|My paper studies how ideas about sectarianism, coexistence, and interfaith relations are reflected in the literary works of Farah Antun (1874-1922) and Ishaq Shami (1888-1949). While Antun was a Christian-Orthodox Lebanese who wrote in Arabic, and Shami was an Arab-Jew who was born in al-Khalil (Hebron) and wrote in Hebrew, their texts convey similar ideas regarding the ways in which religious minorities can survive in nation states and multiethnic empires. Both authors convey much admiration to multiethnic and multi-religious empires, and express concerns from racism, chauvinism, and oppression of religious groups. |
Antun’s historical novel, The New Jerusalem (Urshalim al-Jadida) takes place during the Arab conquest of Jerusalem (637 AD). It focuses on Iliya, a devoted Christian, who falls in love with Esther, a Jewish woman who comes to Byzantine Palestine from Alexandria. Iliya saves Esther when a Christian mob discovers her religious identity and attempts to lynch her. During the course of the novel, Palestine is conquered by the Muslims, and Iliya grows to appreciate their faith and decides to join the Arab forces. I will demonstrate how Antun, who believed that the Ottoman Empire should be supported by the Arabs as the protector of the Middle East from colonialism, projected his pro-Ottoman views onto the medieval Arab past and how he called for social justice and equality within an imperial framework.
Ishaq Shami's novella, The Last Keeper of the Mosque (Shomer ha-Misgad ha-Aharon) opens in Palestine of the early 1920s, but takes its readers to Bulgaria during the Balkan wars. It deals with Haj Sadiq, a mosque's keeper and an imam, who lives in a Bulgarian village, and tries to come to terms with the rise of ethnocentric nationalism, as more and more Muslims around him disappear and migrate, and as he become suspect in the eyes of his Christian neighbors. Haj Said is eventually lynched by a local angry crowd. Shami's attempt to narrate the pains of Haj Sadiq conveys his sorrow for the fate of minorities in nation states (as opposed to multiethnic empires). Moreover, he indicates that this sort of ethno-nationalism will also destroy Muslim-Jewish relations in Palestine.
I focus on the scenes of lynch and mob violence in both texts to show how both authors argued that religious persecution was not motivated by dogma but rather by ignorance and sadism. I likewise explore the political solutions both authors presented for the question of religious minorities.