Almaghrib - Literary supplement - 2nd year - Issues 8/9 - June 8, 1938

"The Moroccan talent in the Arab literature" by Abdallah Guennoun

A great step in the history of the Moroccan thought

Two diametrically opposed conceptions clash about the past of the Moroccan culture, one pessimistic reflecting a faded image, the other optimistic sublimating this image in marvellous panels. The holders of the first conception compare the intellectual production of the arab nations with that of the other countries of the world and wonder how the Moroccan production can be compared to that of the Arab countries.

In support of this matter, one needs but to watch the displays of any library to realize how difficult it is indeed to find a Moroccan collection of poetry, a literary work produced in our country, or any unspecified publication relating to a jurisdiction study or a scientific research concerning the history of our past civilization. None of such books which undoubtedly exist somewhere as manuscripts has been reprinted to-day to be accessible to the mass of the readers. One leaves the rays of these libraries the spirit worried by the vision of this pessimistic current and ready to admit the cogent arguments of its not very encouraging statement.

The second current - opponent to the preceding one - was interested in the study of the Moroccan past, not in printed books but through manuscripts which can be found in certain public archiv collections or in some private bibliotheks belonging to a reduced number of persons hardly exceeding the hand fingers throughout the whole country.

For these reasons, il is not easy for the common reader to have access to these manuscripts, the only sources wich can provide him with the necessary arguments to refute the claims of the first allegation holders. The Moroccan past continues thus to trail behind many zones of shade; and it is, at the very least, difficult to obtain from them a draught with clear and accurate contour lines. As seen by the public, it is stripped of any masterpiece called to last, and it represents in the rising generation's mind not more than a negligible quantity. It is extremely fortunate that the pessimistic vision represented by the defendants of the first conception is not a result of an acquired knowledge or the conclusion of a specific research. We can thus easily attack this defaitist current in order to regulate the pendulum mechanism in this first phase of our cultural rebirth.

The book that has just been published under the title "Moroccan Talent in Arab Literature," which I would like to introduce to-day, succeeded in giving the first blow of pickaxe in the building of this conception which starts to waver. Thanks to this significant work and the help of our intellectual classes, we do not manage any effort to activate the fall of false judgements and contribute to the collapse of the pessimistic conception.

My intention here is not to refute the arguments of the defaitist thesis. It is rather to present you, as concisely as possible, the contents of this publication which has just appeared, and I am convinced that this presentation will encourage you to want to know more about the history of your country and invite you to read with fervour and the sooner the better the last born of the works of Abdallah Guennoun.

This book deserves, for various reasons, to be regarded as the first great step which was ever crossed to raise the veil on the course of the Moroccan thought, which was likely to be lost in the mazes of the succeeding centuries without leaving any trace of its creativity. It is up to each of us to reserve to this book a privileged place in our private libraries. Each young Moroccan must have it as a bedside book, read it attentively, make a meticulous analysis of its content in order to bar the road to the pessimistic current and proceed to the realization of thematic studies relating to one or the other of the multiple aspects of our past.

This book is not only a precis of the Moroccan literature providing a repertory of literary works and a biography of their authors. It assembles studies in various scientific branches which were broadly diffused in the past and discribes the political and historical orientations which played a decisive role in the religious and intellectual movements.

This book traces the history of the Moroccan thought in the real sense of the word. We must recognize with its author that "the main characteristic of this publication is that it is unique in its kind. It does not exist in the whole Arab Nations a work which is identical to it. All the books devoted to literature and history are placed in the context of the Arab Nation in general," whereas this work is limited to only one country of this ethnic and linguistic unit, namely Morocco.

The author made every endeavour not to mention the non Moroccans who used to live in our country and were encouraged by the Authorities in the fields of research, production and edition. He has deliberately overlooked them and limited himself to give a clear image of the pure native Moroccan literature. Here, we must analyze the methodology the author had recourse to to divide the Moroccan history into cultural periods. He did noy follow the traditional procedure of the editors who think that the cultural movements are the fruit of political orientations or social and economical upheavals.

