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
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
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.