Amid the Literature of Syria, the Cradle of Civilization

By Nuri Al-Khalaf

Syrian Literature Month Editor

It has been said that Arabs took soil with them while they travelled – to smell it and be reminded of their homelands. Today, Syrians are taking with them their dreams, hopes, pains, memories and literature wherever their feet take them after the disastrous events in their country. I’m delighted to be a part of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative and to have this opportunity to shed light upon the works of the greatest Syrian pens. A few of the poets and novelists featured in upcoming posts are the great poet Nizar Qabbani, who renewed Arabic poetry, plus authors with globally-known novels like Rafick Schami,  Khaled Khalifa, Ghada al-Samman and others.

It is worth mentioning that the word literature refers to the sciences and disciplines that raise the level of knowledge, awareness and the quality of life in society. Literature is a mode of art. Its method is feeling and sensing. Its aim is beauty. Humanity needs literature more than it needs science. Hence, Mukhallad Ibn al-Hussein, a ninth-century writer, once said: “We need plenty of literature more than we need plenty of talk.” If you find that people are inclined to literature rather than to learning, then we should remember that a sense of beauty is more evident in mankind than appreciation of the truth.

Syria witnessed the birth of the first artistic musical piece known to humanity. Ibn Khaldoun, a great historian, once said that the past resembles the present as much as one drop of water resembles another drop of water. Not so long ago, this land, Syria, was a hub of writing, authorship, creativity and translation.  A few centuries ago, those writings contributed to shaping global civilization, and this literature still feeds into every aspect of science. Today is just like yesterday; Syrians are once again participating in shaping literature and thought throughout the worlds of arts and knowledge. The last few years have witnessed a great expansion of writing and translation in the field of Syrian literature.

Lots of criticisms are addressed at the Arabic novel: that it clings too closely to historical fiction, or it merely narrates the circumstances of society and is therefore not a work of pure imagination. It seems to me that writers, authors and poets are the tongue and the voice of their society. They bear society’s issues and express them through artistic, humane and literary works. Such literary works are varied according to the issues in society at a specific time with the writer speaking of the values, morals, virtues, beauties and abuses. He or she does this by making the extraordinary sacrifices required to capture and publish his or her ideas. The life of the author cannot be separated from the pains and concerns of his society. And these literary works that I’m going to talk about have a great, artistic, humane capacity to address Syrian society, at a certain period. These works embody human virtues and values that mingle with their counterparts from other global literary works, written by great writers from different countries and different periods of time.

As poetry is the language of passion and feeling, and prose is the language of mind and logic, I would like this month, the Syrian month on the Global Literature in Libraries blog, to capture both of them. I hope and trust the advantage of these scattered pearls, this versified necklace, this small literary project, will benefit all readers, especially:

  • Those who seek knowledge, as books bring great benefit. Books are a source of knowledge, a guardian of truth and a house of wisdom. As it has been said, smart is he or she who draws lessons from the experiences of others, and who understands history in his or her heart. This person will add years of wisdom to his own experience
  • I hope these works will build a bridge between cultures, countries and peoples, because books bring meanings with them in their bellies. Reading can lead to more awareness, tolerance and collaboration.
  • I also hope these reviews will be a reference and assistant to researchers and Syrian culture specialists to help guide their research.
  • I also hope the Syrian month will benefit translators. I deeply appreciate their artistic work and their ability to convey one form of knowledge to another (translation is a deep understanding of culture and language) and to convey this with feeling, sense and passion. I hope this blog will alert them to other literary works that have not been translated yet such as the works of the great Syrian author Abed al-Salam al-Ojili and others.

Last but not least, I want to single out four people – Rachel Hildebrandt, Karen Van Drie, Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, and Marcia Lynx Qualey – to express my deep gratitude for giving me the chance to introduce Syrian literature on the Global Literature in Libraries blog. I’m full of hope that this collaborative global literature project among authors, translators, publishing houses, and readers, students, teachers, libraries and librarians will increase global literature in English-speaking libraries around the world.

Nuri al-Khalaf


Nuri al-Khalaf is from Aleppo, Syria. He studied English Literature at Al-Bath University in Homs, Syria and received CELTA certification from the University of Cambridge. Currently, he lives in Istanbul, Turkey, where he works as an English teacher and translator. Nuri wrote Arabic short stories ‘Ahmed’ in 2010 and ‘Amineh’ in 2014.


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