The blog “Under the Neem Tree” is running its third Ramadan-reading challenge:
Ramadan is set to begin in a little more than a week, and will continue through June and the first half of July. In countries where the majority observes the holiday, it makes a natural time for additional reading, or at least it did for Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz.
At “Under the Neem Tree: Your Next African Read,” by contrast, author Ndeye Sene Mbaye won’t be slowing down in June and July. Still, Mbaye will still use the month to stretch across the Sahara into more North African literature: fiction and nonfiction.
Mbaye’s 2015 Ramadan-reading choices include Ibn Khaldun’s Al-Muqadimmah (Tunisia), which gives a broad view of life and human societies, and makes an excellent month-long project. It also dovetails with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s June choices.
Other books on Mbaye’s “Neem Tree” list include a biography of Muhammad (here are some ArabLit has recommended), Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance (Libya), Yasmina Khadra’s The African Equation (Algeria, and meh), and Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North (Sudan).
Most of the choices aren’t particularly spiritual texts; the ones on Naguib Mahfouz’s Ramadan lists weren’t necessarily, either. As he wrote in From Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001:
From early boyhood I never studied during the holy month of Ramadan, although this was the month during which I read more than at any other time. My reading, however, had nothing to do with my studies, and reading was my great joy during this month, greater than at any other time of the year. During the fast I could give free rein to my passion for reading, but not for any school literature.
I carried this habit into my adult life, so that I never wrote during Ramadan, just as I never wrote during the summer months.
Some of his choices:
One year, while still a university student, I read the whole of the Holy Qur’an. This was a very special reading, very different from reading it on ordinary occasions. Another year I read the Life of the Prophet by Ibn Hisham, and I remember reading Selected Arabic Literature by Dr. Taha Husayn, Sheikh al-Sakandari and Ali al-Garem, which contained selections of Arabic poetry and prose from the pre-Islamic era to modern times. I also read al-Zayyat’s History of Arabic Literature, as well as a book I greatly treasured containing brief outlines on the histories of Sufi sheikhs and selections of their writings. I remember that during my first years at university I read plays by Bernard Shaw, the poems of T.S. Eliot, and any new publications by Al-Aqqad and al-Mazni. I read the Islamiyat of al-Aqqad and Taha Husayn’s autobiography.
Our Ramadan reading suggestions:
Classical Arabic Literature: A Library of Arabic Literature Anthology, edited and translated by Geert Jan Van Gelder. This is instead of Selected Arabic Literature and History of Arabic Literature.
The Days, by Taha Hussein, translated by E.H. Paxton, Hilary Wayment, and Kenneth Cragg. The “doyen of Arabic literature”‘s autobiography.
Al-Muqaddimah, by Ibn Khaldun, trans. Franz Rosenthal. It just seems to keep coming up, and it is an amazing text.
Zaat, by Sonallah Ibrahim, trans. Anthony Calderbank. Because if it can be a Ramadan TV series, then it can be a Ramadan reading series, too.