Abbas el-Akkad – Writer (1889-1964)
Full Name: Abbās Mahmūd al-Aqqād
Native name: عباس محمود العقاد
Date of birth: 28 June 1889
Place of birth: Aswan, Egypt
Date of death: 13 March 1964 (aged 74)
Place of death: Cairo, Egypt
Abbās Mahmūd al-Aqqād (Arabic: عباس محمود العقاد) ʿAbbās Maḥmūd al-ʿAqqād; was born on 28 June 1889, in Aswan, Egypt. He was an Egyptian journalist, poet and literary critic, and member of the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo. He was an innovator of 20th-century Arabic poetry and criticism.
Born in modest circumstances, al-ʿAqqād continued his education through reading when his formal schooling was cut short. He supported himself throughout most of his career by writing. An outspoken political commentator, he was imprisoned for some months in 1930–31 for remarks opposing the government. In 1942, with the advance of German troops, al-ʿAqqād sought refuge in the Sudan as a precaution against German reprisals for his criticisms of Adolf Hitler.
Personal and Educational Life
Al-‘Aqqad was born in Aswan, a city in Upper Egypt, in 1889. He received little formal education, completing only his elementary education; he later supplemented his learning by buying books and reading on his own. Unlike his schoolmates, he spent all his weekly allowance on books. He read about religion, geography, history and many other subjects. He was known for his excellent English and French.
Al-Aqqad experienced two major romantic relationships in his life. The first was with a Christian Lebanese lady, whom he called “Sarah” in his novel of the same name. The second was with the famous Egyptian actress Madiha Yousri. This relationship was ended by al-Aqqad himself, because of Yousri’s career as an actress. Al-Aqqad wrote a poetry work about this relationship called Cyclones of a Sunset (A-Asiru Maghrib in Arabic).
It was reported by prolific Egyptian author Anis Mansour and various other attendees of Al-Aqqad’s famous ‘lounge’ that he kept a painting in his bedroom that displayed a beautiful cake with cockroaches crawling over it. Supposedly, Al-Aqqad kept this in his room as ‘the first thing he looked at in the morning and the last thing he saw in the evening’. It symbolized beauty and purity (the cake) that is wasted to the glamor of spotlights (the cockroaches) as was the case (as he perceived) with actress Madiha Yousri.
He wrote more than 100 books about philosophy, religion, and poetry, along with a philosophical study of the Qur’an and various biographies of historic Muslim leaders. He founded a poetry school with Ibrahim Al-Mazny and Abdel Rahman Shokry called Al-Diwan.
His most famous works were al-‘Abkariat, Allah, and Sarah. Some of his books were translated into English. Al-‘Akkad was known for his use of flowery and complicated prose.
- Sārah (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār Nahḍ̣at Miṣr lil-Nashr. 1999.
- Abqarīyat al-Imām ʻAlī (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār Nahḍ̣at Miṣr lil-Nashr. 2003.
- Abqarīyat Muḥammad (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār Nahḍ̣at Miṣr lil-Nashr. 2004.
- Abqarīyat ʻUmar (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār Nahḍ̣at Miṣr lil-Nashr. 2007.
- Abqarīyat Khālid (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār Nahḍ̣at Miṣr lil-Nashr. 2011.
- Dhū al-nūrayn: ʻUthmān ibn ʻAffān (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār Nahḍ̣at Miṣr lil-Nashr. 2012.
- Allah (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār Nahḍ̣at Miṣr lil-Nashr.
- The genius of Christ (2001) translated F. Peter Ford.
Al-‘Aqqad was also an outspoken political thinker, and was jailed for a time between 1930 and 1931 for his criticism of his country’s government. In 1942 when the forces of Adolf Hitler advanced on Egypt, al-‘Akkad fled to Sudan due to fear of reprisal for his criticism of Hitler. At the height of Hitler’s military advances, al-‘Akkad wrote his scathing work Hitler in the Balance in June 1940 in which he lambasts Naziism as the greatest threat to freedom, modernity and the very existence of man. In addition to his general opposition to both fascism and communism, al-‘Akkad was also both a member of the Egyptian parliament for a time as a member of the Wafd Party, and later a member of the Chamber of Deputies.
Al Aqqad died in the early morning of 13 March 1964. His corpse was transported by train to his hometown Aswan in southern Upper Egypt, where he was buried the same day.
In the early 1980s, an Egyptian television series was produced about the life of al-Aqqad, which was titled The Giant (Al Imlaq in Arabic). It starred Egyptian actor Mahmud Mursi.
There is a street in the Nasr City district of Cairo named after al-Aqqad.