Taha Hussein

From ArticleWorld

Taha Hussein was a celebrated writer and Arabic literature scholar from Egypt. He was renowned for his open mind and devotion to secular education.


Hussein was born on November 14, 1889. An eye infection left him blind by age three. Despite this, he studied with a personal tutor and then at Al-Azhar University, where he was educated in religion and Arabic literature. Hussein was unimpressed with Al-Azhar’s teacher, whose teachings he found closed-minded and too interwoven with Islam

Hussein enrolled at Cairo University, a newly-founded secular school, in 1908 and became their first doctoral graduate. He was a professor of Arabic literature and the founding rector of University of Alexandria.

While Hussein is best known for his autobiography Al-Ayyam (which was later published as An Egyptian Childhood in 1932 and again as The Stream of Days in 1943), his work On Pre-Islamic Poetry caught him the most heat. The work questioned the legitimacy of traditional Arabic poetry and touched on the Quran, the Muslim holy book, not being a reliable historical source. Al-Azhar University and other traditional Muslims were enraged. Hussein was arrested. However, his lawyer argued that the book was written from an academic researcher point-of-view and was not a religious attack and Hussein was released. The book was still banned and edited for a later release.

Hussein went on to study in France at the University of Montpellier, where he received another bachelor’s degree and doctorate. He also met his wife who published her memoir Ma’ak (With You) after his death.

Hussein was a stronger supporter of the 1952 Egyptian revolution and argued adamantly for secular education. He was convinced that an independent education was a human right and “knowledge is like water and air.”

Partial list of works

  • A Man of Letters
  • The Days
  • Wednesday Talk
  • The Tree of Misery
  • The Call of the Curlew