2020 / 5 / 3
Dr. Muhammad Abbas, Academic Encyclopedic Model and the Phobia of Specialization
After the enrollment of the great writer, Noman Ashour, at the Faculty of Law, he decided to join the Faculty of Arts when he knew that Taha Hussin was its dean, making his family angry. When Ashour introduced his conversion documents from the faculty of Law to Hussin, he summoned him to his office asking him: What literature books did you read?! Noaman answered: I read “Al-Ayyam”, he excluded it, and replied: and the other books?! Ashour said: Shawky’s plays, Al-Aqqad’s Al-Diwan, Al-Mazni’s, Tawfiq Al-Hakim’s Ahl Al-Kahf, and all the novels of Al-Manfalouti and Georgy Zidan. Hussein shook his head while saying Ashour’s name and said to those around him: “His conversion is accepted immediately.”
Whenever I remember´-or-read the situation I began the lines above with, which has been mentioned in one of Anis Mansour s works, a panoramic scene flashes in my mind embodying my first meeting with our professor Dr. Muhammed Abbas, professor of Russian literature and criticism at the Faculty of Al-Alsun Ain Shams University and the great intellectual who was imbued with literature, philosophy, and cultures. At that time, I wanted to finish my post-graduate and master studies with him. He refused at first,because of his many preoccupations and engagements. He was also involved in many studies and translation projects. Until the meeting, which was the turning point in his office, as I heavily insisted and told him about my hope in having an academic future with him and his professorship. I also wished to engrave the letters of my name associated with his name in the field of comparisons and literature. It s completely intuitive as his image since he was teaching us in the university was still and ingrained in my mind... like a shock to the mind that has a continuous impact.. It was - the image - the main embodiment of a mind that wanted Russian literature to be his entrance to literature, and an overview that would transmit him and get him pass through all the cultures and streams of knowledge and its backgrounds.
I sit before him with his elegant and unique style of clothes... which indicates a part of his personal characteristics in a passing point… His "suit jacket" was always different from the pants as if it was a symbolic indication of his permanent love to form a meaning and a subject from several topics. Hence the creativity and the elegance of clothes and words as well, come from composition, collection, and dependence on more than one element. deeply impressed by this matter... I used to see it as a semiotic entrance and one of the keys to his unique character. As if it was a message to those who recognise him for the first time. as this was an indication of a teacher who considered to be beyond the familiar in his ideas- that was right, and we will tell about it in our forthcoming lines- and what people used to, and an exciting personality used to raise controversy in the university with a standard parallel to what came in his books, studies, comments, and interventions within the university and college, and the cultural forums where he went as a guest´-or-a lecturer.
He asked me about what I have read and known, what I still remember from the works I have studied at the university... and what I know about Russian literature, civilization and culture through the ages. That’s when I forgot about proving myself before him to accept to supervise my research until it turns into an interesting discussion… As we have involved in discussing several literary -dir-ections, schools, cultures, and various -dir-ections that ended the discussion with his partial conviction of supervising a researcher who will be his student, and will be the one to complete his message in the pairings and comparisons between Russian literature and other literature with a researcher s attempt- represented by the writer of these words- who wishes to discover other perspectives in the worlds of Chekhov, Gorky, Karamazin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Andreev, more than what he has learned at the university.
