I recently finished reading the controversial novel “Azazil”, written by Youssef Zidan. I was eager to get this novel since my father asked me to find it for him (my father is not usually interested in Arabic literature!). When I started it, I was intrigued. The writer said in the introduction that he asked for this book to be published after his death, and that this is an honest translation of scriptures found in Syria
“يضمُّ هذا الكتابُ الذى أَوْصيتُ أن يُنشر بعد وفاتى، ترجمةً أمينةً قَدْرَ المستطاع لمجموعة اللفائف التى اكتُشفتْ قبل عشر سنوات بالخرائب الأثرية الواقعة إلى جهة الشمال الغربى من مدينة حلب السورية … وقد وصلتنا بما عليها من كتابات سُريانية قديمة في حالةٍ جيدةٍ، نادراً ما نجد مثيلاً لها، مع أنها كُتبت في النصف الأول من القرن الخامس الميلادى…محفوظة في صندوق خشبى، محكم الإغلاق، أودع فيه الراهبُ المصرىُّ الأصل هيبا مادوَّنه من سيرةٍ عجيبة وتأريخٍ غير مقصود لوقائع حياته القَلِقة، وتقلُّبات زمانه المضطرب…”
Writing this in theintroduction gave me the impression that this novel is based on true story at least, I didn’t know whether Youssef Zidan was dead or alive. Later on, I read in different articles that depicted the arguments between the writer and the Coptic church that the word “novel” on the cover of the book gave him the right to do whatever he liked in the content. I agree and disagree at the same time. You can be as creative as you want while writing fiction, but at the same time, writing fiction based on historical events while putting your fictitious assumptions / impressions, this is a dangerous thing.
Despite the importance of history, people generally are not interested in reading it unless it is in the form of a story. A clear example is the story of واإسلاماه written by Aly Ahmed Bakathir علي أحمد بكثير, everyone remembers the story of the famous mamluks with the جهااااااد…. سلاااااامة… And while writing a novel such as “Azazil”, with that much sensitivity, further discretion must be put into consideration.
The story is about the diaries of an Egyptian Monk living in the 5th century, he travelled from upper Egypt, to Alexandria to Jerusalem and then to Antioch. He was witnessing great events and had very troubled thoughts about it.
Hypatia was a 5th century Greek scholar from Alexandria, considered the first notable woman in mathematics, who also taught philosophy and astronomy. She lived in Roman Egypt, and was killed by a Coptic Christian mob who blamed her for religious turmoil. She has been hailed as a “valiant defender of science against religion”, and some suggest that her murder marked the end of the Hellenistic Age. In interviews with the writer, he mentioned that her death represented the death of reason in the region, and that it took centuries for another enlightened mind to flourish. It’s obvious that he truly admired Hypatia, in the novel, the monk named himself “Hypa”, taking the first part of her name.
The contemporary Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus described her in his Ecclesiastical History:
There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.
As for the conflict between Nestorius and Cyril of Alexandria ( who is counted among the Church Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, he is also called “Pillar of Faith” and “Seal of all the Fathers”), it is mainly about the nature of the Virgin Mary. Nestorius objected to the popular practice of calling the Virgin Mary the “Mother of God” theotokos; he instead preached that “Mother of Christ” Christotokos would be more fitting. He was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and he was then dethroned. Alongside the Christological debate, other factors were to come into play in the controversy that would ensue, including a political struggle between the supporters of the See of Alexandria and the See of Antioch, the influence of the Emperor over the See of Constantinople, and the patriarchal primacy of the Pope.
For further elaborations on the story, check out: http://www.almasry-alyoum.com/article2.aspx?ArticleID=114070,