He assembled two or several states in the same historical era. He integrated the first states, those of the Idrissids, Banou Afia, Maghrawa, Banou Yafran and others in the same era which he called "the era of the conquests." He assimilated the Almoravid dynasty to that of the Almohads in one era that he called "the Almohad era." He classified the Merinid and the Wattasid dynasties in one era: "the Merinid era." Only the Saadian and The Alaouit dynasties were presented separately, each one of them being entitled to one specific era.

The author began his work with a studywith clear objectives and logical deductions over the period of the Moslem conquests, laying great stress on both the propagation of Islam in our country and the arabisation of the Moroccans. He analyzed the resistance opposed by the Berber native populations to the Arab invaders carrying the standard of the new religion. He illustrated thus how Morocco passed from the anteislamic age to the islamic era, while remaining independant from the other nations of the Moslem world as regards it state organization, its social and cultural conceptions and its religious practice.

This passage was achieved thanks to the conquests of Okba Ibn Nafia and that of Moussa Ibn Nussayr who soured the first seeds of Islam in this region. But the religious feeling remained rather weak and the faith itself was somewhat staggering because of the massive arrival of the Kharejits who fled the islamic power of Damas and Baghdad, as well as for many other reasons which it would take too long to expose here.

This situation lasted until Idris 1st came to power as founder of the first Moroccan dynasty, and first Moroccan Sovereign to whom the Berber Tribes lent the oath of allegiance ans swore fidelity and obedience, recognizing him the supreme power to rule the country. Idris 1st put an end to the chaos perpetrated by the Kharejits and put the first stone of a state completely independant from the Abbassid Khalifat of Baghdad. As for the causes which accelerated the movement of conversion to Islam, they finf their origin in the behaviour of the Sovereign himself who was the wisdom in person, believed in a clear and just system of legislation which preached the equality of all in front of the law and succeeded to introduce the righteousness and the spirit of equity and justice in the rows of the governing classes.

The author then analyzed the circumstances which brought the Berber to adopt the arabic culture at the point where they could on very short time master the arab language and excel both in the style of writing and the art of discouring in arabic on every subject. As a proof of this talent, is still present in mind the famous speach that Tarek Ibn Ziyad gave to his soldiers on their way to conquer Andalusia, when he ordered to burn the fleet that transported them from Morocco to the Mount of Gibraltar which bears his name (in arabic: Djebel Tarek).

The arab language was propagated as quickly as Islam, and was by no means at the origin of the conflicts which opposed the Berber populations to the Arab invaders at that time. The differences which antagonized the two communities against each other were caused by conflicts of interest, and were never originated in a religious cause, Islam having ruled the country in a sovereign way since the advent of Idris 1st.

He tried to spread some light on this period of high culture that Morocco had known. But, in the absence of documents and works of reference, he resigned to write that "Morocco knew a long cross walk of the desert after the Arabs arrival, did not succeed in the field of knowledge in order to benefit from a new life of which it could draw a title of pride." He supported this opinion by an argumentation likely to be accepted or refuted, but which remains in any case based on valid proofs. He did not omit to expose the conditions of the Malekit doctrine propagation in the legislation's field, and did not fail to emphasize the radiation of Ceuta, this city close to Andalusia.

Then, he passed at the first golden age of the Moroccan dynasties, integrating the Almoravid period and that of the Almohads in the same historical era. He evoked the life of Abdallah Ibn Yassin and the efforts he deployed to propagate the knowledge in the Sanhadjas Area. He described the wars Ibn Yassin delivered to their tribes to sit the bases of Islam among them. He devoted broad developments to the great self made man Youssef Ibn Tashfin who completely changed the map of Morocco, put many empires upside down and raised all the obstacles which separated the country from its neighbouring regions.