Days passed, and in a meeting, we agreed to meet to complete the preparation of the plan, whose topic was a literary comparison to discuss the influence of French literature, and Rousseau mainly, on both the Russian emotional writer Nikolay Karamzin and the Egyptian Enlightenment writer, Mohamed Hussein Heikal. I waited for him at his office, as he usually used to come on time´-or-even before it waiting for me in his office, but this time we arrived at the same time… we entered his office and saw a piece of paper on the floor in the hallway of his office. I saw him as he bent over and grabbed it, and I remember that it was a part of a Russian text written by a Russian author, and I watched him reading it and engrossed in his thought for seconds: As if an idea of a research topic has come to his mind be...´-or-a topic of a study with its comparisons, the type that he prefers to dig deep through it... and I saw him looking at me, explaining what he was doing, and said: Gorky - the Russian writer Maxim Gorky - used to say: "Read whatever comes in your hands." And here I am executing his will". He continued: Read, Muhammed, whatever you can read, read anything, no matter what it is as long as you keep reading. Do not-limit- yourself in reading Russian literature, academic readings, and specialization-;- a good researcher shall read outside his specialty as much as he reads in his precise and original specialization…
This situation is one of the main basics of the personality of our late professor… the encyclopedic… the founder of the trend of "holistic of knowledge" inside the Russian Language Department and the university in general, as he believed that public awareness takes precedence over being engrossed in the readings of specialization, and go through what the dispositions and morals made as an obligation to each researcher without-limit-ing himself´-or-engaging in the narrow academic studies and scrutiny. The non-specialized encyclopedialism and the endeavor to achieve it that D. Muhammed Abbas has, while moving through the path of the convoy of intellectuals in Egypt who advocated this trend, such as Al-Aqqad, Taha Hussein, Tawfiq Al-Hakim, Youssef Idris, Mahmoud Taymour and Yahya Hakki, who had a large share of the stories of Dr. Muhammad Abbas during his general lectures and our special cultural sessions while discussing any of the research topics.
We find echoes of this encyclopedia strongly in his books and translations. Among them were "Between Russia and the Arab East", "Chekhov s one chapter plays", "Anton Chekhov in the Egyptian eyes", and "Stories and tales a lifetime ago- Leo Tolstoy and Others", in addition to various rich studies in both fields of comparative and criticism, for example: "Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant on the scale", "Nights and Google s Coat", "The Image of the Child in the Literature of Anton Chekhikh and Youssef Idris", and his study on Muhammed Ali and Peter I, and in the fields of the vaudeville "one-chapter play", and travel literature, Arabization and Orientalism. Many of these studies have been enriched by the participation of his loyal wife, our professor Dr. Nadia Imam Sultan, a great professor of literature and criticism at Al-Alsun College, who has an important and well-known study, that has been published in many periodicals, magazines, and newspapers. Its title was, "The influence of the Arabian Nights on Russian writers in the nineteenth century".
Since we have talked about "encyclopedia" and its centering as the main element in the intellectual approach that we inevitably seek- this element- when we tend to dissolve the personality of Dr. Muhammed Abbas as one of the most important critics, scholars and researchers of Russian Literature in the Arab world- along with some other names of our professors such as, Dr. Makarem El-Ghamry, Dr. Abu Bakr Youssef, and Dr. Nadia Imam- We now turn to the other composing components of the approach of Dr. Muhammed Abbas, the approach of "rooting" associated with the harmonization between the roots of Islamic and pharaonic culture. We could hardly find a researcher who works to merge the two civilizations and cherish the exploits of the two civilizations and cultures without proving the superiority of one to the other as many books and critics usually do- and did- in order to gain an ideological victory´-or-pretending the objective luxuriously when they criticize one of them to uphold one over the other. Hence, Dr. Muhammed Abbas was greatly interested in Pharaonic stories and literature, and it is worth mentioning that Dr. Abbas taught and lectured on the subjects of pharaonic history in Russian for students and divisions of political guidance in several places and universities, and he was one of the arbitrators of its licensing. Some of his studies and writings were full of these illuminations with pharaonic roots.
Regarding his pride and defenses for Islamic culture and civilization, we find this presented in one of his articles in the book "Between Russia and the Arab East", when he says: "There is no doubt that the Arab-Islamic civilization with a sacred religious substance and its huge heritage of humanity and a sublime culture has paved the way to the Modern European civilization-;- it hadn’t stand as a barrier against the interest in the approaches of literature… And that is why the Arab-Islamic civilization has risen and become a lighthouse that guides everyone who thirsts for knowledge in the various natural, philosophical, literary and religious sciences". That is why he participated in preparing studies on the positioning of Islamic civilization in the mirror of Russian orientalism and on the Islamic personalities such as Mohammed Ayad Tantawi ... etc. The most important in his writings, with the participation of his wife, "Islam Between Truth and Assumption", which carried a refusal to all the assumptions raised against Islam in both Arabic and Russian.
