Biographies & Memoirs in Arabic
In Arabic, biographies and memoirs often reflect the personal experiences of individuals. The genre is post-Classical and post-Helenic, and solitary and public representations coexist. Some Arabic autobiographies, such as Salamah Musa's Ha'ula'i 'allamu-ni, are public works, while others are solitary works.
Ibn Said's autobiography
Ibn Said was born in 1770 in the Futa Turo region of West Africa and spent 25 years studying under prominent Muslim scholars. He was captured during a military conflict in 1807 and enslaved in North Carolina. He was freed in 1864, but was imprisoned again. During his time in North Carolina, Said wrote on the walls of his cell in Arabic. This writing caught the attention of many, including the governor of North Carolina.
Said's autobiography was originally a fifteen-page manuscript, but has since been translated multiple times into English. After many years, the original manuscript was lost in a trunk in Virginia. A private collector eventually acquired it and has since displayed it at Harvard's Houghton Library and the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, Mississippi. The first English translation of Said's autobiography was published in 1925 in the journal The American Historical Review.
Omar Ibn Said's autobiographical book is the only autobiography written by a Muslim slave in their own language. The autobiography was never edited by anyone other than its author. The Library of Congress considers it a priceless historical document. Deeb cites the importance of Ibn Said's autobiography, which was written in the native language of the slaves.
Usamah's Kitab al-l'tibar
"Kitab al-l'tibar" is the autobiography of Arab Syrian diplomat and soldier Usama ibn-Munqidh, a poet, hunter, and poet in the 12th century. This autobiography is an engaging read with a rich history. It is not only fascinating but entertaining as well, as it is an excellent example of a classic work of literature.
Among Usamah's works are "Instruction by Examples" and "The Ways of Learning by Example." His "Instruction by Examples" is a detailed history of the lives of Arabs during the 12th century, and of the relations between them and the Crusaders. In addition to his historical tales, Usamah also wrote poetry collections. Kitab al-l'tibar, first published in 1930, is one of the earliest known Arabic-language texts.
Usamah loved poetry and wrote twelve volumes. He was a celebrated poet among his fellow Arabs. As he approached ninety, he decided to write his autobiography. The English title of the book is "An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Age of the Crusades." Although the autobiography is detailed and entertaining, it tends to jump from topic to topic. Despite his autobiographical tone, the book is also rich with detailed accounts of the many leaders who influenced him and the world around him.
Usamah's autobiography has a rich historical context. The twelfth-century Syrian nobleman, Emir of Shayzar, was a crusader and a writer. His memoirs, "Kitab al-l'tibar," are widely regarded as a masterpiece of medieval history. The book's rich history stretches back through time and is a defining document of the Middle Ages.
Shimon's An Iraqi in Paris
This autobiographical novel is a dark and funny ride through the childhood of an Iraqi poet, Samuel Shimon. Shimon insists that his book is autobiographical, though he changed the name of the poet from Adonis to Adams. A reviewer once compared Shimon's work to Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer."
The novel begins with a cover photo of George Melies's funerary statue in Paris's Pere Lachaise cemetery. Melies was an early pioneer of cinema and an advocate of fantasy over realism. The photo sets the stage for a vivid visual element in the novel. Shimon's Parisian journey is a series of intensely cinematic scenes, each of which is an engrossing narrative in its own right.
An Iraqi in Paris is a novel about an Iraqi boy whose life unfolds from his childhood to the present day. Shimon, born in Al-Habbaniyyah in Iraq to an Assyrian family, travels from there to Paris, Damascus, Beirut, Tunis, and Nicosia. His life is a fascinating story, and the reader will be touched by his strength and courage.
The book is a story of a young boy who is destined to make it to Paris as a refugee. He meets charming women and talented writers, finds inspiration in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and even chats with Marcello Mastroianni. As he survives Paris, he dreams of making and writing a film based on his father's life. Shimon hopes to cast Robert DeNiro as the lead and star in the movie.
Zawi ibn Ziri's autobiography
Zawi ibn Zir's autobiography is an account of his life and reign in Granada, Spain. The autobiography also features a detailed political history of the dynasty and the emergence of the Zirid dynasty following the fall of the Umayyad caliphate. It is also filled with interesting facts and characters, such as his relationship with the prophet Muhammad, and he even writes about his own poisoning in Algiers.
Zawi's autobiography also reflects the fact that he had an enduring love of the Berbers. As such, he suggested the people of Elvira move to Granada. The Berbers, however, were very wary of the Andalusians, and Zawi ibn Ziri had to leave his city in order to protect them. The Zirids' victory over the Andalusians was decisive and swift, and this was partly due to defections from al-Murtada's ranks.
The autobiography also describes the uprising of Lucena against the oppressive Al-Mutamid of Seville, who was harassing Granada. It is also important for gaining insight into the Jewish community of Lucena and how it benefited from its position at the border of Cordoba. The autobiography also contains some interesting facts on the history of the Jews of Lucena, which were historically annexed to Cordoba.
Ibn Said's tabaqat
Ibn Sa'd's tabaqat in Arabic is considered a rich source of information, and readers should carefully choose narrations that are both authentic and trustworthy. The book's apocrypha contains the life stories of many prophets and prophetesses, and is therefore considered an important work in Islamic history and theology. The following are some of Ibn Sa'd's most important hadiths:
The text of Ibn Said's tabaqut has come down through a series of transmissions. The text is in the imperative mood, and contains descriptions and instructions for the reader to follow. The last transmitter was al-Dimyati. A summary of the tabaqat text can be found at ibn Said's website. Ibn Said's tabaqat in Arabic is available in two formats: in Arabic and in English.
Among the earliest biographical works in Islam, Ibn Sa'd's Tabaqat al-Kabir is particularly valuable. It contains an extensive list of historical facts, including the details about the Prophet Muhammad, his family and his companions. Abridged versions of the book have been published in the past few decades, but their full chains are often missing. Those interested in Islamic history should look for the original Arabic text.
Ibn Said's tarjama
The first part of Ibn Said's tarjan is an account of his birth in Futa Toro. It rapidly transitions to the time of his enslavement, and a "large army" captures him. The book includes an autobiography and several contextual essays from scholars of Islam and African diaspora. This edition contains numerous illuminating sidebars on the author's life.
Said wrote fourteen manuscripts in Arabic, the language he spoke and used. One of these is his autobiography, which is the only known Arabic-language autobiography of an enslaved African in the United States. Its importance in Arabic literature was further enhanced when Said, after escaping his violent master, fled to Fayetteville, North Carolina. There, he sought refuge in a house of worship. But his runaway status made local authorities catch him as a slave and he was thrown into prison.
Ibn Said's tarjana, or Islamic manuscript, was written in Arabic. The Qur'an was transcribed by ibn Said, but his memory caused some errors, especially in Surat An-Nasr. His Bible was translated into Arabic by the missionary society of the time, but Omar's notations in the Arabic version indicate that the manuscript is a work of art. It is part of Davidson College's rare books collection.