‘And That is Only the Beginning’: Free Reading for Ramadan

It is not working up to be a particularly serene — or even bearable — Ramadan. However:

A young Naguib Mahfouz, perhaps thinking about what he'd read next.
A young Naguib Mahfouz, perhaps thinking about what he’d read next.

Naguib Mahfouz used to read during Ramadan — so he told his friend and fellow writer Mohamed Salmawy — and it is a good month to loosen oneself and do as Mahfouz did: “I didn’t study during Ramadan. It was a month for free readings.”

“I remember reading the story of Issa Ibn Hesham in Ramadan. I read the Digest of Arab Literature [ Al-Montakhab Fi Adab Al-Arab ], written by Taha Hussein, Sheikh Al-Sakandari and Ali Al-Garim; a beautiful selection of poetry and prose. I also read the Islamic studies of Abbas Al-Aqqad and A Footnote on the Prophet’s Life ( Ala Hamesh Al-Sira ) by Taha Hussein. There is also a book that I cherished a lot, and I had biographies of major Sufis and some of their writings.

“As for foreign literature, I read in Ramadan the entire collection of Bernard Shaw plays. That was during my first years in college. I also read the poems of T S Eliot. I would start reading just after coming back home from work and continue until Iftar time. I always chose books of a philosophical or spiritual nature.

He also added, in the version that became  Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureatethat he had, one Ramadan, read Taha Hussein’s autobiography.

You can read in Mahfouz’s footsteps:

From Taha Hussein’s An Egyptian Childhood online.

Or poetry:

A beautiful poem by (non-Arab) poet Kazim Ali, “Ramadan.

Another beautiful poem from (a non-Arab poet) Tarfia Faizallah, “Ramadan Nocturne.”

And from Khaled Mattawa, “Ramadan“:

My mother forgets to feed her animals
because it’s only fair.
She rushes to them when
she hears hoarse roosters crowing
and billy goats butting
over a last straw.

This month the moon becomes a princess.
The stars fan her,
Jupiter pours cups of wine,
Mars sings melancholy mawals.
Bearded men holding prayer beads
and yellow booklets stare at her
and point aching fingers at her waist.

In our house we break a fast
with dates from Huun
and glasses of buttermilk.
Then on to bowls of lamb soup
flavored with mint, trays
of stuffed grape leaves,
spiced fava beans drenched
in olive oil and lemon juice.
And that is only the beginning.

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