He approached the great Almohads revolution and analyzed their doctrine and its impact on the Moroccan society. He treated then the intellectual life under the Almohad dynasty, emphasizing its encouragements to literature and its great affection for the men of letters. He quoted several examples and kept insisting on the interest carried by this dynasty in berberism, which he qualified as a historical joke. Then, he attacked the intellectual movement, starting with the aspects relating to the legislation and the religious belief. He continued his study by exposing the sciences of Arab linguistic followed by biographical essays and a study on the relation of historical facts. He analyzed also questions of a philosophical nature, and spoke about the interest devoted to these questions by the Almohad court, which lavished careful consideration on the educated upper class.

He presented then different studies concerning town planning and architectural art, agriculture, medicine, chemistry, botany and fine arts, in particular chiselling and mosaic. He proceeded to an exhaustive enumeration of the thinkers of this period by drawing up their biography. He quoted among them Cadi Iyad, Al Idrissi, Abou Amran Elfassi and Al Marrakushi. He reviewed the titles of the works which they published: the cultural legacy of the prophet's statements telling what should be avoided and what must be done and their exegesis, books on logic, fundamental principles, history, geography, biographies, handbooks of literature and collections of poems, books of grammar, linguistic and morals. Among the portraits which all were established to be destined for the sultan bibliothek, only were taken into account the thinkers of Moroccan origin. All others - scientists and men of letters originating from Andalusia and the rest of the North African countries - were excluded.

He directed his research towards the literary life of that time, and confirmed that the literature during the Almoravid era was exclusively Andalusian. and that it changed under the reign of the Almohads, thanks to the emergence of Moroccan intellectuals who were stimulated by the interest of the Almohads in humanities and their deep solicitude for all the things of the spirit. This emergence was incited by the great competition which had been established between the two reigns, but also by the fact that the Moroccan intellectuals aspired to functions of responsibility within the state apparatus, and looked after the style of their writing for this purpose.

The Moroccan letters did not reflect at all the Andalusian ones as some had thought it. They were distinguished from them as they expressed the feelings of the Moroccan as such, and were influenced neither by Andalusia nor by Syria and Irak. The author pursued his study with biographical essays reporting the life and the work of the Moroccan men of letters of the considered period, such as Abou Jaafar Ibn Atiya, Ibn Habous, Suleyman Al Muwahidi, Abou Al Abbas Al Guerraoui and Ibn Abdoun Al Maknassi.

After a political and historical analysis of the decline causes of the Almohads and the rapid dismantling of their dynasty, he painted a picture of the tribes of Beni Merin and Zenata, saying that they were submitted to the Moslem law and were enjoying a kind of autonomy after having scored a resounding triumph over the Almohads whom they defeated in a decisive battle which took place the day of "Mashala" (day of the torches).

He analyzed lengthily the ambitions of the Merinids in times of war as well as in times of peace, emphasizing their attachment to the arabity, the efforts which they deployed to restore the unification of Morocco, the sumptuousness of their power, the splendour of their khalifat and the great interest they kept carrying to the intellectual life. Unfortunately, a large number of men of letters and scientific personalities have perished at sea, on their way back from Tunis, when their boat sank in the middle of a storm. They were invited to accompny Abou Al Hassan Al Marini, and have thus paid with their lives the interest that the court of the Merinids carried to them.

The author of the work "the Moroccan Talent in the Arab Literature" that we tried to briefly analyse short after its publication, devoted a section to the literary and scientific activity which I would not like to summarize in this article, as it deserves to be read and studied, since the march of the Moroccan culture did not stop with the political upheavals which caused the fall of the Almohads and the advent of the Merinids, but it progressed and considerably expanded in the scientific fields of the precedent era.

The individual rights were better protected thanks to the expansion of the jurisprudence. Linguistics knew a large development. Arabic was propagated in an impressive way. An author was even interested to codify the popular dialects, which proves that it was possible at that time to count them all. In the field of history, the Merinid era was among the most flourishing. As exceptional historians witnessing the most important scientific development of this period, we can mention Ibn Abi Zaraa and Ibn Khaldoun who published his treaty which he intended for the Khalifat bibliothek, and other celebrities who count among the well known historians. This era was also that of the explorers of reputation like the famous Ibn Batouta and the great traveller Ibn Rashid.