The Zaidan Foundation Program
Jurji Zaidan (1861-1914) was a prolific and famous Christian Arab historian, linguist and journalist who wrote widely on social and cultural issues. He came to Egypt from Lebanon at the end of the nineteenth century and founded in Egypt what is still one of the largest publishing houses for periodicals in the Middle East, Dar-Al-Hilal. His objective and rational interpretations of Arab and Islamic history and the Arabic language allowed the propagation of progressive western ideas. As a prominent member of a progressive group of Arab thinkers, he shepherded a movement to modernize the Arab world.
Making his views and works available to non-Arabic speakers would promote intercultural understanding at a time when Arab and Islamic thought is not sufficiently known or understood in the west.
The aim of the Jurji Zaidan Program is to:
• Revisit Jurji Zaidan’s work and re-evaluate his role in the development of Arab thought and his contribution to the Arab renaissance (Nahda) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries;
• Make available some of his works to a wide audience with an interest in the Arab and Islamic cultural heritage but limited or no knowledge of the Arabic language.
Components of the Jurji Zaidan Program
Towards this end the Zaidan Foundation is sponsoring a number of studies, conferences and translations into English of some of his works as follows.
A. A study to revisit Jurji Zaidan's Contribution to the Arab Renaissance
A study entitled Jurji Zaidan’s Secular Analysis of History and Language as Foundations of Arab Nationalism has just been completed by Thomas Philipp and is awaiting publication. The central theme of this volume is to demonstrate how Jurji Zaidan’s secular analysis of history and language influenced the evolution of his Pan-Arab nationalist thought. It traces the manifold relationships between Zaidan’s thinking as a historian, linguist and his views on Arab nationalism. The seminal contribution of this work is that it is the first to anlayze Zaidan’s thought on history, language and nationalism as an integrated whole. The volume consists of three parts. The first part is an essay that demonstrates Jurji Zaidan’s secular approach to the analysis of Arab and Islamic history and the evolution of language, especially the Arabic language. It goes on to assess how this approach influenced the secular pan-Arab nationalism that he spearheaded and which was the defining characteristic of the Nahda. The essay draws on articles written by Zaidan and published in Al-Hilal between 1892 and 1914 as well as his scholarly works. Thirty articles and excerpts from his scholarly works were translated for this book. They were chosen for their relevance to the topics covered in the essay. These translations are reproduced in the second section of this volume. The third section constitutes the first comprehensive bibliography of Jurji Zaidan’s works both in Arabic and all the languages into which his works have been translated over the past century as well as works about him. Details on this work can be found here.
B. The Translation Into English of Historical Novels
Jurji Zaidan wrote twenty-two historical novels between 1892 and 1914 more than one hundred of which were translated into nine different languages but none into English. The Zaidan Foundation has so far commissioned the translation into English of five of Jurji Zaidan’s historical novels and more are being planned. All have been translated by leading literary and historical scholars in leading universities and include literary and historical commentaries by these scholars as well as Study Guides.
Two of these novels are set at the time and following the Arab conquest of Spain in 710-711 AD; two at the apogee of Arab and Islamic civilization during the ‘Abbasid period; and the last at the time of the Crusaders, as follows:
• The first novel is The Conquest of Andalusia (Fath al-Andalus) first published in 1903. It is set in Spain immediately prior to and during the Arab conquest which resulted in an Arab presence that was to last almost eight centuries. It was translated by Professor Roger Allen of the University of Pennsylvania.
• It is followed by The Battle of Poitiers – Charles Martel and ‘Abd al-Rahman (Sharl wa ‘Abd al-Rahman) first published in Cairo in 1904 and translated by Professor William Granara of Harvard University. It is set in France at the beginning of the eighth century and describes the Arab invasion of France and how the Franks, under the leadership of Charles Martel, united to stop their advance in Europe
• Two other novels are set in the ‘Abbasid period, during and after the reign of Harun Al-Rashid, best known to the Western world as the caliph whose court is described in the Arabian Nights during the zenith of Arab and Islamic power and civilization — The Caliph’s Sister – Harun al-Rashid and the Fall of the Persians(al-‘Abbasa Ukht al-Rashid; 1906) translated by Professor Issa Boullata of Mc Gill University and The Caliph’s Heirs – Brothers at War: the Fall of Baghdad (al-Amin wa’l-Ma’mun; 1907) translated by Professor Michael Cooperson of UCLA.
• The fifth novel, Saladin and the Assassins (Salah al-din al-Ayyubi; 1913) was translated by Profesor Paul Starkey of Durham University in the UK and takes place at the time of the Crusades. Saladin is an important historical figure known in the west for having fought Richard the Lionheart, defeated the crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem. He established his rule over Egypt and Syria and founded the Ayyubid dynasty. In Egypt he overturned the Shi‘i Fatimid caliphate returning Egypt to Sunni Islam.
Details on all these novels can be found here.
C. Proceedings of a Symposium on Jurji Zaidan’s Contributions to Modern Arab
Thought and Literature