Sunday, September 03, 2006

Naghib Mahfouz

Writing was a joy to him. He loved the sheer act of it, writing every morning and always in longhand. This made the worst drama of his own life particularly cruel. In his 83rd year, a knife-wielding religious fanatic stabbed him in the neck. The would-be killer—inspired, it seems, by clerical objections to allegorical characters in one of Mr Mahfouz's books—failed in his mission, but nerve damage stopped Mr Mahfouz writing for five years.

He himself might possibly have dreamed up such an act of sudden violence for one of his plots, but religion would never have been the motive. As he accepted the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, he declared himself a happy and grateful receiver of Egyptian, Islamic and Western cultural traditions. What exemplified Islam for him, he said, was the decision by one early Muslim ruler to ransom Christian prisoners in exchange for works of Greek philosophy, medicine and mathematics. It was that curiosity, and generosity of spirit, that Mr Mahfouz wished to prevail in his city.

Obituary of Naghib Mahfouz in The Economist

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