In light of his pride in Islamic civilizational values and Islamic culture in general as an approach within his writings and studies, he was at that time a major gate to address the ideas of extremism, isolationism, and reactionaryism, within an enlightening approach that he believed, as Muhammad Hussein Haikal, Amin al-Khuli and al-Manfaluti did. At that time, in particular, his students ’minds were shocked by ideas and concepts that contradict the stereotypes that work on their intellectual retardation and their involvement in failure to acquire knowledge, following the Saudi Enlightenment thinker: "The mind is occupied by what reaches it first.". He urged his students, even in-dir-ectly, to think critically, consciously, endlessly, which is the cornerstone in building any academic mindset that wishes to be freed from the prepared traditional knowledge that impedes the development of the scientific personality of the researcher and serves the main goal that Dr. Muhammad Abbas devoted himself to the rule of the comparative approach and the pursuit of the encyclopedia instead of the-limit-s of the illusions of narrow specialization. Here, the Cogito "or the approach of Cartesian doubt", and the principles of critical thinking and induction, are one of the most important criteria for the academic personality of Dr. Mohammed Abbas.
Also among the prominent elements that constitute the personality of Dr. Muhammed Abbas, which is the principle of "freedom of education" and "freedom of cognitive choice", which were presented in the introduction of his translation of Tolstoy stories and tales. He believed that academic education without any value added to it kills the student’s " mind" in the name of "reason", and spaces and spare should be preserved for students to present their convictions, ideas, and visions, and it is not for nothing that most of his lectures time in the university is dedicated to the discussion, comparison of literary work/models determined with their counterparts in other literature, and models of other heroes in the works of authors, writers and philosophers who used to work on the enjoyment and homogenization of the minds of students and the interested in transferring knowledge from him. Most of the graduate students, young researchers, and young academics- and I had the honor to be one of them – could accompany him and exclusively enjoy his interesting encyclopedic discourse in various backgrounds and cultures.
I remember while talking about this topic, Dr. Muhammed Abbs’s curriculum in one of the academic years was only 7 papers. It was about the short story "Poor Lisa", of the Russian author and emotional writer Nikolay Karamzin,´or one of the short stories of Anton Chekhov, the best to write a story on earth. We learned then that the contexts, comparisons, what beyond the text, the emergence of the writer, his readings, and the research of what has been written about him and his writings go beyond the concept of the text and the-limit-s of the original literary piece with vast distances. From here, the importance of the streams of criticism and comparison is highlighted, and it is worth mentioning that the authentic rule of Dr.Abbas when meeting his students for the first time, as he rejected most of the critical studies that he was offered to supervise and that were-limit-ed to the Russian text/language, and he was more enthusiastic about comparative studies.
Hence, we have learned a major rule from our professor: literature was the shortest way to life as it is a journey that transports you between the philosophies that concern your heart among civilizations, religions, beliefs, models, and fads. He was always calling for the development of university curriculums, the importance of the university, and the mission of the professor in encouraging students to know and read, to read not only for the sake of culture but life as well. He has many writings and thoughts that were not published - and I think our professor Dr. Nadia helps us to spread the largest number of them- in this field and talks about the mechanisms for developing the policy of elementary and university education.
I hope this article will be a root for studies and articles that talk about Professor Muhammed Abbas, with his rich knowledge and ideas that nurture the minds of many students, scholars, and researchers. At the same time, it is regarded as an attempt from the writer to pay back, at least, one favor to his teacher from many he has done him and bestowed on him, and a letter of apology, too, since we sometimes have failed in asking about our teacher. We want to say that we wish that time would come back and we would exploit every minute and moment available to us to accompany him and increase our knowledge from his culture and compassion. That writer who is proud to have research under his supervision, and will work along on it with every possible effort, at least to dedicate it to the spirit of his professor, and ask God to bestow mercy and compassion upon him, and inspires his wife and two daughters patience and the continuity to research, work, and creativity to complete the message of our professor.