The Theocrat is a translation of Bensalem Himmich’s novel Majnoun al-hukm (literally, he who is crazy in rule). Translated into English by Roger Allen, the novel deals with one of the most complex figures of the Arab, Islamic history, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Illah (‘the one who rules by orders of Allah’), the Fatimid Caliph who ruled Egypt during the 10th century.
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In his novel, Himmich depicts aspects of Al-Hakim’s perplexing personality, with its oddities and contradictions.
The book starts with a “prelude” entitled “The Smoke”. This title introduces the reader to one of the narrative’s major images : the clear smoke, a Quoranic image used by Al-Hakim to describe his own complex character.
The short introductory section is followed by four chapters which offer a challenging, but riveting diversity of style and content.
The first and second chapters portray the complex personality of Al-Hakim and his problematic state of mind. They refer to some medical explanations of the ruler’s mental illness which, at the same time, illustrates the Arab medical knowledge of the time.
These chapters also offer some sort of replication to Al-Hakim’s complex utterances influenced by his ecstatic visions, seclusion and contemplation, which were recorded by his devotees.
The third chapter describes the rebellion led by Abu Rakwa, a decedent of former Umayyad house of Caliphs, against the capricious, tyrannic ruler. In this chapter, which also includes samples of letters, sermons, and orations issued during the confrontation, gives considerable importance to Abu Rakwa, so much so that he can be seen as the “hero” of the narrative who dared face Al-Hakim.
The last chapter portrays the period when Al-Hakim’s madness and tyranny reached their zenith, leading to the ruler’s assassination, plotted by his own sister.
Rather than a clear chronological account of Al Hakim’s quarter-of-a-century rule, The Theocrat offers a mosaic of factual historical documents and fictional narrative. It is made up of a fusion of history and fiction, a style which provides the chance to tackle subjects, like absolute rule, which would be troublesome if approached in the form of essays for instance.
The gripping complexity of Himmich’s The Theocrat rhymes with the writer’s career as an essay writer, a novelist, but also as a philosopher.
Title : The Theocrat
Author : Bensalem Himmich
Translator : Roger Allen
Publisher : The American University in Cairo Press
Language : English
“Abu Rakwa paused for a moment, as though to recoup his energy. Abu al-Mahasin and all the tribesman present sat down. Then Abu Rakwa started an eloquent address in a gentle, lilting voice :
Tyranny and treason expelled me from Spain.
I have become an ascetic, O people ! Today I have no
wives to impregnate.
My only possessions are my coffee-pot, my cloak, and my stick ; I use them to protect my honor and the last shred of my personal protection
As an ascetic I roam God’s earth, passing my time in prayer and teaching children.
I have said what I have said ; I have made claims.
Time has passed, and another time has come Bringing with it a cursed era of one who rules by tyranny,
with chains and wires on feet and neck, introducing things inconceivable to eye and ear :
tiny coffins, destruction, women in prison, men whose souls gush out on sword blades, terrified faces, wordless inquisitions, the River Nile overflowing with the blood of victims and the heads of the innocent.
By the light of what the eye has witnessed :
The seed of all peace is but a false promise ; The windmill of waiting no longer draws any wind, resolve is flagging, and suffering is all that remains.
By the light of what the eye has witnessed, we must confess :
Faced with such misery, in the most forceful sense of that word,
The schemes of the hermit are mere folly and deceit.
We must confess :
All my words about strategy in the face of such miseries are crippled,
My ideas about abstinence in the face of power have failed, And my head has become utterly useless.
My eye still bears the dusty tears of the eternal
As I contemplate the foaming blood that burst from the history of inquisitions and wounds without number.
By Kaoutar Tbatou | Morocco TIMES
Source : www.moroccotimes.com