freed his poems of all old fetters, advocating a literary revolution to come in line with the social revolution then underway.  

In his "travels" he chronicled his trips to the Arab countries and his talks with the Arab leaders of that time. His literary, political, historical and personal works were gathered in one big book in Arabic: "The messages of Amin al-Rihani until the year 1940." These messages form a greatly significant historical document of a critical period of Arab history.